Encouraging Women To Speak At WordCamps

Jen Mylo has published some interesting statistics on the WordPress Community blog that show WordCamps still have a long way to go when it comes to women speaking at these events. Between 2012 and 2013, there was only a slight increase in the amount of women speaking at WordCamps. Possibly compounding the issue is that most of the events with dismal numbers had a large number of “circuit” speakers who were predominantly male. Circuit speakers are individuals who speak at multiple WordCamps during the year.

It’s Difficult Talking About This Subject As A Male

As a male, I feel like I have no business talking about matters such as these. I love the fact that the WordPress project and WordCamps in general encourage diversity. For example, WordCamp Miami clearly states on their speaker submission page their desire for a diversified group of presenters: “Our general policy is that we don’t consider the race, sex, religion, or any other factor of the speaker to play a part in our selection process.” If organizers are pressured to start selecting women speakers based on the fact that they are women, it would invalidate policies like the one referenced above.

Yay Or Ney To WordCamp Circuit Speakers?

WordPress Circuit
Image courtesy of Fuel Your Coding

Going back to the topic of circuit speakers which is very touchy, I think it’s important to remember what WordCamps are truly about. In their simplest form, they are WordPress meetups but on a bigger scale. WordCamps are highly encouraged to be made up of mostly local attendees. Most of these events have a set of dedicated volunteers that record sessions that are uploaded to WordPress.tv after the event. Thanks to WordPress.tv, one question I have is whether or not individuals should be discouraged from traveling to multiple WordCamps to give the same presentation? If that road is traveled, where does it lead? WordCamp Central placing limits on the amount of WordCamps a presenter can travel to and give the same presentation?

Starting With The Local WordPress Meetup

NEO WordPress Meetup January 24, 2013
NEO WordPress Meetup January 24, 2013

Since WordCamps are all about local first, that’s where any initiative encouraging diversity would have the largest and immediate impact. The local meetups I have attended have had almost a 50/50 mix of males to females. The women I’ve had a pleasure to help are usually brand new to WordPress and its ecosystem. I do my part by helping them out as best I can and then encourage them to be part of the larger community. If they decide to remain quiet and not take an active role in the WordPress community, what am I supposed to do? Push them into it?

New Study Shows Promising Results

If you’re a male WordCamp organizer, consider having one or more women be part of the conference organization group. A recent post by The Atlantic highlights a study that shows having just one woman on the organizing committee for a conference greatly increases the likelihood of women appearing at the front of the room.

More Women Everywhere!

I’m all for more women in tech, women in WordPress, women everywhere. I don’t like how some of them have gone about raising awareness of the issue because it seems more like a war between males and females. But WordPress has done a great job enabling people of any race, religion, etc to contribute to the project. Without forcing diversity on WordCamp organizers, what are they supposed to do if no women submit speaker applications? What if the speaker pool they have to select from are all white males?

The initiatives that Jen Mylo is pioneering with other members of the WordPress community are great. I just hope they remain as initiatives and don’t end up becoming more WordCamp Central requirements that organizers HAVE to follow. WordCamp organizers have enough on their shoulders as it is.

10 Comments


  1. As a person who I suppose qualifies as both a female and a “circuit speaker” as well as a WordCamp organizer, I think that there’s always a few things to think about. It’s awesome as an organizer to be able to bring in some “big name” or well-traveled speakers from other cities into your WordCamp so that your local community can hear from some people they don’t usually get to see at meetups. It’s also awesome to hear from a wide variety of voices (both local and non-local) from all sorts of different backgrounds (not just gender), but difficult to do if the organizers don’t know where to look. Always looking for help on that front! As far as wordpress.tv goes, it’s a fine resource and all, but I think it’s way more valuable to have a speaker there in person to be able to meet with, ask questions of, etc., so I am always going to be in favor of a speaker traveling and giving the same talk at multiple camps so that we can meet each other IRL more often. :)

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  2. I agree with Michelle and Angelina, we can help each other at a local level a great deal, and these local connections have been invaluable to me. However as a local group we can only “self teach” ourselves to a certain limited level. We can benefit from selectively picked “circuit” speakers to show us the 30k foot view.

    Given a choice, I would prefer circuit speakers who come from the WordPress organization, or do product demos that show how a product actually works, (rather than telling me what I can already see on their website) or a WP advanced user sharing how they achieved great results in a unique way.

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  3. Great article. I think this is an issue that is much bigger than just the WordPress/WordCamp community. I agree, I do not think the WC policies should change regarding race, sex, religion, etc. and the WC should stay local and have the autonomy they need for each one to be successful. However, I think conversations like this are great for encouraging women to take on more leadership roles in general. Kudos.

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  4. It seems to me that if attendees at local wordcamps didn’t find value from circuit speakers that they wouldn’t attend. It just shouldn’t be at the cost of presentation resources for more local presenters.

    I think that the perception that “women need more help” might be more an indicator that the WordPress community is more welcoming to less “traditional” community members than others, not necessarily that women need more help. And really, how does that sound when the community diversifies beyond gender and “people of this-or-that level of melanin need more help” ?

    While I recognize that being a helper comes with the best of intentions, personally, I tend to avoid gatherings where my presence is viewed as a cry for help rather than as a collaborative learning peer. Not because helping isn’t of value to others, it just doesn’t work for me.

    Kudos to you for braving a difficult topic :)

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  5. As a person who traveled to another city for WordCamp and then did it again near my own city and saw some of the same speakers I will tell you that the circuit speakers are a little lax. Even they get tired of their presentation and it really shows. At one of the WordCamps the person (a female) made sure we all knew she published a book and we saw that slide for quite some time. Then she talked in generalities about WordPress and only presented about 10 minutes of her actual presentation and ended with….well it’s all up on my website – just go there and pull the slides. Have a great day everyone! It was really bad. She just got complacent. I would encourage the local areas to really try hard and source locally first. Some of the circuit speakers are looking at it as a pitch fest and that type of meeting is not good.

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  6. If you’re a male WordCamp organizer, consider having one or more women be part of the conference organization group. A recent post by The Atlantic highlights a study that shows having just one woman on the organizing committee for a conference greatly increases the likelihood of women appearing at the front of the room.

    I shared this with my local WordCamp organizing committee. It’s a great tip.

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  7. I plan on writing a full rebuttal to this article and would be happy to link back to this when I do, because honestly I have a lot of problems with it. In part this is because while I see the intention of encouraging more women to be active is there, it also includes some generally harmful assumptions and assertions that actually reinforces the problem. But in brief, I have one priority comment on the following section:

    “Our general policy is that we don’t consider the race, sex, religion, or any other factor of the speaker to play a part in our selection process.” If organizers are pressured to start selecting women speakers based on the fact that they are women, it would invalidate policies like the one referenced above.”

    This statement suggests a concept of blindness to diversity, which unfortunately is neither an anti-discrimination policy nor one committed to equal opportunity. By saying that the background of a speaker doesn’t matter, that the alternative experiences of living in the world as female, or as black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, transgender, disabled, all of the above, etc. doesn’t potentially contribute to a unique and essential point of view, you ultimately silence that point of view. The problem is saying that “it doesn’t matter” when no, actually, it really does matter. And ultimately, those who are relegated to the margins systematically in the first place remain on the sideline. Forever and ever in a damaging cycle of unequal opportunity.

    Which is why policies like this NEED to be invalidated. Until these “blind” policies are also recognized as damaging, the richness of diversified experiences will never be able to inform and educate within the walls of familiarity. The answer is simple and it’s this: Yes, we (men and women) should all be actively working to ensure diverse representation at the table.

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