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Raising Shakespeare’s Sister (Or Why We Need to Talk about Female Speakers in Search)

14 February 2013 BY

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The lack of female speakers at search conferences (and indeed in other fields, not to mention wider calls for diversity generally) is something which I think about a lot.

I’m not convinced I have *the answer* or even an answer I’m completely happy with, but nevertheless I feel it’s time I woman-up and throw my hat into the ring. For the purposes of today I’ll be limiting the topic to female speakers at search conferences, not because I don’t think broader calls for diversity aren’t without merit (of course they are), but simply because I want to stick to a topic I feel I can legitimately write about.

We run conferences at Distilled and as one of the individuals who works on speaker selection, I feel that there’s a particular issue which isn’t being discussed publicly right now. Many have spoken about problems in finding women who are happy to speak, or problems with fewer women pitching. I will be talking a little about this here, however there’s another issue I’m more interested in:

  • Why are female speakers typically rated lower (in terms of audience feedback surveys) than their male counterparts?

I’m not sure why this isn’t talked about more. Possibly because not everyone is aware of it. Possibly because it makes us uncomfortable.

I’ll then look at the following questions:

  • Do these lower ratings ‘feed the beast’ – i.e. are there fewer females speakers because of these lower ratings?
  • What should we do about it?

1) Why are female speakers typically rated lower (in terms of audience feedback surveys) than their male counterparts?

 

As I mentioned above, females being rated lower than males might not be something which you’re aware of.

At Distilled we ask our conference attendees to rate our speakers’ content and performance on a scale of 1 to 5 and also offer the opportunity for delegates to offer free-form written feedback. Now we don’t have a 50 /50 split of male to female speakers, but even proportionally the women seem to do worse than the men.

We’re not alone in seeing this phenomenon. I know that others who run conferences (both in search and other sectors) also see the same.

If we trust the data, we’d conclude that it’s a simple case of female speakers not being as good as male speakers.

Troubling isn’t it? Do you think that’s the case?

I find that very difficult to accept. SEOs tend to trust data, many of us are advocates of data-driven decision making, however in this instance I’m going to come straight out and say: I don’t trust this data.

Here are my issues:

a) Methodology

Not everyone completes the speaker feedback forms so we don’t actually get a complete data set – we don’t know what everyone at the conference thought, we only know what those who responded think.

To take this a step further – who out of this self-selecting audience responds? Those who hated stuff and those who loved stuff. As such we’re collecting only polarised data.

Plus of course, we’re often asking for speaker feedback post the event – and these events are hectic. Who can remember every session? We can’t, we can only remember those we felt most strongly about – those we loved and those we hated.

Now you might at this point be questioning what this has to do with female speaker scores – surely these flaws in our methodology are gender neutral, right?

Actually I’m not so sure.

b) Objectivity is nigh on impossible

It’s very difficult to rate a speaker objectively – naturally our responses are coloured by a number of things:

  • How were we feeling at the time – hungry, tired, caffeine or nicotine deprived
  • How useful was that speaker’s session to us personally
  • How much do we like or respect the speaker

Now objectivity ought to be gender neutral, right? I’m happy to go with the assumption that scheduling (i.e. when a speaker is on and whether or not the audience is hungry, tired etc) is a gender neutral issue, but what about the other two? Let’s deal with them in turn.

How useful was that speaker’s session to us personally?

I’d postulate that we might be seeing gender biases here.

I think that females have a tendency to be more compliant than males. I’m aware this sounds like a giant leap, so I’m going to give you a little evidence of this. This is a direct quote from a TED talk that Sheryl Sandberg gave:

“I’m about to tell a story which is truly embarrassing for me, but I think important. I gave this talk at Facebook not so long ago to about 100 employees, and of couple hours later, there was a young woman who works there sitting outside my little desk, and she wanted to talk to me.I said, okay, and she sat down, and we talked. And she said, “I learned something today. I learned that I need to keep my hand up.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, you’re giving this talk, and you said you were going to take two more questions. And I had my hand up with lots of other people, and you took two more questions. And I put my hand down, and I noticed all the women put their hand down, and then you took more questions,only from the men.”

In this situation women put their hands down because they’d been told to. Men didn’t.

Let’s bring this back to conference speaking.

I’d suggest that if women are asked to speak on a particular topic they’ll often do so; even if they think an alternative topic will be more interesting (or indeed useful) to the audience. I know I’ve done this myself. I’ve pitched to speak about link building, but been asked to speak about something else instead. I’ve complied even though I know audiences are more interested in link building than the topic I was asked to speak about. Like the women at Facebook putting their hands down, I played by the rules and complied. As a result I spoke about a topic which was less relevant and/or interesting to the audience.

Conversely I think males are less likely to comply. Again, I’ve seen firsthand male speakers stand their ground, refuse to comply and as a result speak about the topics which are more exciting and relevant to a bigger percentage of the audience.

Is this always the case? No, I couldn’t say categorically that this is always the case. But could this be a factor? It seems plausible to me.

OK, maybe you buy that, maybe you don’t.

What about how much we like or respect the speaker?

That ought to be gender-neutral, right? Let’s deal with ‘like’ first.

I want to share something else from Sheryl Sandberg’s talk about inherent gender biases when it comes to likeability:

“There’s a famous Harvard Business School study on a woman named Heidi Roizen. And she’s an operator in a company in Silicon Valley, and she uses her contacts to become a very successful venture capitalist. In 2002 — not so long ago — a professor who was then at Columbia University took that case and made it Howard Roizen. And he gave the case out, both of them, to two groups of students. He changed exactly one word: “Heidi” to “Howard.” But that one word made a really big difference. He then surveyed the students, and the good news was the students, both men and women, thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent, and that’s good.The bad news was that everyone liked Howard. He’s a great guy. You want to work for him.You want to spend the day fishing with him. But Heidi? Not so sure. She’s a little out for herself. She’s a little political. You’re not sure you’d want to work for her.”

What does this mean?

Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.

This means that men who are successful are also considered likeable. However, women who are successful are not considered likeable.

Wait, what?

Essentially if women want to be liked, they’d better not be too successful. Trouble is, speaking at a conference probably means they’re successful. Unhappily this makes them less likeable, not more. Conversely, if you’re male and speaking at a conference (and ergo successful) this makes you more likeable.

Embarrassingly this is equally perpetuated by both males and females.

By this I mean, it’s not just men who aren’t so sure about successful women – women too judge successful women to be less ‘like-able’ than successful men.

Let’s move on to ‘respect’. Here’s another space where we have something of a gender bias. There are many females in the search industry who are well respected; however there are far more well-respected males.

Coupled with the fact that ‘respected’ again likely means successful and success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women – we’re back around to where we started.

Perhaps female speakers are less respected (or liked – it’s difficult to differentiate between the two) and therefore score less well than their male counterparts. Perhaps this is perpetuated further by the way in which we collect speaker feedback (i.e. after the event, not everyone responds, more often than not you’re capturing polarised views).

2) Do these lower ratings ‘feed the beast’ – i.e. are there fewer females speakers because of these lower ratings?

 

There’s lots of talk about a desire to select speakers based on meritocracy – i.e. conference organisers ought to select the ‘best’ speakers based on merit. I’m all for this.

But how do we judge merit?

If we rely on speaker feedback scores (and we acknowledge that female speakers are typically rated lower than male speakers) then there’s a danger that the number of female speakers are negatively impacted, as they’ll not be invited back due to low ratings. This is particularly troubling if (like me) you’re concerned about the validity of the data being collected.

But is this the whole picture? No.

I mentioned previously that it’s often highlighted that many women don’t pitch to speak. But why is this? Is it a confidence thing? Again I’ll fall back to Sheryl Sandberg:

“…women systematically underestimate their own abilities. If you test men and women, and you ask them questions on totally objective criteria like GPAs, men get it wrong slightly high, and women get it wrong slightly low.”

I could well believe that this tendency for females to underestimate their own abilities may mean that many lack the confidence to pitch.

What about those who do speak? Do some of them speak once, get bad feedback and never speak again?

Having been on the receiving end of low speaker ratings and some pretty ugly feedback I’ve been sorely tempted just not to speak again. Why? I felt like I had failed. But again, surely that’s without gender bias, right? Low speaker ratings are equally hard for both men and women to take.

Maybe, but maybe not.

There have been a few interesting studies on how women and men attribute success and failure, one such study highlighted:

“…women may attribute success to luck and failure to ability, while men attribute success to ability and failure to luck.”

That seems to indicate that women tend to take failure personally – I got poor speaker feedback because I’m a poor speaker. Whereas men might tend to feel – It’s just bad luck that I got poor speaker feedback.

Alternatively it’s been suggested to me that perhaps men are likely to feel – I got poor speaker feedback because I gave a poor talk; the crucial difference being giving a poor talk is not the same as being a poor speaker.

Finally there are well-documented examples of inappropriate behaviour at search conferences which makes me wonder – are women scared of something else? This is totally unacceptable and needs to stop.

3) What should we do about it?

Try to find better ways of measuring ‘merit’

I believe whole-heartedly in meritocracy – trouble is, as I’ve highlighted above, I don’t think the current methodology of seeking feedback is an effective way of judging merit.

For Distilled’s conferences, in addition to continuing to solicit delegate feedback, we’re also going to appoint a Feedback team comprised of trusted peers. This team will be asked to rate all sessions (male and female speakers alike). They will also be encouraged to provide written feedback and to do so as soon as possible – i.e. ideally directly after each session has finished.

Hopefully this will help in two ways – one we’ll have a more complete data set, and two because we’ll be asking for ‘instant’ feedback we’ll be less reliant on people remembering how they felt about each speaker.

Additionally, the crucial difference is that their feedback will not be anonymous.

If we have questions about their ratings or comments then we’ll be able to go back to the individual in question and ask for further clarification. While the members of this team will potentially suffer the same gender bias as our audiences in general we’ll be able to highlight when / if we think that a gender bias has come into play and indeed encourage this feedback team to closely examine how and why they’ve rated the speakers as such.

In addition to seeking more trustworthy data we’re also seeking more actionable feedback for all speakers – not just women.

The need for more trustworthy data is pretty self-explanatory. The problem of a lack of actionable feedback? Well it’s one of the things that has most frustrated me as a speaker. For example, at one conference I spoke at I received the following comment:

“People who work for Distilled who aren’t Tom or Will Critchlow shouldn’t be allowed to speak.”

So the takeaway for me is – be Tom or Will? That’s going to be tricky. Or maybe they simply meant I just shouldn’t speak. That’s actionable I guess, but not particularly helpful.

We’re hoping this feedback team will be able to offer helpful, actionable feedback which will help all of our speakers (not just women) improve.

I’d be really keen to hear your thoughts on this – is this a good idea? Bad idea? Do you have a better idea?

Stamp out the inappropriate behaviour.

Seriously. It’s 2013.

Carry on speaking (or start)

In the meantime, I’d urge female speakers to keep on keeping on. Continue to seek to improve and continue to speak. Actively solicit feedback from your peers. Ask open questions like – is there anything I could have done differently to improve my content / performance? Listen to those who you respect the most.

I’d also urge females who aren’t speaking right now to actively seek opportunities to do so.

What’s with the reference to Shakespeare’s sister?

For me this is why this issue is important, why we should continue to talk about it and why we should try to change things.

While writing this post, echoes of ‘A Room of One’s Own‘ kept running through my mind. For those who are unfamiliar, A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay which was based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf delivered in 1928. It was first published in 1929  and it’s a summation of Woolf’s argument for a space for women writers within the traditional patriarchal world of literature. I think it’s relevant still today. In search and elsewhere. I think it nicely summarises why this is important.

84 years ago Woolf wrote:

For my belief is that if we live another century or so…  

if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…

the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born…

I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

I’m saddened that 84 years on, we’ve not progressed further. But continuing to work towards increased diversity is worthwhile; both for women in the industry right now and the women who will come after.

We’ve come a long way, Virginia Woolf. Perhaps not far enough.

But in another sixteen years? Who knows, maybe we’ll raise Shakespeare’s sister up.

A final quote from Sheryl:

“I want my daughter to have the choice to not just succeed, but to be liked for her accomplishments.”

Post Script

I’m aware that within this post I’ve spoken a lot about the differences between men and women. Wherever possible I’ve attempted to use studies to back up what I’m saying, rather than blindly making general statements. I understand that those generalisations can be offensive to both men and women alike. For example, regardless of what any study says, clearly not ALL  women attribute success to luck and failure to ability, and neither do ALL men attribute success to ability and failure to luck. Nevertheless I think that these studies provide interesting insight which is pertinent to the subject matter.

Finally, for the sake of clarity I want to highlight that I don’t think these issues exist in our industry or any other because every male is inherently a chauvinist, or because all men are harbouring some kind of vaguely repressed hatred for women. There are people who behave inappropriately and they don’t help the situation. However, they aren’t the whole story and I hope I’ve demonstrated this issue is far more complex than that.

And so, dear reader – over to you. I’d love to hear from you. Hit up those comments. That’s what they’re for.

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AUTHORED BY:
h

Hannah Smith is an SEO Consultant working for Distilled in their London office. She manages technical, link building and content campaigns for clients across a range verticals in addition to managing one of the internal SEO teams at Distilled.
  • http://www.willcritchlow.com Will Critchlow

    Thanks for writing this Hannah. I’m very pleased that we are (finally) talking about it in public. Looking forward to moving closer to some solutions.

  • Richard Fergie

    Thanks for putting this together Hannah. Uncomfortable, but important, reading for me; I’m sure I am occasionally guilty of some of the biases you point out.

    And I don’t even run a conference!

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks for reading Richard. We’re all occasionally guilty of those biases, it doesn’t make us bad people, just human :)

  • http://www.katedreyer.co.uk/ Kate Dreyer

    Thank you for writing this, it’s such an important issue at the moment and using studies to back up the theories behind the problem will hopefully get people to listen up.

  • http://twitter.com/BrionyGunson Briony Gunson

    Firstly, this is a fantastic post, Hannah. But it certainly makes for uncomfortable reading. This is a subject I’ve debated many times in the past as well.

    I’m firstly reminded by the Teresa May story I read in the paper yesterday, with politicians commenting on her appearance (I can only find a Daily Mail link about it, so I’m not going to link to the story) – why would one of her contemporaries feel the need to comment on her appearance? Would this happen if it were a male politician under the spotlight? Similarly, if you scroll through Twitter during a talk or conference with a hashtag, it’s not unheard of for many tweets to be focused around the female speaker’s appearance rather than the content of their talk.

    Regarding success and the positive and negative associations, those gender biases do seem disappointingly engrained in us. I’m not wholly sure why but it is very uncomfortable! My sister experienced much of this during her time as a biology PhD student, where a male contemporary working on the same project had his efforts regularly applauded but my sister’s same achievements were sneered at by their shared (female) supervisor.

    I, like many people I’m sure, often suffer from intellectual insecurity and doubt my abilities, but I try to ignore those feelings and push on regardless. I think the quote “…women may attribute success to luck and failure to ability, while men attribute success to ability and failure to luck.” rings especially true in my experience.

    Saying all this, it’s my goal in the next 18 months or so to talk at a conference (although to prove the point I mentioned earlier, I don’t feel 100% confident in my own abilities yet, ha!) and I guess it’s good to know what to expect in terms of feedback.

    But female speakers I’ve seen at conference, such as yourself, act as inspiration for women in the same industry, like me!

    Please keep speaking.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks so much for commenting Briony!

      Best of luck on the speaking front; I will keep speaking, and hope to keep improving :)

      • http://twitter.com/BrionyGunson Briony Gunson

        Will do! And I’ll be sure to come and say hello at Brighton SEO! :)

        • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

          Please do – really looking forward to it :)

    • http://twitter.com/TextBroker Textbroker

      Hi Briony, if you’re nervous about your abilities, think about joining a speaking group like Toastmasters. I’ve been a member of my chapter for 3 years, and it’s been a great way to test-drive speeches. Because you get feedback from fellow members who want you to succeed, it really helps make you more comfortable. Good luck to you!

  • http://twitter.com/philnottingham Phil Nottingham

    Thanks for writing this Hannah – I commend you for digging in to a hot potato which a lot of people have essentially skirted round without addressing the meat of the issue.

    I’m fascinated with this trend, because it seems somewhat alien and usual to me. Before working in SEO, I’ve previously been involved with conferences/the lecture circuit in the Philosophy and Theatre communities – neither of which had a noticeable gender divide regarding the prominence or respect shown to known speakers.

    I wonder if this was partially down to a more equal audience demographic, thereby diluting a possible gender bias – but if, as you say, it’s true that both men and women have a tendency to view successful women in a negative light – then this logic would appear to not stack up. However, I do think some men who have worked for an extensive period in excessively male dominated environments, such as tech, struggle with dealing with female figures of authority. I’ve spent most of my working life so far in industries where women outnumber men; I’ve only ever been managed by women and have thus, since getting into SEO two years ago, found some of the perspectives prominent in the community to be truly shocking and ridiculously outdated.

    I postulate that perhaps, whatever the underlying cause, this issue can be fixed through an editorial position by conference organisers. If those with the power consciously decide to actively encourage female talent, we can slowly overcome the issues currently at play.

  • iamoldskool

    Firstly, I watched you speak that year and who ever made that comment is out of their tree, your session was filled with proper actionable information that was very well presented and having watched Phil and Mark last October, I’d say there are plenty of people in Distilled who are engaging knowledgeable speakers.

    Where I stand on this, is that firstly, I’m pretty crap at filling in the feedback form, so apologies but secondly, to be honest, I really don’t see gender when people are on stage, all I see is intelligent articulate people who are at the top of their game sharing helpful useful advice and tips.

    I understand there is gender inequality in speakers though, but in all honesty, you have to ask whether positive discrimination is the way forward to forcably equalise the number of speakers, or whether the way forward is to literally have a gender blind selection process (names taken off pitches and handed to a neutral knowledgable 3rd party)

    When the National Philharmonic Orchestra chooses a new member, there is a blind audition, the people making the decision don’t know whether it’s a man or woman playing, whether they’re fat or thin, the colour of their skin, whether they’re good looking or ugly and they choose based purely on the merit and skill of the playing. Personally I think this is a much fairer process.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Jim,

      In no way am I advocating positive discrimination. I’m not sure where you got that from. I’ve put forward a solution to help us better measure merit (for everyone – male and female speakers), that’s all.

      • iamoldskool

        Apologies Hannah, it was not my intention to imply you did, there have been a lot of posts of late about gender bias at conference and you probably ended up with the brunt of my feelings on the whole subject rather than the specifics of this post, most sincere apologies.

        I’ll just leave it as….yes the current way of measuring merit is flawed and needs looking at :-)

    • http://www.willcritchlow.com Will Critchlow

      Since we don’t take pitches (but rather reach out to build the speaking team we want) we can’t do blind pitches. I think we therefore have even more responsibility to get this right but also a bigger opportunity to do so as we aren’t constrained by any relative reluctance of women to pitch.

  • http://twitter.com/mattfieldingSEO Matt Fielding

    Powerful stuff Hannah. I’ve attended Distilled conferences and been impressed with both yourself and Heather Healy who spoke at Searchlove last year.

    Without stereotyping, I think there are characteristics of either gender that tend to ring true – for me the advice from female speakers tends to be more real and actionable but I find that male speakers often skip the details and concentrate too much on the general. The amount of times I’ve heard high-profile male speakers talk about ‘building relationships’ without giving advice on “how” is a source of great frustration.

    Your point on the majority of feedback being from those who are either really positive or really negative is also a valid one and I think your panel of peers will be far more useful. Nothing more dangerous than apathy!

  • kmcgaffin

    Hannah, that’s a very thought provoking post. Not least because of the suggestion of a feedback team of trusted peers as well as delegate feedback. One for every conference organiser to think about.

  • http://www.donnafontenot.com/ Donna D. Fontenot

    I like iamoldskool’s suggestion of a “gender blind selection process”. I realize (now) that it wouldn’t work for Distilled since there’s no pitch process, but it could work for many other conferences. It, of course, wouldn’t change the other issues of feedback, etc., but it would at least address the bias that may or may not exist in the selection process.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Hi Donna,

      I like the idea in theory, however I think it would be very difficult to implement in practice.

      When you pitch for a speaker slot, you’re often asked to provide evidence of your expertise. Even assuming posts written were copied and pasted into Word (or whatever) and names removed I think there’s still a decent chance that the panel would recognise the post and therefore be able to identify the speaker.

      Now of course one could potentially skip the evidence submissions but in doing so it would be really difficult for the panel to judge the speaker’s knowledge and experience; and therefore merit.

      Not saying it’s a bad idea, just that whilst it might remove some bias, it might be at the expense of judging merit.

  • http://twitter.com/jane_copland Jane Copland

    I think this is absolutely fascinating. I told you privately about how some of these issues upset and frustrate me, but from as objective a position as I am capable of having, I think this is an amazing topic. I am really glad you are writing about it, given that Distilled has now run seminars and conferences for a few years.

    It’s no secret that being perceived as female can be detrimental. Who remembers “James Chartrand”, the woman who found that she earned a lot more respect and success whilst writing as a man? http://www.copyblogger.com/james-chartrand-underpants/

    We’re all quite aware of the most blatant examples of bias – Sarah Parmenter talks about someone telling her, “no offence, I just don’t relate to girls speaking about the industry at all, I learn better from guys” in this post: http://www.sazzy.co.uk/2013/02/speaking-up/. A friend of mine was approached after her talk at an event a few years ago by a guy who said, “so half the room wants to sleep with you, but do you know anything about SEO?” Those things are more obvious. What’s less obvious is when biases go without being said, or the person holding the bias doesn’t realise.

    The big things are obvious and are thankfully becoming taboo in our industry. But little things happen and I sometimes don’t even clock them as “WTF” moments until afterwards. At a speakers dinner before an event just a year ago, the guy sitting next to me said, “And what’s a pretty young lady like you doing here?” (Despite the fact that I am nearly 30?). He was really surprised that I was speaking at the event. He was also really nice (we had a good dinner, sitting together) and a clearly embarrassed that he’d said that, but if that’s a mindset some people (male and female) subconsciously or consciously carry into conferences, how do you think that affects how they view the speakers’ content? If I am first and foremost a pretty young lady to them, am I going to be assessed similarly when offering educational or technical advice as Rand Fishkin? Will Critchlow? Mike King? Joe Bloggs? Would my talks be assessed the same if I were James Copland?

    You know this, but it’s worth mentioning that the people who’ve filled out audience feedback forms in this manner aren’t bad people. They are all of us, male and female. And the key take-away is that we assess our own choices and biases without getting too defensive. A hard ask, but I am so glad you shared this so the discussion starts.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks so much for commenting Jane :)

      I’d definitely second your assertion that the people who filled out audience feedback forms aren’t bad people.

      I’m also really heartened by the reaction to this post (I was really worried about publishing it). As you say, assessing our own choices and biases without getting too defensive is a hard ask, but I hope we continue down this path.

  • http://twitter.com/mattbeswick Matt Beswick

    Hi Hannah,

    This is a really interesting one. Using SearchLove 2012 as an example (which was my 4th or 5th Distilled conference), it was almost certainly the male speakers that stood out the most. Whether this is because of presentation style, subject matter, or blatant chauvinism I’m not 100% sure, but I’d like to think that it’s a mixture of the first two ;)

    If we take Lisa as an example, I think everyone knows that she’s a great speaker. Knowledgable, fun, and swears a lot… but International SEO as a topic is a tough one as, for the majority of people, it’s going to be fairly irrelevant. I’d be fairly surprised if her feedback was bad but she was never going to get the same kind of glowing reception that the likes of Dave Mihm – talking about Local SEO – would receive.

    The other two female speakers, again, just didn’t resonate with me. One because the topic could’ve been covered in 2 minutes flat (although, again, was presented really well) and the other because I felt like I spent 40 minutes being sold to.

    I’d hope that, as an industry, there’s not an engrained male superiority complex but we are in a niche that’s dominated by men. It does feel like that’s changing, helped by a few people who have (rightly) taken issue with some of the more borderline placements (and by that I mean complete sexualisation) of women at SEO conferences and events.

    That’s also aided by a creeping addition of some amazing female talent. Yourself included (of course :)), we also have the likes of the aforementioned Lisa Myers, Annie Cushing, Mackenzie Fogelson, Kate Morris, Jane Copland, and so on…

    Finally, it’s interesting what Matt said about a habit of male speakers skipping the detail. I’m absolutely with you on that and is something that I know a few people have mentioned… lots of theory and high level ideas about strategy and how we should be doing things but, at the same time, far less real life examples of great tactics that actually work.

    It’s my first time speaking to the industry next week (Distilled Live Meetup in London). Looking forward to some of that feedback you mentioned ;)

    Matt

    • iamoldskool

      Now you see, I disagree, I found the international SEO one fascinating and really well delivered because it’s something I’m just starting to deal with more and more so it was very timely and very well delivered and to me, a better presentation than the local SEO one (although both were excellent).

      Agree about the sales pitch though

      • http://twitter.com/mattbeswick Matt Beswick

        Ah, fair enough… I was making the guess (possibly incorrectly) that Local SEO would be relevant to more people than International, just because of the smaller number of businesses that need to go multi country / language :)

        • iamoldskool

          not disagreeing, just saying it was more relevant to me at the time, and therefore for me, it was the better presentation and one I’ve used info from multiple times

      • http://twitter.com/LisaDMyers Lisa Myers

        Thank you very much Iamoldskool. Now if you could have just been one of the people that actually left a review of my session that would have been brilliant. My scores were poop.

        • iamoldskool

          Promise I will next time I see you speak :-)

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Matt, we should definitely talk further on this next week :)

    • http://twitter.com/LisaDMyers Lisa Myers

      thanks for your kind words Matt :) It actually proves the point pretty well actually as I did indeed get a VERY low score and pretty negative comments on my session on International SEO. Its not the first time either, I always get lower scores than my male counter parts. It might be that I’m not as good speaker as some of them but after 6 years of speaking you should think I am starting to get the hang of it. It’s a bit like female comediennes, they can’t JUST be funny, they have to be fucking hilarious to get laughs. Like we say in Norway “like walking against the north wind”.

      And I’m not entirely sure the subject would change my review, I’ve spoken about “local SEO”, “social”, “link development”, “technical seo”, “schema” (although that took me 1 freaking year to get a speaking gig on) and more but always had a feeling that I would never quite achieve the same scores as my male counterparts.

      • http://twitter.com/GemmaBirch Gemma Birch

        Lisa- whenever you’ve spoken at ISS, you’ve definitely had one of the highest scores each time (in fact i’m pretty sure you were narrowly pipped to the post for the Medallion Speaker by Bas). I’ve not noticed a bias against women at ISS events at all ( we have way fewer women speakers than men, but that isn’t surprising based on all the comments here!) – and I find it surprising that that isn’t the norm. In an industry that is generally so friendly, inclusive and supportive of everyone in it, its crazy to think that such a bias exists – especially when there are so many excellent women speakers out there.

    • David Mihm

      I think this is the first time that Local SEO has NOT been judged to be the least relevant content to the majority of the audience at a search conference :)

      In all seriousness, I’m surprised that women are more likely to get POOR ratings at search conferences. First time I’ve heard that. There are plenty of female SEO “rockstars” (many of whom have been mentioned and/or commented on this list) who do just as good a job as your average male SEO “rockstar” at these shows.

      Perhaps the solution IS to give more women their chance at speaking — we never know where the next Wil(helmina) Reynolds or Rand(i) Fishkin may come from? As a veteran of the SEO conference circuit, I at least am always more excited to hear, and impressed by, NEW speakers that do a killer job on a topic that interests me regardless of their sex…

  • http://twitter.com/ianhowells Ian Howells

    Very good and needed discussion, but… didn’t this just bias the feedback panel into being super conscious about how they’re going to rate female speakers? And, as an extension of that, make them potentially less critical of female speakers?

    I know, personally, seeing this discussion and then being asked to rate speakers, it would be extremely difficult to actually give my honest feedback because I’d immediately be second guessing any negative points about any female speaker and looking to see if I’m just perpetuating some sort of gender bias.

    Granted – that could just be me, and the people selected may do much better than I would. Hopefully that’s the case, because I agree on the selection bias points you raised.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Hey Ian,

      You’re right of course, there is a danger that in doing this we might be biasing the feedback panel. It’s not a perfect solution. However I do think that it’s a step in the right direction.

      I shared this post with a friend and she said:

      “I really like the idea of a panel of peers, who aren’t anonymous, needing to consider and justify feedback. It’s too easy to give knee-jerk reactions anonymously and when you like that all your hidden biases and prejudices come into play.”

      Like I said, it’s definitely far from perfect, but it will (I think) encourage more thoughtful feedback for all speakers, not just females as a result.

  • http://www.jonathoncolman.org/ Jonathon Colman

    “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”

    This is the line of the year. And it gets directly to the heart of the matter, which is perception. Brilliant observation and analysis, Hannah.

    It makes me think that while we spend our days optimising data and content and experiences, we still have some work to do to optimise ourselves as well. Thank you for writing this.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks for your comment and the compliment Jonathon, I’d definitely concur that we still have some work to do to optimise ourselves. I’m really heartened by the discussion here (and elsewhere).

  • Pingback: An Idea to Solve the Lack of Women Speakers at Conferences Problem()

  • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

    I’m very happy that gender discrimination in our industry is being discussed more frequently and openly, as it’s a genuine issue (no matter how some people want to pretend it doesn’t exist) and needs to be addressed if we’re to mature and prosper as an industry.

    Not much to add to your excellent post, Hannah. Just hope we can generate a positive momentum and make change happen.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks Barry – I hope so too :)

  • http://twitter.com/MarjyMeechan Marjory Meechan

    Wow.

  • http://www.perfectlyplausible.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    There are so many smart, engaging, confident women in this industry; it seems bizarre that there is still an issue like this.

    I would certainly be interested to hear about any specific opportunities that are being denied (or from individuals who feel their own ambitions are being blocked) and to see the Feedback Team’s reports mapped against audience feedback.

    It takes a bit of courage for organisers to say to their own audience “you’re wrong”, but progress is rarely achieved by following the easiest path.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks for your comment Ian :)

      I’m not sure we’re necessarily saying that our audience is wrong, so much as the data we’re collecting is unreliable. It’s a subtle difference, I know, but I think an important one. I fear I may be nit-picking; regardless I appreciate the sentiment of what you’re saying.

      • http://www.perfectlyplausible.com/ Iain Bartholomew

        Point taken. Perhaps I should have said something like: “It takes a bit of courage for organisers to act contrary to their data”

        FWIW, and I think I’m right on this even though when I saw you speak it was not in a conference setting, I believe having someone like yourself out there making great presentations, being visible and being successful (and being recognised as successful) can only help inspire others to follow your example.

        • http://www.perfectlyplausible.com/ Iain Bartholomew

          That reads a lot more sycophantic that it sounded in my head.

          • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

            Thanks Iain – I really appreciate the compliment :)

  • Andy Betts

    Great Post Hannah

    Are we saying here that feedback is subjective and ‘sexist’ and not objective feedback. If it is subjective then we have a real issue that needs to be addressed by the industry as this can not be allowed to happen

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Hey Andy,

      I’m not sure I’d put it quite as strongly as that :)

      All delegate feedback is inherently subjective (it’s a qualitative survey) and therefore neither objective or impartial in it’s nature. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sexist. We (both men and women) may however, be unknowingly gender-biased.

      I think the danger comes when we assume that such feedback is an objective measure of merit.

      In writing this, my hope is to highlight the potential issues, encourage further discussion and ultimately come up with more ways to tackle these issues.

      • Andy Betts

        good point – and that may be the route of the issue

        few ideas below

        1.maybe you could ask the conference organisers to share information on the number of male v female applicants (to take account of the wider issue/ fact that there will be more male submissions than women) and factor this in – then share the statistics on submissions and set an appropriate ratio of male and female speaker slots ?

        2. Maybe try and ensure that speaking submissions are reviewed by male and female session organisers (i know some do this already)

        3. Ask conferences to appoint specific, after session review panels, (male and female) experienced search independents, to review the sessions together and provide speaker and conference feedback- rather than just crowdsourcing feedback (like you said that could unknowingly be gender biased)

        Personally – I know many great female speakers but I also know poor ones just like a know many male speakers and many poor ones. However, if female speakers are getting poor feedback because of unknown gender bias then maybe option 3 may be a potential solution to part, not all, of the issue?

        Let me know if there is anything more I can do to help provide a soltuion :)

        • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

          Thanks so much for these ideas Andy – I think it’s a fantastic start :)

          Totally take your point re great (and not so great) male and female speakers and concur that option 3 is a great start.

          I also love the idea of using male and female submission reviewers – like you say I think some conferences do this already.

          Option 1 makes me a little nervous to be honest. I’m not sure I know what the right ratio is. Also I think it could be criticised for (potentially) favouring gender over merit.

          I’d love to hear what others think about this, and would love to discuss this further with you – feel free to drop me an email if you like, it’s on the Distilled site :)

  • http://twitter.com/bethgranter Beth Granter

    This article is brilliant and applies to all tech conferences. Something I always want to explain to people but don’t know where to start. So I’ll be sending them to this article from now on!

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks Beth!

  • http://twitter.com/CaitlinKrum Caitlin Krumdieck

    Thank you very much for sharing this Hannah. Its a topic that’s been on my mind since I first moved to the industry after working in Publishing for 3 years (very female dominant). I remember being shocked at my first conference at the complete lack of women in attendance in addition to women speakers and while the numbers have been improving, there is still a large inequality in the industry.

    Having spoken at the second Search Love conference and having received poor feedback, I have to say I wasn’t keen to jump back up on that horse again. Having read this post, I’m feeling a bit more inspired :).

    One thing I’ve wondered myself about feedback is – do women speakers maybe get bad feedback because we tend to have different communication styles to men? There have been a lot of studies on how women and men communicate differently and I wonder if that could be a part of it. If the audience is predominately male, could that be impacting the results? Not sure how we could test that or even if we should, but still interesting thing to consider.

    Personally I’m encouraged by the ever increasing number of women entering our industry and the tech industry as a whole. Just in the past 4 years, I feel like our numbers have trippled! I think the more women we have in search marketing the more the industry will start to iron out some of the prejudices and the more very bigoted people will stand out as assholes!

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Hey Caitlin,

      You raise a great point regarding communication styles, could certainly be a contributing factor.

      Like you I’m really encouraged by the increase in females in the Tech industry and indeed the increase in females attendees at conferences too :)

    • http://twitter.com/TextBroker Textbroker

      I was wondering that while reading too. A co-presenter at a conference used a very pink template and examples from women’s fashion. While the content was good, I don’t think it caught the audience’s interest as much as an analysis of say, Old Spice. I think as women, we need to find examples that speak to both genders, even if we have a personal favorite brand.

  • http://twitter.com/LisaDMyers Lisa Myers

    Thank you for writing this blogpost Hannah and sharing your experience.I have experienced numerous times similar experiences and it has caused a great deal of frustration in my career. But it hasn’t stopped me speaking (yet). For example, I spoke at Search Love at the end of last year, I was very excited and honoured to be asked to speak and spent a LONG time on my presentation to make it the best it could be. Here’s the presentation for reference http://www.slideshare.net/lisadmyers/international-seo-search-love-london-2012 Then 2 weeks after the event I got an email with my speaking scores, and they were LOW, very low. In fact way below the average percentage score. My heart sank! I thought it went really well and thought people liked it. I got comments such as “it was too basic” and “not enough examples”. Wait? What? I just couldn’t understand it, I shared loads of examples AND even included actual the html code for Hreflang and links to examples for further reading. So how could I get such a low score, I then started thinking about my speaking style, is it the way I talk, my accent (it can be annoying I’m sure) or what? Then I got my self all worked up when I thought about the speakers I had seen that didn’t use ANY examples or in fact give any takeaways yet they got great raves about their amazing talks. I spent a few days agonising of what I had done wrong. Then I ran out of steam worrying and thought: “fuck it”. But the point is that it did bother me, and it IS unfair. And I really hope that things will change and that women speakers gets the same reception as our male counterparts, and to avoid confusion I don’t mean we should be positively discriminated, nothing pisses me off more than when organisers ask me to speak BECAUSE I’m a women! But luckily, I have Norwegian whale blubber thick skin and I will continue speaking whether the audience like it or not (as long as the organisers will have me). I have been speaking at conferences for 6 years now, I spoke when I was 8 months pregnant (and Dom from Think Visibility looked genuinely worried I would give birth on stage. But not as worried as my Geordie husband that I would give birth in Leeds lol). And I have spoken at a conference with my 3 month baby in tow, breastfeeding in between sessions (you should have seen the shocked faces in the speaker room). One day, hopefully not too far away, we will all be judged for what we say as a speaker and not score less for simply being a woman.

    • http://twitter.com/carleyDF website-consultancy

      Lisa

      I thought your presentation at Search Love was one of the best of the two days, why? Because you gave something we could take away, particularly the html for Hreflang – by the way who does the scoring?

      • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

        The scoring we’re referring to here (for SearchLove) comes from the delegate feedback surveys.

  • http://twitter.com/beyondcontent Andrew McGarry

    Marketing is a more female-friendly industry than others. Women in the games industry have horrendous stories: http://kotaku.com/5963528/heres-a-devastating-account-of-the-crap-women-in-the-games-business-have-to-deal-with-in-2012

    That said, if I attend a SEM event I want to hear the best speakers. Gender shouldn’t enter into the equation, otherwise we all start to overthink the issue.

    If there’s mediocre male speakers getting booked ahead of females, the event organisers need to take a look at themselves. Old boys clubs exist everywhere but I’d (naievely) like to think our industry is a bit more forward thinking.

    So book the best speakers, and guys – learn to think less from your little head and more from your big head.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhea Rhea Drysdale

    I wonder how much time we (female speakers) could save for presentation prep and honing if we didn’t spend so much time trying to simply defend our content and knowledge, and build up our confidence. Just a thought. Well researched, I’m familiar with many of the studies you cited and it’s still shocking to hear about them. There’s work that needs to be done. I don’t know the solution, but I love that Distilled was among the first conferences to at first privately acknowledge and assess the bias, and is now trying to adjust for this. Please circle back after the conferences to let us know if you felt this worked.

  • Rich Voller

    This is a fantastic piece Hannah. Kudos to you for taking the bull by the horns and writing about it. I am pretty sure that this is a wide ranging issue that does not effect just the Search community. I would like to pick up on one point if I may and it would be good to hear others opinions on it.

    You mentioned how females have been given lower ratings overall in comparison to male speakers. From all the points that you made that explain this I think that one point is particularly prominent. For me it would be that the female speakers are not speaking (or maybe have not been given the opportunity to speak) on the subjects that are seriously prominent at the time. As a for instance, MozCon 2012, at the time I was trying to take as much in about content marketing strategy as possible. Then Rhea Drysdale gave an awesome talk on reputation management. Now, it was brilliant, no question, but I have to admit I was only 75% paying attention because it was not an issue I was overly concerned *at that point in time*.

    I consider Rhea a great force in the world of Search and have a huge amount of respect for what she has done at outspoken media. I have no doubt she could hold her own, and more importantly, hold the audiences attention speaking on all matter of search related topics, and to any crowd.

    When Rand and the Moz team were putting together the speaker lineup, I very much doubt that they would purposely leave the “keynote speakers” to just being male, as this is a subject from what I have been reading Rand is pretty passionate about. Oh snap, Thinking about it, that is half the issue, as none of the speakers were classed as “keynote” but my own stereotypical thoughts classed them as such. But the keynote speakers in my own mind are those that spoke on subjects are was at the time particularly interested in. Jen Lopez was one of those by the way.

    Anyway, what I was getting at is that the ladies can give as good a presentation as any male I am sure, so perhaps the ball is back in the court of the conference organizers to ensure the ladies get the chance to thrive. Perhaps line up one of the many female speakers to do the head to head? I am not saying to do it just for the sake of diversity, but I bet any of the female speakers could hold there own against either Rand or Will.

    Hannah mentioned that someone stated that nobody should speak from distilled other than Will or Tom. Kudos to you as that would have my blood boiling, especially as Distilled appears to be a close knit team and its hardly constructive. Words cut deeply and

    Jane Copeland mentioned in her comment about the guy asking “what she was doing in a place like this”! As she said it was a WTF moment when thinking back on the situation. As a male I even find things like that embarrassing, even though as Jane stated he was very polite and clearly embarrassed and almost pre-programmed to think that events should be run by men for men.

    A prime example of proving women have there place in speaking at every level, conferences and day to day business. We had a meeting recently and a client asked my head of design to “go and make a cup of tea like a good girl”. She sat out the rest of the meeting but the next week asked to go and and perform the in house training for them that I was due to go and do. In short she blew there socks off and as it goes the guy was truly embarrassed and even offered her a job afterward, luckily for me she said no. But, the prejudice was there, a pretty girl who happened to be carrying a coffee at the time and assumptions were made. But, it was not even mentioned to me until after the meeting, why, because she knew I would react to it where she kept a cool calm composure. In short unflappable.

    Look at it this way, at work I am a professional, I am passionate about what I do. But no more so that the lady sitting opposite me. I own the company but guess what, its me who makes the tea. Why…Why not? I am no better than her, the same as she, I am sure (or rather I hope) thinks about me. (and she cant make tea to save her life…sorry Sue).

    • http://www.willcritchlow.com Will Critchlow

      I think I’d have turned down that job offer in her shoes too!

      Some people are ridiculous.

      • Rich Voller

        Indeed, she can hold her own though and I think at some point gave him a piece of her mind and he couldn’t of been more apologetic afterwards.

    • http://twitter.com/katemorris Kate Morris

      Wow. Like a good girl? This is in no way a constructive comment. But if you still talk to that fine woman, please high five her for me. :)

      • Rich Voller

        Sorry, I rambled and posted. Edited now, hopefully it has some relevance.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Hannah, this is a fantastic article and sheds light on a subject that usually triggers vehemently opposing opinions. From the comments, you’ve obviously done a superb job of providing a balanced perspective.

    I am a woman speaker. I’ve been speaking at 1-2 conferences a year since 2007. I always get great feedback scores and lots of positive feedback in person. Yet I still get passed over time and time again when it comes time for pitches. I have a few theories about this that I’m thinking of detailing in a blog post of my own, but one of them, I’m certain, is because I’m a short, heavy, young woman. And I think people have trouble taking me seriously, even though I know my stuff.

    So thanks for the article, and for encouraging all of us to keep our hands up!

  • http://twitter.com/katemorris Kate Morris

    “I’d suggest that if women are asked to speak on a particular topic they’ll often do so; even if they think an alternative topic will be more interesting (or indeed useful) to the audience.”

    I wanted to laugh and cry at this. Thank you for stating it out loud. I find myself many times wanting to do “what is needed” rather than what I want. I love you for this post and making changes happen within our conferences. <3

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks Kate – right back at you :)

    • http://twitter.com/TextBroker Textbroker

      Agree with you on this. I’m still a beginning speaker, so those first session pitches are tough – how do you present something new when the panel objective is so clearly outlined? I’m glad to hear that’s it’s ok to depart from the text a little.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jackiehole Jackie Hole

    WOW! I have been picking up the Tweets and mails but not had time to read it til now (wanted to give it my full attention). It is completely relevant to me today and this week for various reasons (one of which being present at the London Affiliate Conference…nuff said!)

    I have heard with my own ears several times, ‘Don’t know who any of them are but the woman will be rubbish so let’s go to his talk’ – that has definitely put me off pitching and speaking as it’s a lot of effort to get that sort of feedback BEFORE you’ve even been listened to!

    However, I sometimes think I don’t want to go to that panel as it will just end up as the usual p*ssing up the wall competition between the blokes… so I absolutely agree that we should optimise ourselves and that both men and women need to change their perceptions and behaviour.

    I think all women have been on the end of negative competitiveness from the schoolground to the workplace where ‘successful’ women are disliked… but all too often by the other women in my experience – which I have always found strange given that it is hard enough to get on sometimes – but the inappropriate behaviour has to go – I turn a blind eye to blokes being drunk as it’s easier – not great though hey? I feel quite glad there are so many guys in the industry that don’t act like that and actively support women but I do feel that even saying that means that some people instantly put me in the ‘expects special treatment’ camp.

    Great Post Hannah – really made me challenge my own thoughts on this one and I am still going back and forth as to what I do and don’t think!

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks Jackie!

      It’s a really complex issue, I really hope I’ve done it justice. Definitely think it’s a case of both men and women challenging their own thoughts and examining their biases :)

  • http://www.heatherphysioc.com/seo-blog Heather Physioc

    I appreciate that you used actual data to back up what you’re
    saying. It’s often very hard to put a finger on the pulse of and articulate this
    sort of soft sexism.

    I do find the survey ratings information very troubling. You
    mentioned objectivity should be
    gender neutral, but you reminded me of something Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in
    Blink about auditions for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, and the need to
    put the musicians behind screens so as not to sway the judges when hiring the
    best possible musicians. At first I thought, “Certainly being male or female
    doesn’t make a difference! Right?” But as it turns out, prior to that blind
    audition, the orchestra was skewed enormously disproportionately toward men,
    and not necessarily because men were the best players.

    I think the “women tend to be more compliant” argument is a particularly
    interesting one. It makes me ask “BUT WHY?” until I get to the root cause. I’d wager
    my life’s savings it’s not biological. I think the “women tend to be less
    confident and/or more self-deprecating” argument is worth looking into also,
    and I don’t think that one’s biological either.

    The women judging successful women issue is prominent,
    palpable, very real. And very, very disturbing. If we are even cutting down our
    own perfectly smart and competent sex, it’s no wonder we’re not more confident
    and pitching ourselves more. If we’re ever going to move beyond making up a tiny
    fraction of search conference speakers, beyond comprising only 3% of Fortune
    500 CEOs, and beyond making 72 cents on the dollar compared to our male
    counterparts, we need to start supporting and encouraging one another, not
    holding each other down.

    I saw you speak at MozCon 2011 and thought you were a
    phenomenal presenter, Hannah. It was also refreshing to see a woman as bright
    as you presenting a topic so complex, thought-provoking and challenging. As
    valuable as conference feedback can be to improving for the future, I sometimes
    wonder if it should be treated like YouTube comments. :)

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Thanks so much for your comment Heather.

      I definitely support your point about women judging women – we definitely need to change on that front.

      Thanks also for the compliment on my MozCon presentation, it means a lot :)

  • searchpanda

    Damn I wish I didn’t live in a country that has an 11 hour time difference with you – so I don’t wake up to so many missed comments!

    Another point I always think is interesting in terms of ‘respect for speaker’ and who that speaker is to the audience, is that I do think men in general have a lot less shame when it comes to selling oneself. As a rule, women never want to brag (see the way Hannah modestly introduces her own well-written and valid thoughts) whereas men (as a stereotype) are not afraid to tell the world that they are amazingly awesomely unique and talented, and everyone is lucky to hear then speak. That then translates into the audience being more excited to see them speak, and better scores. We need to unapologetically promote ourselves and our skills a lot more. With the keyword being unapologetically.

    • http://twitter.com/hannah_bo_banna Hannah Smith

      Yes!

      I’m definitely guilty of this. My default position is self-deprecation and it’s a trait I’ve seen in other women too. Definitely need to work on that :)

  • http://twitter.com/nayanmipun nayan mipun

    Feb 5, 2013, The last part, “every male is inherently a chauvinist, or because all men are harbouring some kind of vaguely repressed hatred for women” that you stated, you may or may not support this, but we need to remember that women and men traditionally have different qualities, and both the gender’s qualities are considered superior to the other gender’s qualities, this both genders are chauvinistic towards the opposite gender, sadly this is not recognized by gender activists who seems to concentrate only where men are considered as superior, thus concluding that the world is male chauvinists, and neglecting the fact that the world also considers that the traditional qualities that are found in women are superior than men. This is one of the greatest social mistakes that generations are making since the advent of feminism, unlike the regular feminism for whom it is always the women who are not allowed to venture to men’s traditional work, some small number of feminist may acknowledge that women and men were equally forbidden to their other gender’s traditional works, advocate for women and men taking each other’s gender qualities, but this, by declaring that what women do not perform where males traditionally perform that women were not allowed thus victims, and what men do not perform where women traditionally perform that men are escapists, people are is not exactly acknowledging the women and men equally sufferer gender equality if we consider if we consider one gender as the victim and another gender as an escapists for the same circumstances, adding to this, yes, not every female is also inherently a chauvinist, or because all women are harboring some kind of vaguely repressed hatred for men. Another thing I would like to add here is that, we should not view men’s achievements like inventions and discoveries as male dominance, or for that matter we should not also view women in house work, taking care of babies, as good cooks, as female dominance, there may be people in both genders who are chauvinistic with towards their opposite sex for the expertise that they have in their own gender, but we should also acknowledge people in both genders who used their gender based traditional expertise to foster good will and help for the benefit of their opposite gender.

  • http://twitter.com/brightonseo Kelvin Newman

    Thanks for putting this together Hannah certainly an interesting piece, and as an organiser of a conference I can certainly see a parallel between Distilled experiences and some of the events I organise in terms of audience reaction to speakers.

    I think as an event organiser we have to appreciate that it’s a position of influence and with that influence comes responsibility. That means responsibility for diversity of speakers and to ensure that those people who do have the guts to speak get the best opportunity to get across their knowledge and experience. It’s not something we always get right but I know it’s suitably high on my agenda.

    One thing we do that’s perhaps slightly different from Distilled is we never seek feedback as scores, I just ask what they’re favorite thing was and least favourite thing was. From this feedback, as an organiser, I’m actually not to worried about what individual talks people didn’t like, as often they appear as frequently on other people’s feedback as their favourite. The people I’m unlikely to re-book are the people who don’t appear on either list. And I don’t share this specific feedback with speakers unless it’s something constructive.

    I can see the value in sharing speaker feedback but personally I’ve not done it for my events.

    One area in particular I think we at BrightonSEO/Content Marketing Show have got to improve is the live feedback. I’ve said it before but I geniunely think in a lot of cases twitter feedback makes the event worse for speakers, even if they do a good job and in many cases adds very little value for anyone else.

    I know I’ve done talks where 99% percent of the feedback has been amazing and a small number of tweets have been negative and I’ve obssesed over them.

    How to solve that I’m not sure, but its def something I’m thinking about.

    • http://www.willcritchlow.com Will Critchlow

      We like sharing feedback because *we* want to improve as speakers and want to see our own feedback – we believe that others feel similarly.

      That does, however, come with an obligation to make that feedback more useful and productive.

      Totally agree with you on the power of twitter – I’ve had identical experiences – and have felt very bad for some others I’ve seen get ripped apart on twitter. What is it about writing stuff on the internet that lets people say things they’d never say in person?

      • http://twitter.com/brightonseo Kelvin Newman

        Yeah Will one of the things I admire most about the Distilled events is quite how committed you are to getting speakers to the best possible space to deliver exceptional talks and improve from there, I spose it’s more scores I’ve never seen quite the seen the value in,

        i.e. knowing I got a 3.4 out of 5 doesn’t make me better able to get a 4.5 next time. and feedback like it ‘wasn’t advanced enough’ or ‘too far off topic’ etc. is more useful to me, because in most cases thy’ve done an excellent job on ‘the brief’ and I just need to give a better brief.

        But I can certainly see value in feedback around things like slide design, delivery etc.

  • http://twitter.com/niklasvaittinen Niklas Vaittinen

    Very interesting topic. I’d like to start my response with the hypothesis that in 2013 we do not rate speakers based on their gender.

    In terms of the ratings given to presenters, I think it depends on the sample that you have (is the sample large enough to make such conclusions)? Is it possible that a presentation or two, perhaps due to the topic of the presentation or any other (either external or internal) reason, was not appreciated by the attendees? The reason I’m bringing this up, is that I just cannot belive (of course I might be wrong) that a significant amount of people would rate down a female speaker due to their gender.

    I think we need to have a look at the industry as a whole first. What is the gender ratio in SEO? I’d imagine, especially in terms of technical SEO (as in IT industry as well for example) , this is an area where more males end up than females.

    In the end of the day, SEOs (male and female) want to see leading experts as speakers. Nothing to do with gender. As an example (that I’ve seen live presenting, among others) would be @aleyda (Alyeda Solis), nothing to do with gender. If you know your s**t, I listen, and I’m sure others are with me on this one.

    I do hope for more gender-equal balance on this, as an all-male SEO world would be a sad world indeed.

  • MirandaM_EComm

    Amazing, Hannah. You did spend a lot of time going over the inherent differences between men and women and I thank you for that, as I think they’re a major factor in discrimination in tech or SEO.

    While we’re fighting for equality, we’re also fighting ourselves and our female peers. Women are more critical of other women than men. We have our own biases and insecurities that don’t seem to plague men to nearly the same degree. We may be apologists, or more modest, or feel less deserving. All of these can hinder our performance in business, especially as speakers.

    I see this still in so many other areas… locally, the men who discuss political issues and hold our elected representatives accountable are smart and brave to speak up. I’m a whining bitch (yep, heard it more than once for bringing up the same issues as my male counterparts, discussing in the same way, making the same suggestions),

    Politics, business and tech are still wildly sexist. I don’t know the solution either but it’s heartening to see you take such an effort to explore potential reasons it affects us in SEO. It’s going to take a long time and a lot of work to change, but there’s been such a step forward lately with women becoming willing to speak out about having their asses grabbed or being on the receiving end of disgusting comments, or worse, at SEO conferences. Compound that willingness to take a stand with women like yourself who will rationally and openly host discussions on it and I’m hopeful that we’re really getting somewhere :)

    Kudos!

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  • http://www.neontron.com/ Neontron

    WOW Some serious comments on this post! Thanks Hannah for such a great article, and thanks to those that have commented with vital info x

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