Panels, gender, confusion and a rant

Update: My views have changed significantly since I wrote this post, over 10 years ago. I’m leaving it as is, with this caveat, to acknowledge how I disagree with much of what I wrote.

I might have recognised a complex issue, but had no appreciation of the actual complexities. I’m struck by my thinking of a “problem out of nowhere”, “blown out of all proportion”. I wish I could explain to younger self that there are problems that have always been there, which I didn’t see because they didn’t affect me personally.

It’s taken time, and a willingness to listen to people who are affected, to understand how issues like this. This wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t talked about the problems. I’m pleased to have worked for organizations take gender diversity seriously.

I was going to include this little rant in my @media round-up post, but thought better of it, lest I get too ranty. So yes, this will be a fairly quickly written up little rant, please treat it as such.

As I mentioned before the only negative I came away from the conference with was the Hot topics panel. This was mainly for two reasons, with only vague relation to each other.

Gender and Variety

The discussion of sexism and the under-representation of women in our industry has been going on for some time, more vocally recently. Until now it’s something I’ve avoided posting about. It’s a tricky situation, but still something that has been blown out of all proportion.

Alas the more we talk about it, arguing back and forth, the gender of a speaker becomes more and more important. Thusly i’ve kept my distance and not agitate the proverbial hive of bees.

But at the start of the @media hot topics panel, Jeremy Keith made quite a few pointed comments about the mono-gender of the panel and that any concerns regarded this should be addressed to Patrick (Who organised @media).

For reference, Jeremy has a blog post on the issue as well.

Firstly by raising the lack of female panelists it really creates a problem out of nowhere, why did this even need to get mentioned?. Secondly, although Jeremy says he wasn’t trying to bash Patrick, I’d imagine that’s how it came across to the audience. It implied that Patrick was directly responsible for the lack of female panelists, which seemed like an unnecessary cheap-shot.

I do completely agree with Jeremy’s complaint of conferences being the same old speakers (Himself included), but I really fail to see how the gender debate is involved in that.

Looking at the variety-of-speakers problem from both sides – As an attendee of course we want to see new faces, hear new voices and ideas, but as an organizer it’s still a business and you need to (at the least break event).

This means rely on some level of proven confident and entertaining speakers. A similar analogue would be booking bands for a gig, you need some big names you can rely on to wow a crowd but you also want to expose people to the lesser known. You need a lot of confidence to put a new performer as a headliner, or they need to be mind-blowingly good.

I might be stretching that comparison a little far, but hopefully it makes my point a little clearer.

Disclaimer : This is not a rant at Jeremy personally, more at the way this whole gender debate has gotten out of control of late. I definitely agree more variety in speakers (regardless of gender) is a very very good thing.

Panel Themes

My second issue with the panel probably isn’t an issue for a lot of people.

The focus on W3C related topics was a bit much for me. Yes, it is a very important issue right now, once I’m very concerned with, but it felt like the point was being pushed way too far. Unrelated questions were repeatedly brought back round to it. Yes, played for laughs as well, but still coming back to the same issues.

It felt like the panel was asking/directing questions for their own agenda rather than for than the audience. It also meant to follow some of the topics meant some quantity of pre-requisite knowledge was required for those watching, let alone those commenting on the panel.

Surely a panel like that is not going to be inviting to newer speakers? I’m certainly not suggesting panel should be entirely jokey affairs covering the shallowest of issues, but if you want new faces on panels, then a balance must be struck.

Right, that’s about it for my rant, I certainly feel a lot better for it. Hopefully some points even make sense tomorrow. And again, this is now meant as an attack on Jeremy, or anyone else on the panel.