Decisions are made by those who show up.


I love West Wing (the Aaron Sorkin episodes) for their dialogues. During a recent reviewing of the first two seasons one quote really hit home with me:

Decisions are made by those who show up:

It fits very good on the ongoing discussions about female speakers on conferences, or even female attendees on tech conferences.

I have made that point before and will do it again in here: I do not want females on a conference just for the sake of them being there. For me “but you have to have women” is not good enough for a reason to get a women up as a speaker. I also do not want the same men over and over again as it gets annoying, they seldom bring something new to the table.

That being said I usually state also that most topics at such conferences are not the stuff women are interested in. Now why do I feel like I could speak for all women in this topic? (the usual phrase from women is btw how do I dare to do so?). Easy: Because I am going and I am interested. And I have learned a long time ago that what I am interested in is not the stuff most women are interested in.

“They” usually look at me and call me weird (and from time to time ask if I would not like to do something worthy with my time). So the more I am interested in a conference, the more likely it is ‘normal’ women will not.

Why? I do not know. I assume it is the same like with driving cars. Men love to have them as gadgets and women just want to drive from a to b, not understanding why men can spend so much time with it.

And while I go through a certain amount of effort to get more women interested in those topics there is a limit in how much effort I will invest to get women to see that there is something happening which will change their lives big way and they should better be part of it in the beginning.

Because later, when something is hip and big, the complaints will start about the old boys club and how they are an elite circle. Some of them may be, but many of them are not. Especially not when they start out openly and start meeting, start building relationships. With who would you rather work together and share information – with strangers you do not know at all or with people you know?

Decisions are made by those who show up.

If you do not show up on such events, if you do not take part in such events, then those relationships will be build up with other people than you. Which btw is one of the reasons I strongly support events like blogher – as a start. But it is not the solution to all questions. It is good and worthy to have such women only events, but the real world is a mixed one.

If you want to play football, stop going to parties for cheerleader only. You will end up being just a cheerleader and not part of the team.

This year I have met a lot of really nice men who organized events and really where puzzled by how to attract more female speakers as well as attendees. Imagine the look a husband has when he gets the feeling he has done something wrong although he does not really why, how to fix it or how to avoid it – still he is willing to do whatever it takes. But he needs clues, please?

They where serious in their efforts and one of the most asked question was “where do you connect with one another so I can give notice of it?” Obviously, most women do not connect in a visible way which men can reach. Help them.

Decisions are made by those who show up – and participate as well as those who do not get interrupted.

Try this for your next social gathering: count the times a women is telling something / talking to somebody and a guy interrupts your conversation – and the women keep still and lets him take over. Count the times the same happens with between guys.

[Bonus question: Count the number of genders which will react irritated if the women insists on finishing their sentences / stories. Did you guess 2?]

At the moment, the game still has football players and cheerleaders. I think we know that the world is supposed to turn to a place where this kind of separation does not happen anymore – and this does not limit itself to men and women, colored or not, what ever.

But this need to be an effort from all sides and also some compromises.

Some suggestions:

  • For a start, go to a tool like and get yourselves a user with your name and a photo of yourself. Find some people you know. Me for example. Look through the events you might be interested in and add yourself as watching. Look into what groups those events are added and subscribe to their feed to stay informed.
  • When complaining about not having female speakers on a conference I often hear “but we send names” – how many of those names actually took the effort to send in something about themselves and what they would like to present once they hear about the event? If you are interested in the topic, ping the organizers and make them aware of yourself and what you can bring to the table. Hint: Being a women is a bonus, not sole qualification.
  • If you hear about a new conference: blog early about it. Organizers of conferences start with the program and then do the marketing machinery – which in most cases means they are set with the programm. Use a tag like or .
  • When going to an organizer, how many of the women complaining really had something more to say than “there are not enough female speakers”? Because if that is your tune, then go read this link from Loic in the comments about diversity. and refine your message.
  • It is not about the female speakers – so I would assume – but about bringing topics on the program you are interested in because then you would have an incentive to go. Do you actually make suggestions which fit the profile of such an event? Do your interest really align with the goal of the specific event or is it just not for you?
  • Where is your “Top 10 things I would like to see on a dream event” blog post, linked together by a tag like ?
  • If you saw somebody who really was a good speaker, empowering and all – blog about that as well so in case one of your readers does organize something they will get a clue about it.

You will notice that most of this does not apply to women only. :)

And while I am at it: As I am not so keen on speaking but love to help people and answer question – allow for more diversity of the style of your event as well. Mix presentations with discussions with workshops with expert tables and more.

So we all can participate with our personal strengths and make every day a happier more successful day for everyone. ;)

Technorati Tags: ,

Tags: ,

One Response to “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

  1. walter says:

    Hi Nicole,

    You raise some good points. This reminds me of a post by Lisa about BarCamp back in September.

    At Ireland’s first BarCamp ( there was definitely a gender imbalance (mostly male attendees), but most of the women who attended also presented (there were presentations on Ruby, SecondLife, and Podcasting).

    Lisa raised a good point when she said most women just aren’t into tech conferences. However, those women who _do_ attend tech conferences are probably _more participative_ than their male counterparts. I’ve been to more than a dozen talks/conferences this year and – sadly – women speakers/participants are still the exception rather than the rule.

    See you at Le Web 3.