"There Aren’t Enough Qualified Women Speakers" and Other Garbage Excuses for Why Your Marketing Event Isn’t Gender Diverse

Blog images by Alejandra Porta.

I’ve attended enough tech and marketing events to make a few generalizations:

  1. Women are hugely underrepresented; whether it’s a panel or a conference speaker lineup, chances are it’s overrun with white men.
  2. Sexism is prevalent, and it spans from subtle (think underrepresentation, pinkwashed girls’ lounges) to overt (think harassment, non-consensual advances).

There are exceptions (there always are), but this is the general rule, and it’s a huge stain on the industry you and I are both a part of.

Now I want to make it clear, I’m not here to chastise anyone. As a used-to-be conference organizer, I’m guilty of it too.

When I ran Unbounce’s first-ever Call to Action Conference (CTAConf) four years ago, I invited four women to speak, two of which spoke on a panel. The other seven were — you guessed it — white males.

My reason was an all-too familiar one: “There aren’t enough qualified female speakers.”

This is garbage. It’s unacceptable. And it’s not a reason at all — it’s an excuse. What it really came down to was, I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I wasn’t asking my network for recommendations. I wasn’t doing enough research. I wasn’t making the extra effort required to widen the pool of speakers. I wasn’t committed to gender diversity.

Fast forward to today and my perspective has completely changed. Not only because it’s important to me on a personal level, but also because it makes business sense.

See, when you pull from the same pool of speakers as other folks in your industry, everything starts to look like white bread — bland and borderline junkfood. Your conference looks like that other conference that happened a few months ago. And the content? Yep, it’s the same, too.

By digging a little deeper and expanding your search a little wider, you can discover fresh up-and-coming talent with new perspectives, new things to teach. And you show female attendees that their voice and their professional development matter.

And did I mention you sell tickets and attract more female attendees?

Moz, which hosts its own conference (MozCon), reported that as the percent of female speakers increased so did the percent of female attendees. What else can I say but duh?

I see a lot of progress being made around improving gender diversity in marketing and tech. People are asking questions, they’re holding companies accountable, they’re having those tough conversations, which is a great start.

But what are people actually doing about it?

This post will dig into specific steps you can take to improve gender diversity at your next event. They’re the result of an honest-to-goodness desire to do the right thing and our own cringe-worthy fumbles (more on that later).

It’s my hope that these tips and tactics will help to alleviate any hesitation you or your organization might have about taking the leap.

Commit to gender parity

At Unbounce, we’ve been having conversations around gender diversity for months, so when Unbounce CEO Rick Perrault challenged us to commit to gender parity at CTAConf 2017, the response was a resounding YES, YES, YES.

Making progress one Slack convo at a time.

It’s as simple as this. And yet it’s a bit more nuanced as well.

The truth is, achieving gender parity did take a bit more time and a bit more effort. But the result is a more dynamic lineup of speakers and an opportunity to tap into an audience that otherwise might’ve passed on your event.

Forget ROI — talk about RO why not?!

So how did we do it? How did we stack our lineup with talented male and female speakers? (And more importantly, how can you?)

  1. Leverage your social network and ask for recommendations via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (like Unbounce Co-Founder Oli Gardner did for the Unbounce Road Trip in 2015).
  1. Pull from existing comprehensive lists such as this list of 1,000+ tech speakers who aren’t men and this one featuring 100 influential women marketers.
  2. Trade past speaker lists and ratings with your network of event organizers. I sent personal emails to every event organizer I knew asking them for their past speaker lineups and ratings, and in exchange I shared our list and ratings. This tactic is one is my faves, and it’s how we scored a ton of speaker leads for CTAConf.
  3. Email past presenters and speakers and ask them for recommendations. It’s how we found Claire Suellentrop, who’s speaking about creating high-converting campaigns using Jobs To Be Done at this year’s conference.

Sponsor the women at your own company

I honestly believe that everyone has something to teach. EVERYONE. Regardless of gender, regardless of age, regardless of job title, everyone is an expert in something.

It’s this belief that gave me the courage to raise my own hand and ask to speak at last year’s CTAConf.

But I wasn’t a quote unquote speaker. I guess you could have called me a speaker in residence. I spoke at a few small-time events here and there, but I am not famous like Seth Godin. I don’t travel the world speaking at industry events or conferences.

I was caught in a classic Catch-22: I couldn’t become a speaker without experience, but I couldn’t get experience because I wasn’t a speaker.

But rather than focusing on what I didn’t have, our speaker selection committee focused on what I did have: enthusiasm and a whole lotta event marketing experience to boot.

Once the committee deliberated, I spent two hours whiteboarding my talk with Oli. He and Unbounce Senior Conversion Optimizer Michael Aagaard also reviewed my slide deck multiple times, providing constructive feedback.

Their expertise helped fill the gaps in my resume, so that when I stood up on that stage I felt prepared and supported.

And guess what? It went really well.

So this year we reserved one CTAConf speaker slot for employees, and we sent a callout asking for applicants. The response blew my mind: Four applicants, all women. And though the choice was a tough one, I’m pleased to say Alexa Hubley — Customer Communications Specialist and first-time conference speaker — will be on stage at CTAConf 2017 with her talk “Master Customer Marketing By Watching Romantic Comedies.”

So what can you do to improve gender diversity at your upcoming event? You can start in your very own backyard. Encourage high-performing women at your company to speak at events, and offer them mentorship and support to get them up on stage.

And if you’re a man who’s been asked to speak at an event, consider if there’s a woman you know who is equally qualified to speak on the subject. If there is, offer up your slot. In fact, Oli already did this, when he recommended me to speak at CIMC 2017.

Create a code of conduct

A clear code of conduct helps create a safe environment for your staff and your event attendees by setting expectations for what is and what is not acceptable behavior.

From a diversity perspective, a code of conduct is an especially helpful tool for making women feel at ease, because there are strict policies in place to deter discrimination and harassment.

Creating a code of conduct out of thin air might seem intimidating, so I suggest pulling inspiration from existing codes and adding your own personal flavor.

When we created our code of conduct, we looked to other companies we admired, specifically Moz and Atlassian.

Wistia has written an exceptional post about how and why they created their code of conduct for WistiaFest, including how they made it visible. Humble folks that they are, they highlighted where they could have improved (so you can learn from their mistakes!).

You’ll notice three core principles outlined in all these codes:

  1. Be nice/respectful/kind/inclusive
  2. Be professional
  3. Look out for others
Wistia’s “Golden Rules.” Image via Wistia.

Including these three core principles and your company’s core values is a great place to start.

And remember, there are no rules when it comes to creating a code of conduct, except one… you have to be prepared to enforce it.

Enforce your code of conduct

A code of conduct is like insurance; you hope you never have to use it, but in those unfortunate circumstances, you’ll be glad you have something to back you up.

At this year’s conference, we’re making our code of conduct front and center with printed posters hung around the venue.

You’ll also find the code on the CTAConf website as well as in our conference app. And we’ve made it simple to report a violation by including a direct phone number to our event marketing coordinator in our code of conduct.

While I can’t go into the specifics of every reported incident, I can tell you we’ve enforced our code multiple times, with attendees and speakers.

Yes, speakers.

Remember when I mentioned cringe-worthy fumbles? Well read on, readers.

See, live events are a tricky beast. You have this very passionate person up on stage who’s pumped up and maybe a little nervous. You have no idea what’s going to come out of their mouth. You hope it won’t be anything offensive, but you really have no idea.

You do, however, have control over their content, specifically their slide deck. This is something we learned the hard way:

Props to Annette for calling us out. It wasn’t our slide, but as event hosts, the content that gets projected for all our guests to see is our responsibility. Period.

So what did we start doing to make sure this never happened again? We leaned on our code of conduct:

  1. We send all our presenters the code of conduct beforehand via email
  2. We include the code of conduct in our Speaker Field Guide, which contains everything a speaker needs to know, such as contact information, travel and accommodation info and slide deck specs
  3. (This one’s a biggie.) We review and sign off on everyone’s slide decks, slide by slide, to ensure there’s no offensive or discriminating content
  4. We don’t invite back speakers who’ve broken our code of conduct

And next year, we’ll take a page out of Moz’s book by including our code of conduct right in our speaker and sponsor contract.

So does all of this “extra stuff” add to our workload? You bet it does. But it’s something we account for now. And the payoff is invaluable.

We’ve still got growing to do

You may have noticed this post is focused on how to create a gender diverse event and not a diverse event. The truth is, we know we can #dobetter at elevating folks who aren’t typically asked to speak at events — not just white women, but people of color, non-binary folks and members of the LGBTQ community.

We know we have more growing to do and we’re committed to it, just as we were committed to achieving gender parity at this year’s conference.

I think we’ve come a long way as a company, and I think I’ve come a long way as a champion for women. The excuse I gave as a conference host nearly four years ago — that there weren’t enough qualified women speakers — is no longer an excuse.

We’re welcoming 10 exceptional men and 10 extraordinary women to the CTAConf stage in June, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Hope to see you there :)

Want to attend CTAConf 2018? For a limited time, get 10% off the 2 for 1 rate (just $269.10 a ticket)! Enter the code BLOG2FOR1TREAT here.
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About Stefanie Grieser
As the 9th employee at Unbounce, Stefanie Grieser has gone from scrappy startup marketer to passionate, scale-up leader, heading up international markets, partnerships and events. She was named top 100 female marketers to follow and loves turning a good idea into an impactful, memorable experience. Find her on Twitter @smgrieser.
» More blog posts by Stefanie Grieser
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About Amy Wood
Amy Wood is a former writer and editor at Unbounce. She previously worked as an editor at a nationally published health and wellness magazine, where she learned about the benefits of vitamin D and em-dashes. She enjoys eating tacos, reading graphic novels and binge-watching tv series on Netflix. But mostly eating tacos. Find her on Twitter: @phoenixorflame
» More blog posts by Amy Wood


  1. Jessica Stafford

    Awesome post Stefanie. Topics like this make me proud to be a fan of Unbounce. unbounce.committing to a 50/50 representation will hopefully inspire other companies and organizations to do the same, and we need forward-thinking companies to take these big, important steps in order to create a change movement. Well done!

    • Stefanie Grieser

      So incredibly happy to hear that Jessica. And yes – committing is really the first big step. And you know what’s crazy? Once you say it out loud and commit, making it happen is easy (well, easier).

  2. Karl Gilis

    One of the reasons I like Unbounce (and Moz).
    Thanks for asking me 2 years ago to speak. I was new at that time and you took a risk with my dating tips talk. You didn’t check my slides at that time (John Eckman from Conversionista did that a few months later for his conference and directed my attention to 2 slides that were on the edge. So I changed them. Not to please him but because they could offend some people, especially when you would see the slides without what I say about them.)
    But also thanks because those 2 days I learned a lot from amazing people such as Joanna, Amy, Angie, Nathalie, Talia and many others.
    Keep on doing this Stefanie.
    (And by the way: Els, my business partner and right and left brain for 18 years, is good on stage too ;-) )

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Karl. First of all – thank you for being such a big supporter of Unbounce. There were a lot of lessons learned that Call To Action Conference. Lessons learned the hard way! But it helped us put things into perspective and shape the conference into what we really wanted it to be.

  3. Maria DeLourdes

    When I am among experts in their field, I see them as people, and I don’t put any particular attention to gender. In the scientific world, people are known about their work through publications, current research projects, conferences and symposia, successful grants. Expertise is independent of gender.

  4. Chris Pehura

    I have no problems where events have a diversity of ideas. That said, I want the best people there to speak about those ideas. If they’re men, great. If they’re women great. I don’t want to show up to an event where they were filling a gender quota; may that be for men or for women. I would walk out. I have walked out.

    • Diaz


      This stupid idea that everything should be 50 women/50 men (except, you know, firefighters and other jobs when the risk of losing your life is high) is now prevalent even in digital marketing.

      Now we have lists of the top XXX more successful women in X. It doesn’t matter if in a global scale the 50th women would be more like the 500th, they’re women and deserve to be praised right?


      As you say, the best people should be the ones speaking, be them men or women, that’s not the point, it doesn’t matter.

      If you as a woman think there should be more female speakers in whatever conference you like, then learn what’s needed and go become a speaker. Just please dont drag down the whole standard just to fit more women for the sake of doing it.

      That’s counterproductive and will end making women lazy

      • Chris Pehura

        The prime minister of Canada did this with his cabinet. Many good people were passed up because of gender quotas.

      • Rachel Moore

        Diaz, with respect I disagree with most of your assertions above.

        While I do agree that making an arbitrary quota of 50/50 between men and women could result in lessening the quality of the lineup, logic would indicate that conference or event planner still wants to bring in the dollars and repeat attendees for their event. So if they do give themselves a challenge for a more equal lineup, it’s also in their best monetary interests to seek and find female/minority speakers who would be as knowledgeable (or more) than a white male speaker they were going to go with.

        I did some research on this after this article came out, and a ton of this boils down to the network of the organizer. If they have their routine go-to people and can easily get them onto their speaker agenda, sometimes they’re being – as you asserted women can be – “lazy” and just going with what’s easy and known. If/when that’s the case, we women can do all the things you say we should do: “learn what’s needed and go become a speaker.”

        I hate to break it to you, but the learning is already done. We know the topics, back and forth, at which we’re experts. The “go become a speaker” part is the challenge this article addresses. It’s not just up to us, though believe me, we wish it were.

        To your last assertion that these moves will make women lazy, I admit I snorted at that notion. As a woman, an entrepreneur, and a mother of two, I can assure you getting lazy isn’t on the menu.

        • Amy

          Thank you for chiming in here, Rachel!

          You’re absolutely right (and Stef can back me up on this), the trouble is that conference organizers often tap their go-to speakers — sometimes out of laziness, but more likely under pressure and time constraints. This is simply not okay anymore. And the time required to book a diverse lineup of quality speakers needs to be baked into the planning process so organizers don’t default to what’s easiest/convenient/a sure thing.

          I agree with you also that filling an arbitrary quota is counterproductive, as is inviting a “token” anyone — people are not tokens! But again, if this is all baked into the plan then you can commit to gender parity and stack your lineup with superstars.

          As for women becoming lazy… This is absolutely absurd. I can say that the women who’re speaking at CTAConf have been anything but lazy, and have gone above and beyond time after time. Maybe because they constantly have to prove their worth??? Who knows, now I’m just speculating ;)

        • Stefanie Grieser

          Thank you Rachel. I first hand experienced that speaker selection comes down to the the network of the organizer(s). And if you widen your network you can be really surprised at what amazing talent comes out of the woodwork. I remember when I asked Joanna Wiebe if she knew any fantastic female speakers after she spoke the first year. She nominated Amy Harrison. Of course I vetted her. And guess what? She was so qualified I would have been a fool to say no. I would have never met Amy Harrison, who spoke at our conference last year and was rated 2nd best speaker of the whole damn conference. If I never asked we would have never invited her and our audience would have never learned the knowledge and gems she shared. This article is about doing the up-front work to find amazing, diverse talent. It’s not to simply “fill a quota”. As a conference organizer, you want to make sure your attendees get the most value they possibly can. The women on stage at our conference are qualified. They are the best. But they were just a bit harder to find.

    • Rachel Moore

      Can I ask a question (and absolutely zero snark intended)? How do you know they were trying to fill a gender quota? If you walk into a conference or event and see more women than men, would you assume they tried to pad the speaker lineup with women and then leave?

      Also, if I may, my experience as a woman is always going to be at least a little different from yours as a man. Going to conferences where more men appear than women is a total norm for me. In fact, when I see more women or even minorities included, my radar sends me an alert because I’m seeing something different. I’m there to learn, and often do, but knowing for a fact there are women and minorities out there who know just as much as who is currently on the panel, I’m left wondering why I hardly ever see them.

      • Chris Pehura

        I have no problem elaborating Rachel. I sit on panels too and I don’t agree that man, women, and minorities have different experiences. I think that each person has their own unique set of experiences. I believe this because I can’t find a study that shows that gender or being a minority are factors that alter the interpretation for an experience. I do find studies that say there is no evidence.

        How do I know there was a gender quota used to fill an event? I look at the diversity of the ideas. I look at the quality of the speakers. I look at their ability to answer questions.

        I teach people how to public speak, so I take those things out of the equation when looking at what speakers have to contribute. Some who are very knowledgeable can’t speak well. And that’s okay. I have a bad habit of noting how people talk, stand, and behave.

        But, it’s very apparent when you compare all the speakers at the event who the really outliers are. Sometimes they’re there to broaden a topic. That’s fine. But you can really tell when someone is there and they’re not there to broaden a topic. They are there because of something else.

        In the last while this something else has been about gender and ethnicity. Men, women, LGBTQ, White, and Muslim. Yes, in some events I’ve been in, there were token Men and Whites. The common theme I’m seeing now is that people are confusing diversity of ideas with diversity in identity. When you have diversity of ideas, you can build something better. When you have diversity in identity, people stop talking facts and start debating things that are very subjective. It is very difficult next to impossible to build new ideas when debating. Though debates do put on a good show.

        People are free to run events the way they like. And if they want to attract other groups of people by having certain speakers there, that’s fine. When I made my original comment, I was speaking from the position that I would not go to such an event anymore that had gender quotas. I’ve been to a few events that did this, and felt I really wasted my money. Being the data guy I am, I called up the event organizers and asked them point blank to confirm my impressions that there was a gender quota. In each case they said they had to do it because they wanted to attract a more diverse crowd.

        Really, they just wanted to get a larger crowd. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Chris. As a conference organizer I want the exact same. I would never jeopardize the quality of content and the quality of the speakers just to “fill a quota.” I want the best up there too. I want the best for my attendees. The thing is there are a ton of highly, qualified women out there that will make your conference shine. There are women who are the best – they are just hidden. And it takes a bit more time and energy to find them.

      • Chris Pehura

        Yes, there are a lot of women out there. The problem is that there are very vocal women out there that aren’t experts but are the first women you think of when someone mentions a field. Lacy Green comes to mind. So does Anita Sarkeesian. These two really pumped in a lot of misinformation that the true femaie experts in those fields won’t be seen as credible. And that’s a shame.

  5. Joanna Wiebe

    This topic is directly tied to the topic of [a lack of] female founders. The men we see on stages are, by and large, co-founders or CEOs (Wil, Peep, Oli)… and so are the women (Talia, Mack, moi :) ). As we encourage and support founders and C-levels of all backgrounds, might it also get easier to attract diverse speakers?

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Excellent point Jo. I also think it depends on what your conference is – in terms of content for attendees. For us – we just want really awesome speakers that are marketers. They don’t have to be CEOs or Co-Founders. That being said – CEOs, Founders and C-Suite types are the ones that are perceived to sell tickets…

      • Oli Gardner

        Jo’s dead on here I think. Typically the person in a company who is the de facto public speaker is the thought leader who helped found the company. It’s why they built a business, and it’s why they’re the person who has the voice and opinion that matters.

        Encouraging more equality in entrepreneurship could be the cart that pulls the horse, and is the long road approach we need to take to ensure that five or ten years from now, it’s a wonderfully dynamic and diverse environment.

  6. Amanda Gant

    Excellent post, Stefanie! For my conference, Content Jam, we made it a goal to find the best and brightest for both men and women. It turns out we have more women than men this year and it’s something that I’m very proud of. You don’t have to dig to find bright, talented, engaging women speakers. There are plenty! Proud of you for writing this and for all the work you do. Can’t wait to see you in Vancouver!

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Thank you Amanda. “Trade past speaker lists and ratings with your network of event organizers.” << this line in the post is dedicated to you. Thank you for all your help to make our event better. And HUGE congrats to Content Jam for an amazing, diverse line-up. Let's swap notes again this year. See you in Vancouver so soon!

  7. Jim_Sterne

    Thanks for going so deep on this Stefanie.

    I took on the challenge for my eMetrics Summit in San Francisco two weeks ago… and I took the challenge all the way. Aside from a Microsoft Fellow whom I had invited months and months before, all of the keynote and session speakers and moderators at eMetrics were women.

    I found inspirational women, senior executive women, highly technical women and one who had never, ever presented in public. (I defy my audience to identify the new person!)

    Here’s what I learned:

    Because 90% of the Call for Speakers submissions were men, I assumed there were no qualified women. As soon as I started asking women to speak, I was overwhelmed by choice. With the exception of schedule conflicts – they ALL said yes!

    Great speakers are out there.
    You just have to reach out.

    • michelejkiss

      ^^ And it was amazing.

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Jim. “Great speakers are out there. You just have to reach out.” << Amen! Thanks for sharing your story and experience. From one event organizer to another, I whole-heartedly agree. As soon as I started asking women to speak, they would say yes. And what's more, as soon as I asked the female speakers I knew for other female speaker recommendations the pool expanded so much further and there was a list of qualified, women I could reach out to. Excited to share the list we drum up. Also on another note, I try and trade past speaker lists and ratings with my network of event organizers. You aren't in my network yet so I'd love to connect so we can swap names and notes.

    • Jim_Sterne

      Well, the numbers are in and the almost-all-women speaking roster definitely brought in more women attendees! 54% women in the audience. We also had very high scores for our speakers and a great many more comments on the surveys in addition to the numerical evaluations – both positive and critical… in a helpful way.

      I’m declaring this experiment a business success as well as a successful mindfulness exercise. As a privileged, white male, vigilance is required to see the world as others experience it. The steps are small, but they add up.

  8. Rachel Moore

    LOVE this. Just got mentioned on Twitter with the #PresentHer hashtag and YES – this is so needed and we need a wider range of knowledgeable voices at these events. In fact, #BoutDamnTime should be included with the hashtag, too!
    DOYO Live 2017 and Market Simple 2017 are both featuring a solidly diverse lineup of speakers, and I’m pleased to be speaking at both of them this year. Let’s keep this trend going and growing!

  9. Mari Smith

    Epic post, Stefanie! You’ve started a movement and it’s in full swing, LOVE that!!! I’ve shared this on my Facebook profile. I’m super honored and jazzed to speak at CTA conf in a few weeks, woohoo!! xxoo

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Mari, thank you SO much. It means a lot coming from a powerhouse female speaker like you. And I am incredibly excited that you’ll be speaking on Unbounce’s CTAConf stage. See you in a few short weeks!

  10. Claire Suellentrop

    Stefanie, wonderful post.

    I noticed that the Google Sheet you’ve linked to in the “Update” section (“we’ve started compiling a list of talented female marketers…”) is editable by anyone viewing it.

    Are you encouraging readers to add female speakers to the sheet? If so, I’d love to add a few more names + Twitter handles in there.

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Claire. Thank you so much. And to answer your question – that is exactly what we would love readers to do. By all means add a few more names and twitter handles in there. And send along to others so they can add their recommendations!

  11. Oli Gardner

    Double YESS!!

    So excited to host you as our guest at CTA and have you be our closing keynote for day 1.

    Your passion is amazing.

  12. Amy

    Really interesting insights, Jordan! I do wonder, though, if inclusive is the right word. By doing away with larger events featuring quality content it seems you’re also limiting accessibility. That said, I definitely see the benefit of *also* featuring workshops, roundtable discussions, etc. At CTAConf last year there were both. I think there’s absolutely room to grow to “perfect” the conference experience, and maybe that means smaller, more intimate cohorts. Or maybe it’s both! As for doing away with the “performance of power,” I couldn’t agree more! But in my opinion a speaker can be perfomative and also humble and also aware of the patriarchal nature of their very being on stage. In any case, it’s discussions like this that are crucial in bettering the conference experience for everyone and, as you say, “[creating] an inclusive conference structure that enables everyone to contribute his/her/their skills, ideas & wisdom”. Thanks for chiming in and tell me.. did you get to meet Margaret Atwood??

    • Jordan Bower

      Thanks Amy. I did meet Margaret Atwood. We had coffee together. She has a very droll voice and bright blue eyes that seem full of secrets ;)

  13. Rand Fishkin

    Really great to have Unbounce join in committing to 50/50 gender balance. It’s been great for us at Moz (as you kindly noted in the post), and I think as we expand to feature even more kinds of diversity and aim to get more under-represented folks on stage, in the audience, and into leadership positions across the industry, the positive effects will continue to ripple in meaningful ways.

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Rand. Moz has been a huge inspiration – from the 50/50 pledge, diverse speaker line-up at MozCon (and other Moz hosted conferences), your code of conduct and more. Thank you for continuing to push change in meaningful ways for our industry. See you at CTAConf in a few short weeks!

      • Rand Fishkin

        Can’t wait! Would love to grab a few minutes together to chat directly on these topics, hear your experiences, and see if there’s any way I/Moz can be helpful, or improve ourselves :-)

        • Stefanie Grieser

          Yes! 100% will make that happen. I’ll send you a message closer to the event directly :)

  14. Heidi Pun

    I’m so glad to read a post like this on Unbounce. Good job on the 50/50 split at this year’s ctaconf!

    Love the points made about enforcing the CoC: at the local WebCamp conference we went as far as having printed excerpt posters pasted around the venue! What’s also important are having processes to follow if (or rather when 😒) the rules are broken. Apart from banning people from the next year’s instalment, did you come up with any other potential sanctions?

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Heidi. Too funny. We are making posters for our venue with excerpts! As I was writing this post and re-reading Wistia’s blog post about their code of conduct we decided this was be an excellent way to subtly remind people that our CoC is important and we want to provide a safe, inclusive conference environment. In terms of other potential sanctions we usually approach the situation as a conversation with the individual first. We never really had to go through any other sanctions. Would be curious to know your process for the local WebCamp conference.

  15. Brian Lenney

    Diversity purely for the sake of diversity makes no sense.

    To Stef’s point- if someone likes to have sex with men AND women, they should be given preference over another speaker (e.g. a more qualified and experienced white man) because…why?

    How is this not a kickback to pre-MLK days? If a white man who is the top expert in a subject has something to say, why shouldn’t he be allowed to say it? Why is it okay (here and in all progressive circles) to discriminate against an entire segment of people (white men) because of their gender and skin color, all in the name of inclusion and tolerance?

    It’s backwards and regressive.

    The best person for the job should get the job because they’re the best person for the job, no matter what gender, skin color, nationality, or sexual preference they happen to maintain.

    • Rachel Moore

      Brian, I see your point in that inclusivity could lead to the exclusion of specific voices. However, looking at the history of preference which, for centuries, defaulted to white men, minorities are still clawing their way up from being excluded simply on the basis of them not being a white man.

      And I’d also posit that white men who are experts in their subject matters are absolutely being allowed to say it – with far more regularity than women and additional minorities.

      To that end, I don’t believe this is a move toward diversity simply to say “Hey, look, we’re diverse now!” Stefanie’s article points out that hearing from a myriad of voices of different backgrounds, races, preferences, etc. lends to greater knowledge and a higher revenue for everyone.

      Also, even as a woman, I’m a white woman which means I have experienced greater privilege than women of color. I bring that up because I feel it’s incumbent most upon the group which has been historically been discriminated against the least over history to play an integral role in ensuring everyone in addition to us has a shot at an equal playing field. We don’t have that yet, though as a society we’re trying. But since we’re not there yet, asserting that only the best person should get the job still doesn’t mean that best person won’t be discriminated against in some way because they aren’t a white man.

      • Brian Lenney

        The history of preference defaulted to white men…in what? How? What do you mean by that? So, minorities (which worldwide ARE white men) are being excluded because they aren’t white men? By whom? How exactly? Is this intentional IYO? And, in what spaces? Are you saying only white men lead everything everywhere because that doesn’t line up with reality. Furthermore, why are you advocating for racism and discrimination against someone based on their skin color and gender? How do you not see that you’re doing EXACTLY what you advocate against?

        Women and minorities can’t speak? Apply? Throw their name in the hat? Is someone actively keeping them from doing so? What are you basing this on?

        And, can you help me understand how hearing from a less qualified transsexual (who got put on stage as a token) helps increase revenue for me? How does that work?

        And you as a white woman experience privilege because you’re white? Maybe you specifically do, but white people all over the place experience poverty, racism, discrimination etc. just as much as anybody else does. Being born “white” doesn’t mean you automatically have it made and is not objectively true or even remotely true.

        There are tons of rich, well-off, easy street white folks, black folks, brown folks, gay ones, straight ones, male, female, and there are tons of poor ones too.

        To say whites haven’t been discriminated against is to ignore history and frankly, present day reality. EVERYONE in EVERY GROUp experiences discrimination EVERYWHERE. We’ll never have a level playing field. That’s not feasible and not how the world works.

        And you’re right – just because the best person should get the best job doesn’t mean they will or do. Because, if companies like Unbounce are discriminating against white men who may be in fact the best people for a specific job they apply for and are kept from it (even though they are the best) because of their skin color or gender, they definitely won’t get it.

        And that’s NOT okay to do to anyone.

        White men aren’t the boogeymen to blame for everything. Disproportionate ratios or disparity in gender or race at a conference or a school, or a company doesn’t automatically mean discrimination. So, unless there’s proof of someone doing it, it’s pure conjecture.

        The overwhelming majority of NBA players are black. I don’t see a lot of Asians in the NBA. Is it because Asians are being discriminated against and being kept from joining the NBA? I don’t think so. And so on, and so on.

        • Dustin Bromley

          Hey Brian,
          I fail to see how opening up to create a level playing field for everyone is discriminating against anyone. Who is to say who the best person for the job is until we hear from everyone?

          As a conference organizer, I’ve attended a few, and I’ve gotta say, some of the speaker lineups are starting to blend together from event to event. There are so many amazing marketers who have yet to share their skills. We’re very excited to do a small part to help usher the next wave of marketing speakers to the stage.

          If you don’t agree, thank you for commenting, however we might have to leave this at that.


          • Brian Lenney

            I agree with you 100% Dustin. Same speakers at all the same conferences gets old. Love what you said here. But excluding people because of gender and race is wrong. Let’s get new faces, new perspectives, and new ideas, definitely.

  16. Rachel Moore

    Jordan, this is a great point. If I may make an analogy, typical conference structures tend to mirror corporate America of not-so-old when the president or CEO was a man while any administrative or secretarial role was typically a female.

    I see loads of dynamic women leading workshops and breakout sessions at conferences, but less of them on the “main stage” as it were. Plus, I agree with you in that the TEDtalk set-up feels far more rockstar than relational, right? But when you’re able to get down in the trenches, on the same level, with a speaker, the takeaways are far greater (in my humble opinion). I’d love if conferences got a bit more into this direct style of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, the rockstar circuit is far more stressful! ;)

  17. Stefanie Grieser

    Jordan. Really, really awesome points here. Like Amy mentioned – thank you for chiming in. I was just recently at a conference that was no more than 40 people and much more intimate. The relationships built over the 2 days, the questions and the quality of conversation made it really, really special. Best conference I’d been to in a long time. And yes – it was by it’s nature very inclusive. There was no “speaker” (aka – rock-star with an ego) vs “attendee” mentality. As we plan for next year’s Call To Action Conference I am going to take your words to heart. A 1300+ person conference can be intimidating by nature. And while we most likely will still have main stage speakers, I think we could look for opportunities and moments to create more micro-environments of inclusion built-in, because you are right – Learning is maximized in small, high-touch groups with psychological safety. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

    • Jordan Bower

      Thanks for replying, Stefanie. I think we all need to be clear: inclusion isn’t an idea, it’s a *behaviour*. By behaving more inclusively, we’ll get more inclusion.

      When it’s time to turn your mind to 2018, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to contribute some ideas to your planning. And I’d love to facilitate a session too! Find me at jordanbower.com ;)

  18. Mark Scully

    Great post, Stefanie. We’ve found similar results with our series of events in Dublin. Back in 2015, 71% of our speakers were men which I could blame on us being new to the event space and only contacting speakers we knew, but that’s not a valid excuse. It was a complete oversight which we only realised after hosting two events and had the lineups already confirmed for the other two that year.

    Last year we worked hard to improve this by reducing the number of male speakers to 47%, and this year our lineups consist of 37% men and 63% women. We still have a long way to go in terms of adding more diversity to our lineups, but we’re also investigating ways to nurture upcoming talent who are not as well known on marketing stages.

    We’ve also found that as we improved gender balance at our events, the percentage of women in attendance has improved, along with post event feedback.

  19. Jenny Halasz

    Thank you unbounce for addressing this continuing challenge. I am honored to have been tagged with the #PresentHer hashtag. I love speaking and do so as often as I can. I’ve read a lot of the comments on this post and other posts as well, and as usual, I have an opinion I’d like to share. ;-)

    I would never want to be chosen as a speaker simply because I’m a woman. I want to be chosen because I’m the most qualified. I believe that when I am chosen, that’s the reason. The idea that there are regularly match ups of qualified men to unqualified women is a fallacy. Our industry has women in every discipline that are just as capable, just as entertaining, and just as experienced as men. I believe that the reason women don’t speak more often is based in inherent gender bias. Here are a few of the issues I believe women face when it comes to speaking:

    1. Like it or not, there is still an inherent bias that our male-centric industry would rather hear from a man than a woman. Lots of shows, including CTA, Mozcon, and Pubcon are actively doing something about this.

    2. Women still get paid less than men. Whether that’s down to our own inability to demand what we’re worth or bias that keeps us from getting paid handsomely, it’s true. I make much less than my male counterparts of similar experience and skill.

    3. Women are still the primary child care providers in most homes. We have some amazing women like Rhea Drysdale and Christi Olson that are balancing speaking and baby-wearing and making it look easy (it’s not), and some incredible conference coordinators that are making sure they have what they need to pump, change diapers, etc. This needs to continue for the women speakers as well as the women attendees.

    For me personally, it’s a combination of all three. I’m intimidated to pitch (although I do regularly). I am primary child care for my two elementary age children (although I have an awesome supportive husband/father for them), and I don’t make a ton of money. All of this means I have to pick and choose my conferences carefully, even turning down ones that are too far from the East coast occasionally and not accepting anything that is back-to-back weeks. I travel about once a month and even that is hard on our family.

    Finally, all of the above combines to create a situation where women are discouraged from applying. What if I have to turn it down because of a family commitment? What if I can’t afford the plane ticket? Am I really good enough to pitch that keynote slot? Will I ever be invited to the non-pitch conferences? What will accepting/declining that offer do to my reputation? I know men face some of the same problems, but for women, it’s ingrained.

    These reasons and so many others are why we have to try harder. It’s why I respect so much the conference organizers who are trying harder. Thank you.