The topic of gender diversity of conference speakers has gained attention over the past few years. Search Marketing Expo (SMX) has always considered diversity important, but for the first time, we’ve analyzed speaker selection data to quantify how we’re doing. Here’s the rundown from our last SMX Advanced event.
Selecting The Best Speakers
Before getting further into the numbers, some background on the speaker selection process. Our number one rule in selecting speakers is to find the best ones. Period.
Our second rule is to have a good diversity of speakers. Often, there are a number of coequal “best” speakers who could be on a panel or speak in solo presentations. In such cases, striving for diversity is helpful.
“Diversity” includes more than just gender and racial diversity. For SMX events, we’re also looking things like brand and agency diversity, or enterprise versus SMB diversity, among speakers.
The Importance Of Diversity (It’s More Than Gender)
If a panel is full of agency speakers, some brand owners in the audience may feel like the lack of a brand speaker means the content isn’t as good, even if the agency speaker is providing excellent information. Brand attendees like to hear from their peers. Similarly, it’s common that B2B attendees respond better to other B2B speakers, even if the tactics covered by a B2C speaker are completely applicable to B2C businesses.
When we assemble a panel for SMX, we’re often balancing whether we have a brand speaker as well as an agency speaker, plus whether we have a diversity of gender and most of all, if we have the right people overall to bring expertise to a topic.
To improve our quality, we’ve done more outreach over the years. Great brand speakers don’t always pitch. Great agency speakers don’t always pitch. Great male speakers don’t always pitch. Great female speakers don’t always pitch. The reasons range from being simply candidates being too busy to think about pitching to some not feeling they should have to. Outreach is more effort for our already hard-working session coordinators, but it makes for better content when they do.
Reflecting The Audience & The Industry
I don’t know the gender diversity of attendance at our shows, much less the gender makeup of the search marketing space overall. In the future, we may ask attendees if they’re willing to self-report on gender and racial diversity, so we have a better measure. But there is a significant numbers of women attendees, so having sessions with a good representation of women feels like a proper reflection of our attendees and the space overall.
That reflection is important. As said about brand and B2B speakers, it helps our conference with its educational goal when panels are made up of people that those attending can identify with. That doesn’t mean that a woman can’t learn from an all-male panel, ncor a man from an all-female panel. But if you have a huge majority of speakers and panels of only one gender overall, it just feels like something’s wrong.
The SMX Programming Team
Finally, before getting into the figures, here’s some further background on the group that programs SMX. This varies from event-to-event. Chris Sherman, our vice president of programming, assembles a team of session coordinators for each show. This usually involves a number of our Search Engine Land editors and writers, as well as some third-party search marketing experts.
This team creates the overall agenda, drawn from their suggestions and from session ideas that are submitted to us from others. Each coordinator is assigned one or more solo sessions and panels to oversee. That’s why we call them “coordinators.” Their job is to coordinate who speaks on their assigned panels, which involves reviewing pitches and doing outreach to find potential speakers. Usually, though not always, a session coordinator also ends up serving as the session moderator at the event itself.
This is how all our “editorial sessions” are filled. By editorial sessions, we mean sessions where speakers are solely selected based on merit. There is no way anyone can buy a speaking spot in these sessions, which make up the vast majority of SMX programming. We do have a small number of separate sponsored sessions which are clearly identified to attendees and which our programming team does not oversee. Some attendees like these optional sessions; they’re never part of the main programming. They’re also not included in the statistics below, as we don’t program them.
The Summary Chart
Here’s a chart of all the figures that are discussed further below:
Solo Talks: 27% By Women
SMX events have solo talks and panels with two or more speakers. We looked at stats for each type of session.
We had 15 solo talks at SMX Advanced. Only 27% of these were by women, the other 73% by men. That’s a stat we’d especially like to see improve for our future shows.
Speaking Pitches: 29% From Women
We received just over 200 pitches for SMX Advanced. Of these, 71% of these came from men, 29% from women. The stats were the same in terms of individuals who pitched versus number of pitches (IE, one person pitching multiple times).
As you’ll see, the gender diversity of our panels sessions was greater than that of pitches, which is a good sign. But one of the best things anyone can do to improve the gender diversity of speakers at any type of conference is to encourage women to pitch. It’s a great starting place.
Programming Team: 29% Women
As explained above, SMX panels are organized by session coordinators, who usually also serve as the session moderator.
We had seven individuals coordinating panels for SMX Advanced; two or 29% were women and five or 71% were men. As you’ll see in the stats below, despite this particular show being heavy on male coordinators, that didn’t mean that the speaking slots then skewed toward men.
Coordinator diversity can vary widely from show to show, depending on who is available to work on a particular show and the exact topics that need to be developed.
Sessions Programmed: 31% …read more
Source:: Search Marketing Expo – Blog