In a “blog post” listing the top ten social media speakers, The Speakers Group (TSG) listed voices for “your consideration.” Not one of the speakers was a woman, highlighting a much larger social media services industry problem where women are often overlooked for top speaking gigs, and don’t rank as well as men.
Ironically, this topic first came to mind last week when Allyson Kapin — a.k.a. @womenwhotech — led a spirited DC Media Makers session (pictured below) on the same topic. So when I saw the TSG post, I felt compelled to write. I come to this discussion as someone who organizes BlogPotomac, a successful, regional social media conference that intentionally highlights female speakers; as a blogger who has discussed the social media and PR industry’s glass ceiling both in the office and in the blogosphere; and, yes, as a man who speaks frequently on social media.
There are three problems in the TSG post: 1) A lack of transparency and professional responsibility in the blog post itself; 2) the complete snubbing of women in a highly questionable top ten list, and 3) the larger industry issue that conference organizers apparently want male speakers more than women. For those of you who are used to short posts, I apologize in advance. I am going to handle each of these three issues independently.
No Ethics In This Post
Section Update: Several listed men have stated they don’t have formal relationships with said TSB agency, making the gender point even worse. – 3:45 p.m. EST, 7/29
Section Update: Formal relationships have now been verified as non-exclusive email agreements, as noted below by Chris Brogan. – 8:45 a.m. EST, 7/30
The word “Our” in TSG’s post title is the real clue. Because the entire roster of speakers, which does include four names who are actually recognizable by me, including friends Brian Solis and Chris Brogan, is represented by TSG. But they never disclose that in the post.
Instead, we get this piece of sales BS:
We have scouted books, articles and conferences for the leading authorities and we have assembled a “top ten” list to help you in your pursuit. What are the qualifications to be listed in our top ten?
1. The individual must be established as a uniquely successful practitioner of social media and/or be frequently called on to share his or her expertise in the field — specifically as it relates to corporate and association social media practices.
2. The individual must have a proven ability to discuss social media in a way that is easily understandable and relevant to each unique audience.
3. The individual must be able to effectively engage the audience (every “expert” who writes an article is not necessarily someone you want on your platform as a speaker).
OK. If one is true, why haven’t I heard of more than half of this list, and I am Highly Active in the business? Of the top ten, only two (the aforementioned) really seem to be top ten speakers. Nevermind, that none, as in zero, of the ten are women. But more on that later. Ethical blogging first, then the bigger civil rights issue.
No, what we have is sales drivel. And given that these speakers are supposed to be social media experts, it’s ten times worse because we have unethical, undisclosed relationships at play with a disingenuous representation. How transparent and open is that?
Three years ago, such a post would have been blogged about endlessly. Now, we seem to simply accept this kind of bastardization of social media. Thus, corporate marketing has beaten us into submission as the social media sphere simply moves on and finds more interesting content rather than voicing distrust. Even worse, some of our brightest minds are represented in this particular piece of “social” BS.
People wonder why I have become disenchanted with PR and marketing’s poor use of what could be a great conversational media form. And while I support initiatives like Susan Getgood’s Blog with Integrity, I really think it’s too late and that the train has left the station with corporate’s bastardization of social media. TSG is the norm, not the exception. Now we are left with most doing it poorly, some doing it well. Just like old school corporate communications.
No Social Media Women on TSG’s List
More importantly, TSG’s weak list doesn’t even include one woman. And that’s the big slight. Because we know there are great female speakers in the business, folks like Charlene Li, Allison Fine, Toby Bloomberg, Valeria Maltoni, Beth Kanter, Kami Huyse, Jane Quigley, and on and on.
Because the list is so questionable, TSG inadvertently admits it did not seek out women social media speakers. If they had, there’s no way some of these guys could stand up against the best female leaders. And that makes TSG’s snubbing of women even more egregious.
See, in essence, the message is mediocre male speakers are better than top notch women.
TSG should be ashamed of issuing the list. Really ashamed, because not only is it an unethical post, it’s also clearly sexist. Though one has to wonder if TSG is truly sexist or if the company is catering to their clientele: Conference organizers. And that, my friends, opens the big can of worms.
Women Get Snubbed
There are exceptions to the rule, but the recently unveiled Government 2.0 Summit roster seems to represent the norm: A conference predominantly filled with men (and white men at that). Women get snubbed over and over again. And that’s a travesty, because I know a lot of great female communicators in social media that could talk about Gov 2.0 or just about anything, in general.
Conference organizers are not doing their part to highlight female speakers. That’s the real issue.
As organizer of BlogPotomac, I always highlight at least three female speakers or 43% of my roster. And I always have a lady co-emcee with me. See, its not altruism guiding this decision. Think about the communications business: It’s dominated by women! To me, as a conference organizer, I would be a horse’s ass if I did not represent my stakeholder community — which is predominantly women — accurately and fairly.
If you consider that 43% number versus what I estimate to be at least a 67 to 75% female communicator population, BlogPotomac has more work to do! Since this Fall is the last one, my next conference iteration (if there ever is one) will have to strive to meet that mark.
Yet over and over again, I watch other social media conferences trot out the new boys club (it’s new media, right?). Full disclosure: As a member of that new boys club, I reap the rewards, too, with anywhere between three to ten speaking spots a month. I rarely submit proposals for engagements anymore. I like to think these offered spots are a result of working my butt off to be interesting and create customized content for groups, but fair is fair, and 1/3 of my share should probably be offered to women.
Conference organizers continuously snub women. And that’s just wrong. I don’t claim to have the answers to this societal problem.
Are there things women can do? Sure, I suppose they could be more assertive, but I refuse to believe the whole cause is that by their very nature men promote themselves more. A majority of blogs are written by men, but only 57% in the U.S., so I’m not drinking that kool-aid. If that was the case we’d see 43% female speakers instead of 10-25%.
We need conference organizers to acknowledge the problem first, then clear action can be taken. Until conference organizers get honest, and expose why they are choosing men over women — even if it’s sexism by oversight – we are going to be left debating the issue. Until then, I can only do my part, which is to honor female speakers with my own conference, suggest female speakers to organizers, and continue to periodically blog on this issue.
Throughout this post and below you have seen the many voices on Twitter and Facebook who have offered their opinions, too. What are your thoughts?