Why so few women at an enviro conference?

BlogHer Original Post

So an enviro-biz focused conference dubbed Opportunity Green happened in Los Angeles today. I attended, excitedly, but during the downtime, started calculating girly stats. The result? I realized that only 8 women, versus 28 men, were speakers or panelists at this conference.

Worse, 4 of those 8 women were panelists on a single session, titled "Women in Sustainability Shaping the Future." Meaning that if it weren't for that panel, we'd only have had 4 women in the conference. And even worse, out of the 5 keynote speakers, NONE were women.

The whole thing bothered me enough that I talked about it with some other attendees -- including some of the male panel members. Jamais Cascio, co-founder of WorldChanging and one of the morning keynotes, also expressed that he too noticed how male-dominated -- more specifically, white-male dominated -- the conference was. He went on to note that, really, it isn't too hard to find female speakers and panelists who are leaders in the environmental movement today.

So why the disconnect? I spoke with Karen, one of the organizers of Opportunity Green, a month or so ago -- and she rued that she had a hard time finding female panelists.

Which is it? I'm of the opinion that male panelists are the EASIEST to get. That's just how the way the world works right now, and that's why we need spaces like BlogHer to serve, at the very least, as a sort of counterpoint to that male-biz-as-usual mentality. If a conference organizer doesn't pay attention, the said conference is likely to end up with a male-dominated conference.

I was especially disappointed with this gender imbalance at Opportunity Green because environmentalism is one of the areas where women have taken the lead. Even the companies that the male speakers at the conference represented were selling products marketed primarily to women. Method, for example, sells cleaning products, for which women make up the vast majority of the customer base.

This isn't exactly a new issue: Jen Bekman of Personism wrote about this in regards to the Creativity Now Conference issue back in 2006. Kottke even crunched a whole buncha numbers to show how egregious the gender divide at conferences remained.

What are your ideas for encouraging enviro-conferences -- or really, conferences in general -- to consider gender equity and balance in their planning?

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