SXSW’s 2017 speaker lineup is 50.8% female. But why are the sessions about tech STILL overwhelmingly male speakers?
Well, let’s back up a bit.
As an aspiring techie and a true Austinite, SXSW Interactive is undoubtedly my holy grail of tech admiration. Although I’ve never attended (broke college kid problems), that doesn’t stop me from ogling over the lineup of disruptors, business leaders, and just overall bada**es every year.
But with my growing curiosity in data, and many events this year that have shown that the world is not as diverse and accepting of a place as my naïve self had previously thought, I decided to apply a critical eye and a bit of analytics to this year’s SXSW Interactive lineup and the 3200+ speakers. And as you could probably guess, the results were expectedly frustrating (see the data and my methodology here).
As I’ve said, this year’s speakers are actually pretty evenly split with 50.8% female speakers. Now, if you look at all of the topics related tech (labeled in my dataset by “tech_general”), you see that there are slightly more male speaker (50.8%) than female speakers, which isn’t that concerning. However, that’s not the real story here.
Since it’s SXSW and the world is inherently moving towards “techy” topics, simply mentioned the word “tech” in the description on a session was categorizing the session as “tech”. So, I broke session topics further down into three more technical tech topics – high tech (heavy development or hardware focused talks using words like “bots”, “java”, “bootstrap”, etc.), virtual reality, and artificial intelligence – and a few less technical topics – data, social and design:
Using the odds ratios, a session about high tech is 1.43 times more likely to be given by a male (58.8%, 233 speakers), than a female (41.2%, 163 speakers). Virtual reality and AI are also heavily skewed towards male speakers with sessions being 1.27 times and 1.5 times more likely to be given by a male than female, respectively. Meanwhile, sessions about social, data and design are more female-dominated.
Why this matters:
There’s no shortage of op-ed pieces about the dire need for diversity in tech, both in gender and ethnicity. However, the conversation typically places the blame on corporate hiring practices, the lack of STEM focus for girls in school, and the stigma around “brogrammers”.
But I’d like to point out that conferences matter too.
Conferences function as the business world’s way to place its highly esteemed elite on a pedestal, to “learn from the best”. There’s a reason that so many mid-tier business leaders, whom are trying to break into the business elite, keep a list of their speaking appearances on LinkedIn, link to TEDx talks in their email signature, and jump at any opportunity to increase their exposure as a “thought leader”.
Since conferences play such a key role in defining the best thinkers and the best leaders, how can we really argue that society is actively empowering women in tech, when men still dominate these platforms?
Now, I’ll be the first to say this analysis is incomplete. The technical depth of the topic and size of the session were not considered. However, I hope this will open your eyes to yet another world where diversity falls short and I challenge you to join the conversation.
View the data behind this analysis: https://data.world/rdowns26/sxsw-2017