Fifty-nine percent of women of colour say they’ve experienced discrimination at a tech conference, and nearly half of all women suggest organizations have a design bias that ignores their needs, according to a study from Ensono.
In a report called Speak Up 2020: Redesigning Tech Conferences With Women In Mind, the hybrid IT provider surveyed 500 women who had attended a technology conference within the last 12 months. This was complemented by an audit of almost 20 well-known IT industry events, including the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress.
The study showed that 60 per cent of women cited furniture (such as bar tools that could be problematic for female panelists wearing a skirt) as an example of design bias. This was followed by A/V equipment by 47 per cent, highlighting the fact lapel mics don’t necessarily attach easily to women’s clothing. Other problems included basic amenities, such as a lack of any women’s washrooms.
Lack of representation remains an ongoing issue. Only 18 per cent of speakers were white women (vs. 68 who were men), and just 14 per cent were women of colour.
Even among women who have gotten to give a keynote speech, 71 per cent said conferences were not designed with women in mind.
“Overall, a lack of facilities for women remains a pain point. Only 24 per cent of survey respondents said they’ve been to a conference with on-site nursing rooms, presenting a challenge for nursing mothers,” the survey’s authors wrote. “And only 21 per cent have been to a conference with gender-neutral restrooms, which excludes nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people from the conference experience as well.”
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Focusing on tech conferences might seem like a niche issue, particularly during a global pandemic when almost all events have been shut down for the indefinite future, but the Ensono report points to a broader problem that will continue to manifest itself through other channels.
“Virtual meetings suffer many of the same problems as in-person ones — for example, women are just as likely to be talked over by men in both scenarios,” the report said. “In general, this “year off” from in-person conferences is an opportunity for companies to think through how they’ll support women at future live events.”
From a CX perspective, events and conferences can represent an important part of the customer journey, both in driving awareness and interest among prospects to bringing value and boosting the return of existing customers.
Perhaps too often those coming to events are thought of as “attendees” or “speakers” rather than “customers,” but design bias could have serious repercussions on everything from revenue to attracting quality employees. A lot of companies, including many of those whose conferences were audited, have talked about making diversity and inclusion a priority, yet events could represent a surprisingly common blind spot.
It’s also worth pointing out that while tech conferences are just one part of the overall events space, they draw in speakers and attendees from all kinds of industries and roles, and can be highly influential into how the experiences of events in other sectors are designed.
Whenever in-person conferences are allowed to run again, it may be a struggle for organizers to attract the same kind of numbers. The emphasis in pre-event marketing will no doubt focus on safety and sanitization measures, but organizers should also keep design bias and diversity and inclusion top of mind as well. There are plenty of actionable ideas in the concluding section of the Esono report, which is ungated.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.