DC is often cited as the #1 place for women in tech, but you wouldn’t know it by attending some of the area’s biggest tech meetups. The region has an active tech and data meetup community that hosts professional events. They can be great places to learn, network, and job search. Unfortunately, these events rarely reflect the industry’s diversity in DC, and that can have far-reaching effects. Taken back by the speaker gap the data revealed, I’ve also created wespeaktoo.org to help promote women speakers.
I looked at the gender diversity of speakers at 114 events in 2016 from 16 DC area meetups. These meetups were selected because they had over 1,000 members and typically held educational events featuring a single or few speakers. The results were startling. In 2016, there were no single-speaker events where a woman was the speaker.
Multi-speaker events did feature women, but at low rates. Data Innovation DC is the only group where there were more women speakers than men. But it was more common for a meetup group to have no women speakers at all.
Of the 168 speaking slots, only 7.7% were women. This lack of representation can have far-reaching effects. Marginalized groups miss out on opportunities to be presented as leaders or experts in their fields. They are less likely to feel welcome to such groups, missing out on valuable learning and networking opportunities. The result can be a feedback loop that works against diversity in the field.
These graphs have a notable omission: non-binary people. They did not speak at a single of the 114 events. Yet they are absolutely a part of DC's data and tech community and deserve to be heard.
None of this is to imply that the organizers of these meetups are sexist or carry malicious intent. The speaker gap likely grows from ingrained networks and implicit bias. But as large, professional communities these meetups should consider it their responsibility to more accurately reflect, and champion, diversity in the industry.
There is, actually, a vibrant women in tech community already in DC, as shown by organizations like Women Data Scientists DC, Women Who Code DC, and Hear Me Code, among others. Meetup organizers should more proactively work with these groups, and other DCFemTech member groups to find speakers from marginalized communities. If finding women and non-binary speakers is difficult, organizers may want to consider their meetup’s culture. Codes of Conduct are a baseline necessity in showing a commitment to safe spaces.
There are so many bright, talented DC women and non-binary people doing wonderful work in tech and data. In an effort to bridge this speaker gap I’ve created wespeaktoo.org. It is an open source list of DC area women and non-binary people interested in speaking at data and tech events. Please share and add yourself to the list. Women and non-binary people deserve a place on the stage.
Technical notes: Data was collected through the Meetup API. This post was in part formed through discussions at Tech Lady Hackathon and I'm particularly grateful to Kiran Bammarito and Hannah Recht for their guidance. You can find complete code for this on my github page.