Be a Yes Woman.

This blog was originally published on on November 4, 2013.
This is a call to action. As a professional woman, especially one in digital communications and marketing, I spend a lot of time attending conferences. This year’s been no different, but I’ve become a lot more discerning about which events I attend.

I’ve written before about disrupting the conference model, but there’s another reason for me to write today, and sadly, it’s not a new subject either.This morning, I participated in a long twitter conversation regarding a tech marketing conference in Waterloo, Ontario that had no women speakers or panelists. Zero. Nada.

Now, when you consider that this was a conference about marketing, that makes no sense. Marketing is an industry that is heavily populatedwith women. Women CEOs, Directors, Managers and contributors. Lots of smart women, talented women and creative women work in the industry, but for some reason, conferences like this come up empty when it comes to finding women to speak on their panels, or be their keynotes.

Here’s what they usually do, and what their responses mean:

1. Get defensive: “We tried!” they claim. “We asked “lots” of women, but couldn’t find one.” Not a resounding vote of confidence on the calibre of their work and their curating abilities.

2. Abdicate responsibility: “Feel free to send us any recommendations” was the response I got from @theartof when their most recent conference in Toronto also had zero women. What that means is “I’m too lazy to do the work, and so I’m going to ask YOU to do my work, and then ignore you anyway.”

3. Censor/ignore the conversation: a participant at the event in Waterloo shared that any critical tweets were censored from the tweet wall at the event today. No one at the event would’ve seen them unless they were watching on their own devices. I refuse to support any event or organization that isn’t transparent. Trust and respect are two big considerations when I decide where and when to spend my time, energy, and money.

So, what should women do in these cases so that we can start to influence change? Here are my thoughts:

1. Don’t go. That’s it. Period. Make a statement with your time and your dollars. You know that women make something like 85% of all purchasing decisions in households. We control the mighty dollar there, so you can control the mightiest dollar in this realm, too.

2. Call ‘em out. Go ahead, use the power of your social network to call for action. Let organizers and attendees know that you’re not going, and why. You’ll find that there are a lot of supporters of both genders on this issue.

3. Stop being an apologist. “They meant well.” “They tried.” “It’s not their fault.” “It’s reflective of society.” Uh, bullshit. I’ve put together conferences and events, and to make them successful, I’ve engaged people within and beyond my particular purview. That’s what a good curator does. They seek out people that are not just like themselves so they can speak to an audience that is not just like themselves.

…and finally, but certainly not least: Be a yes woman.

I’ll be speaking at a breakfast panel and a conference panel this week, as the guest of mesh marketing in Toronto. I’m following in the footsteps of a lot of talented and wise speakers, and I was glad to be asked. But. That only came after I purposefully put myself out there as someone to be considered.

Shortly after they’d announced the conference (and I’m not on the conference team, so in their defense, I had no idea if they had more women planned or not) there were no women on the keynotes/panel lists. Their prior conference only had 17% of women represented in keynote/panel roles. Even less than the paltry 20% that most tech conferences set as a target.

So, I tweeted about it. I was upset about it. I was extremely disappointed by it. And they responded. Not only did they respond with an invite, but now at this conference, there are 39% of overall speakers/panelists who are women. The two keynotes are men, so excluding them, the rest of the conference is represented by 42% of women.

That’s how you do it, right. They stood up, responded, and improved their agenda. I applaud that.

On twitter, Julia Moulden and I have been having the #BeAYesWomandialogue for a while now, and we’ve been engaging a few, but very powerful women in the conversation as well.

I get it. As a gender, we’re not taught to draw attention to ourselves that is about anything besides our appearance, so this is hard, and new for a lot of us. There is no better time than the present though, women. There are plenty of pundits that believe the future of work belongs to women, so now’s your chance to embrace #BeAYesWoman, and here’s some advice as to how you do that:

1. Are you good at what you do? Stop listening to the crows that tell you you’re not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough. You are.

2. Do you deserve to get paid? Yes. You do, actually. Not all conferences pay their speakers or panelists, and that’s cool (sometimes the trade off for exposure and audience is worth the effort of showing up), BUT if others are getting paid and you’re not, walk away. That’s outright discrimination and you’re not giving it away for free if no one else is.

3. Is there value in your experience? Absolutely. Stop thinking that you have nothing to add. It’s been proven over and over again that organizations, companies, or conferences that are homogenous are not nearly as successful as those environs that embrace and support diversity. And I’m not talking about for diversity’s sake, I’m talking about for the betterment of the whole experience.

And here’s my “Every. Single. Day.” call to action. Today, go set up a profile on Expertfile. Add it to your LinkedIn profile, and your email signature. Share it, build it and when someone comes asking if you’d be willing to participate in a conference, or workshop…start by saying YES! Remember, you can’t be what you can’t see.