Conference organisers: a point for your consideration.

I had the great fortune to attend XOXO last week (which is another post I’ll try and get done before the same event next year or something) and people were chatting about how nice it was to be at a conference with a good range of female speakers. I was having a conversation of this ilk with Tom Coates and he mentioned how he had tried to help other conferences pull in female speakers, but the ones they asked often said no – leading to unfair criticism when there was an all-male line-up. It wasn’t that these organisers hadn’t gone looking but that these ladies just didn’t say yes when asked. I said casually that this was probably because something about the offer didn’t seem right, that not enough information was offered upfront. Tom asked me what I meant and I told him, and then he asked me to write it down and show people as it was something that had never crossed his mind and so, perhaps, hadn’t crossed others either. So here we go:

When you ask me to come speak and I don’t really know you and/or your event, I want to know the usual stuff like type of event/what you want from me/date/ fee BUT I also want to know:

1) Location of event AND location of where you are putting me up.

The questions in my head are: Are they near public transport lines and how safe is it for me to travel with stuff between airport/station and hotel? Are they close together? Will I need to walk with heavy stuff in between them(especially if I’m doing a workshop)? Is the after party in a different part of town and will I be able to get cab? Is there a small shopping/eating area within walkable distance?

2) What are your policies if I have to pull out?

Women are statistically more likely to be primary carers for dependents – either children or elderly parents, often one and then the other. If my kid gets a cold my husband can take care of him but if he should get taken to hospital I will want to be with him. This shouldn’t put you off asking me (I’ve never had to pull out of an event yet) but you should consider what your backup plan might be. If you don’t have one, or you seem at all skeezy about this, it puts me off because I don’t want to piss you off if something does happen.

3) What have you organised for speakers?

Knowing you have arranged for me to meet some people and get to see a little of your town makes me feel like you want me there, and that you are looking out for me. A speakers’ dinner so I can meet some folks (doesn’t need to be fancy) and some suggestion of places to go means I won’t feel like the only safe and sensible thing for me to do is to eat at the hotel and stay in my room. I don’t know that your city is fine to walk round apart from any area with East in the name, so I really appreciate guidance.

4)Who else is going?

Even if I’m the only woman speaking, do you have others involved with organising and volunteering? Is there someone I can chat to at a speakers dinner if stuff gets a bit Sports! or Linux! or Snazzy Ties!, or if someone a bit creepy comes and bothers me at the after party (it happens, sadly). My experience is the more balanced the attendance of social events, the less likely the conversation skews one way or anyone gets creepy too. And, regardless of gender, who else is speaking or attending that I know? I’m much more likely to say yes, if I know there will be a couple of friendly faces.

Basically, I’m working out if I’m going to be sat in a small poky hotel near a conference centre two miles outside the nearest town for three nights, or trapped in a swanky hotel in a financial district of a city that shuts down at weekends having flown in Saturday morning for something starting Monday, or if I’ll end up wandering alone round a town centre at chucking out time, carrying my heels, trying to get a cab to get back from an after party that all the young, hip things are still enjoying while I have to leave at 7am to get back to my family – all of which have happened to me before.

It’s a sad but true fact, as a woman I am more vulnerable and have to weigh up the risks and rewards of exploring new areas when traveling alone. I don’t believe there is a rapist hanging around every street corner of every town but I do believe there is one around some corners, and sadly you don’t know which ones. Knowing that organisers have considered the location of their accommodation, planned some things for me to do and spent the time finding the number for a reliable cab firm for me to use, means I am much more likely to say yes if you ask me to speak.