When I was working as a conference organizer, my primary struggle was to find great people to speak on subjects chosen for the conference. It’s one of the best jobs on Earth : all you have to do is listen to conferences, wether on the internet (thank you youtube, thank you so much) or in real life (and this means you have to travel, dear god that’s SO awful). You listen to these speakers, cross-reference them with the list of your criterias, and if they pass your test, you cross your fingers after asking them to speak at your event.
But there is a big flaw in this process. Most conferences, panels, or events out there are lacking the basic representation of half the world’s population. Panels are mostly male – there is even a website mocking this trend – wait, it’s not a trend, it’s a bias, it’s a flaw, it’s something we should fight against.
I decided to fight it with my own weapons (hard work, google search and my stubborness), and to achieve a gender balanced panel at my conferences. But despite my good will and all the efforts put in that direction, I failed. Why ?
- It was incredibly difficult to find women speakers on certain topics. Robotics is one of them : women are harshly visible. Despite great initiatives like the top 25 women in robotics list by Robohub !
- Male speakers are used to be proactive, to contact event organizers well ahead of the events… in a system favoring men, it’s ten times harder for women to stand out.
- I had a 10% rejection rate when contacting potential male speakers, but a 60% rejection rate when contacting potential female speakers. Habits die hard. Mostly, women told me they “were not a good fit” – but, hey, I’m not blind nor stupid, I knew what I was doing.
- The majority of women that I found were researchers. I needed diverse speakers, coming from research, but also startup founders, coming from big companies, engineers or marketing… The more diverse your panel is, the better.
Out of the blue (out of rage, mostly…), I decided to create the twitter account @WomenInRobotics, and “collect” as many women in robotics profiles as possible. The account follows only women, retweets only women (or organizations with the same goal or purpose as mine). On October 26th, 2016 it follows roughly 200 women – students, startupers, researchers, surgeons, artists, designers, philosophers, congresswomen… and I know it’s just the beginning.
But it’s only the top of the iceberg. There is no excuse for the absence of women in robotics speakers at events. Robotics is pervasive – at event dealing with Machine Learning, Ethics, Surgery, Architecture, Education, Entrepreneurship – we should be able to hear their voice. When I look at the number of successful, imaginative, smart women I know, who would have so much to offer on any conversation about the future of our society, I can’t help but create a tool to amplify their voice. As an event organizer, you have to know that without a female voice, you are failing your audience.
That’s the story behind the Women in Robotics Directory.
160+ women are listed. The directory needs you to grow and be more accurate – you can submit a friend, coworker, colleague, mentor!
Each women in robotics profile contains a mean to contact the potential speaker – wether twitter, linkedin, or email (provided with authorization only, even if all email adresses are encrypted with ROT13, preventing the spambots to see it). The profiles are sorted in topics, identified with the help of linkedin bios, research pages and publications if available:
- 3D Printing / Maker (5)
- Art (4)
- Artificial Intelligence (35)
- Biorobotics (7)
- Collaborative Robotics (2)
- Communication / Dissemination / Outreach (5)
- Computer Science (11)
- Computer Vision (13)
- Consumer Robotics (12)
- Deep Learning (2)
- Design (13)
- Driverless Vehicles (8)
- Drones (15)
- Entrepreneurship (19)
- Ethical Legal and Societal Issues (21)
- Field Robotics (11)
- Haptics (4)
- Hardware (5)
- Hospitality Robots (4)
- Human-Robot Interaction (59)
- Humanoids (5)
- Industrial Robotics (7)
- Investing / VC (4)
- IOT (5)
- Localization / Navigation / Autonomous Robots (6)
- Machine Learning (26)
- Market (7)
- Medical Robotics (21)
- Micro & Nano Robotics (1)
- Mobile Robotics (8)
- Robot Companion (8)
- Service Robotics (6)
- Soft Robotics (5)
- Space Robotics (5)
- STEM / Education (12)
- Swarm Robots (5)
- Virtual / Augmented Reality (3)
- Women in Tech / Business (12)
I didn’t have time to write a short article, so I wrote a long one instead – pardon my brevity to end it. This is a message, and a tool, for all event organizers out there – and specifically those in the tech industry. Next time you are working on your next event, conference or panel, use it. Contact your potential women speakers first. If they think they are not fitting in your event, they for sure will know someone who will.
Let’s keep the ball rolling – together, we can change the world and all these amazing voices will finally be heard.