Quick hit: What stops women from accepting conference invitations?

An interesting survey from the Feminist Philosophers blog: Results: What (If Anything) Prevents Women From Accepting Conference Invitations?

The most popular reason for women to turn down conference invitations is a lack of funding to attend. If it’s true that women turn down conference invitations more often than men do (we still don’t know this), a key reason may be that they are less likely to have good travel funds available. Why think this? Well, we already know that women are disproportionately to be found at less wealthy, less prestigious institutions, and more likely to work part-time. They are also less likely to be have reached senior ranks. All these factors are likely to mean that women have less access to travel funds. So conference organisers may want to think about who they give their limited funds to. They might want to think about prioritising the women. Alternatively, and with quite possibly the same effect, they might want to prioritise funding the junior people from less wealthy institutions.

It’s an interesting post because they take time to suggest feasible solutions to a variety of problems they saw expressed in their survey, so this could be a very valuable list for conference organizers:

Here’s the list of the top 5 responses to give you an idea:

  1. Lack of funding
  2. Too busy on that date
  3. Too busy on any date
  4. I have never turned down a conference invitation (This should give you hope that women don’t all have to turn down invitations all the time!)
  5. Invitation outside my area of competence/current research

And some corresponding suggestions for conferences interested in having more female speakers:

  • Prioritize funding for women, or for individuals from less well-funded institutions
  • Ask women first and as early as possible so that they have first pick of the date ranges, time to secure funding, time to rearrange schedules, etc.
  • Be sure you’re asking someone to do what they actually do (It might sound foolish, but this can actually be a problem. I often get asked to do stuff outside my own expertise because I’m a woman, and I turn most of these requests down.)
  • Don’t invite known harassers
  • Work harder to provide childcare, alternative methods of presenting, disability accommodations.

Read the entire post for more suggestions.

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About terriko

Terri has a PhD in horribleness, assuming we can all agree that web security is kind of horrible. She stopped working on skynet (err, automated program repair and AI) before robots from the future came to kill her and got a job in open source, which at least sounds safer. Now, she gets paid to break things and tell people they're wrong, and maybe help fix things so that people won't agree so readily with the first sentence of this bio in the future. Terri writes/tweets under the name terriko, enjoys making things and mentoring others and has a plain ol' home page at http://terri.toybox.ca.

8 thoughts on “Quick hit: What stops women from accepting conference invitations?

  1. Dorothea Salo

    I like those results; they square with my experiences.

    Another useful thing for conference organizers to do is put themselves in the invitee’s shoes and ask “What will she get out of this?” I definitely prioritize my conference acceptances that way! I’ve also run into a couple conferences that are just a leetle too stuck on themselves, and are shocked — SHOCKED — that anyone, especially a Mere Woman, would turn them down… even at the last of all possible minutes, with zero honorarium or even reimbursement attached.

    I don’t speak at those conferences. Turned one down just recently, in fact; first it was “we’d love to have you speak!” then it was “we have no money for you” and when I told them I couldn’t afford that, then it was “write up and submit a proposal and MAYBE we’ll fund PART of your expenses.” Um, no, sorry, who called whom here? I’m not necessarily “all that,” but I’m “enough that” that I don’t have to pay to speak… and I don’t.

    (Obviously unconferences and similar low-budget events are a different story, but the “what will I get out of this?” yardstick still applies.)

    1. Terri

      Um, no, sorry, who called whom here?

      I do wish organizers would think a little bit about this power relationship. I understand, often conference organizers are trying desperately to deal with diversity after the fact. But while I appreciate statements like, “We were disappointed by the diversity of our submissions and have extended our deadline in hopes to attract more minority candidates,” what I’ve been getting is sometimes more like “we’re desperate for women and hoped you could talk about X… so could you submit an entire talk proposal ASAP because the deadline is already passed.”

      Asking a probably already busy person to drop everything just so that you have the same paperwork for all speakers can be very frustrating and inconsiderate. Suggest a deadline that gives at least a full week if you absolutely must have the paperwork, but also consider carefully whether that paperwork is necessary. For example, when it’s a tech conference, do you really need a longer paper and slides in advance, or could you just get a short abstract for the program and list your desired speaker as a special invited talk?

  2. Azz

    As part of the discussion for the conference anti-harassment project, one of the things that came up in a relatively isolated place and didn’t gather much discussion then, was a thing that the institutions trying to send women to the conferences as attendees had fallen down on.

    This one particular individual had twice been asked (by different workplaces) to attend a conference (perhaps not even as a speaker), with lodging to be paid for by the workplace … and sharing a room with a male co-worker.

    In one case, she found another place to stay (with a local friend); in the other, she made inquiries with higher levels of management, and they and the policy found this just as inappropriate as she did. In both cases it sounded as if the male co-worker who was to be sharing the room with her had been the one to book the lodgings.

    It’s the sort of thing that should be so basic to not need mentioning, but happening twice to the same person means that there are probably more people out there who either don’t have the faintest clue that this could be a cause for discomfort, or who are abusing their role to get themselves sharing a room with someone who doesn’t want to share with them.

    This doesn’t sound like something that the conference itself can necessarily have control over, but does perhaps suggest a companion policy template, for organizations who will be sending people (including women) to conferences.

  3. Cynthia L.

    One reason I sometimes don’t go to conferences, even when I have travel funding, is that travel funding doesn’t cover childcare in my absence. Paying someone to watch my kids from the end of usual daycare, overnight, and drop them off at school the next morning for a few days easily exceeds flight or hotel expenses, yet will not be reimbursed. Never mind the trouble of trying to find/interview/background-check somebody to do that. I’ve been to conferences that have heavily subsidized, high quality onsite daycare, which is great. But using that service entails flying my kids to the conference city, which, again, is an expense that I can’t expense.

    Obviously this may be a problem for some men as well, but I imagine I’m not the only mother who has had problems with this and that it disproportionately impacts women.

    1. Mary

      Given the tendency of male-female romantic partnerships for the man to be further into his career, there’s also the problem that many women can’t have their partner, even if they have one, care for their children during a conference because the partner has incompatible work commitments and/or travel commitments. Men can more often rely on a female partner to remain behind to care for his children.

  4. Eivind

    Is there any data you’re aware on about the “if anything” ?

    The list of problems is worthwhile, if you want people generally speaking to say yes more often, you need to reduce those things that make them say no. But as I read the above, it’s uncertain if women *do* infact say no more often than men. Possibly, they don’t. Perhaps they’re not even asked ?

    The above states that there are more senior men, that they tend to work at more well-funded prestigious institutions and have better access to travel-funds. Perhaps those factors would also lead them to be *invited* more often in the first place ?

    “I wasn’t invited” is a different problem from “I was invited, but I said no because …”, it’d be helpful to know which of these problems is most prevalent.

    1. Terri

      That’s my reading of what they’re saying as well.

      The informal data for women in tech claims that women turn down such opportunities much more frequently, according to people complaining about not finding women to fill out their conference lineup. I talked about one such complaint (and its [lack of] validity in my experience) in Too Few Women in Tech? There’s more than you think. However, this study is NOT women-in-tech, it’s women in philosophy, so you’d really have to ask that community to get more information.

      The hard part of studying “I wasn’t invited” vs “I was invited but said no because…” is that by and large, the people who aren’t getting invited *also* don’t see the survey, making it incredibly difficult to ascertain, which may be why they’re hesitant to make any claims in that area.

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