When I started co-organizing the DC Lean Startup Circle, I made a commitment to involve more women in the group — because I usually was only one of a few ladies in a room of a hundred dudes.
Now we routinely see 20 to 30 ladies at each of our monthly meet-ups — which is awesome.
But getting women to speak is like pulling teeth — and this was a huge eye-opener to me. Because never has a man rejected a speaking invitation I’ve sent; and many hunt me down for a chance to speak, too.
Ladies, on the other hand, have given me these reasons:
- “I’m not ready.”
- “I prefer to keep my company details private.”
- “I don’t know who gave you my name, but I’m not a public speaker.”
- “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”
I’m not judging women who choose not to speak; their reasons are just as valid as any.
What I’m perplexed by is that in January, when we — two women who co-organize a tech meetup — failed to secure a woman speaker, another woman attendee publicly complained. But didn’t offer herself, or any other woman, as an option for a future meetup.
What gives? We’re busting our lady-tails to find ladies, pep them up enough to speak publicly, and keep doing it every single month, even when it feels like we can’t win.
Fortunately, Ladies in Tech and other encourage-women-to-come-out-of-the-woodwork resources WILL help. So can I, although it’s not instantaneous as I might like, by refusing to believe my event-planning experiences are a trend rather than the growing pains of trying to fold more women into the conversation.
For example, I once persuaded the co-founder of a local accelerator, who always told me her partner “does all the speaking” for her organization, to speak at a startup launch party. Afterward, she admitted, “Whew, I didn’t die.”
Of course, not every experience is victorious. I’ve told jokes that don’t work and fumbled my words plenty. And I also have been rejected by (here we go) An Event Apart, FOWD, UX London, dConstruct, Inspire Conf, Reasons to Be Creative, Industry Conf, and MANY more.
But I can learn from these. Organizers like Jeffrey Zeldman and Jeremy Keith took the time to review what I proposed talking about and gave me solid feedback I could act upon. They even thanked me for speaking up and they kept the door open, too.
Having someone open a door is so important. Choosing to help other women build their voices by supporting them honestly — rather than complaining like a big jerk — is also huge.
Fortunately, getting more active doesn’t have to be scary:
- Local Refresh groups, as Val noted last week, are perfect places to start. That’s where I started, and the people listening couldn’t have been more supportive. It was the confidence boost I needed to know that I wasn’t a giant tool.
- Contact Refresh organizers through Meetup; these people (if they’re not assheads, and I’m guessing they’re not since they run a Refresh) will work with you to help you find and refine a topic.
- Local niche-topic groups also are gold. Content Strategy, UX, mobile, or women-in-tech groups are on Meetup, too. Find yours — or start one.
- If you don’t yet have a specialization, create your own meetup of “People who like cool shit.” That’s what I did with novacowork.com, and it’s been massively great.
- Contact a speech coach like Jill Foster (of Women Grow Business and LiveYourTalk). Do an hour or two with her — even without a talk yet planned. She helped me immensely nearly three years ago when I started public speaking.
- Submit articles to A List Apart or Web Standards Sherpa or Ladies in Tech. These publications will provide you feedback on your writing and even publish your sweet ideas. When you know that people want to hear what you have to say, it can be a huge boost to start shopping it around as a talk.
But ultimately, this all relies on a willingness to put yourself out there because you know that you’re a super-smart woman who has things to say.
And I’m at least one woman on this Earth who’ll stand behind you, cheering.