Will virtual conferences help close the tech industry’s gender gap?

Will virtual conferences help close the tech industry’s gender gap?

Data from Ensono has revealed how virtual events could be a step in achieving greater inclusivity for woman in tech, if biased features maintained by in-person conferences are eliminated.

Ensono, a hybrid IT services provider has released the findings of its second annual research report, ‘Speak up: Redesigning tech conferences with women in mind.’

Ensono surveyed 500 women across the US and UK who attended a tech conference in 2019 to uncover their experiences surrounding discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation at industry events.

The report also includes an audit of the same 18 major technology conferences as last year’s report to identify change in the representation of female keynote speakers at tech conferences.

“This year’s report comes at a tipping point for the tech industry, and the spirit of change has never been stronger,” said Meredith Graham, senior vice president of culture and people experience at Ensono.

“While we never could have predicted how 2020 would unfold, now is the time to implement change and create cultures that champion diversity and inclusion, not only in tech but across industries.”

As digital events have become the new normal due to the impact of Covid-19, the report signals how virtual conferences can provide a stepping stone for women to achieve gender parity in the tech industry if biased conference amenities are eliminated.

For women of colour, this disparity is even greater, and companies are responsible for diversity and inclusion efforts that challenge routine procedure. 

Some of the top findings from the survey and audit include: 

  • 71% of women who have given a keynote say conferences are not designed with women in mind.
  • On average, women of colour made up only 8% of keynote speakers at tech conferences over the last three years.
  • 61% of women say their company is more likely to send a man to a tech conference than a woman.
  • Of the 29% of respondents who experienced sexual harassment at a conference, 57% didn’t report the incident because they simply didn’t know how due to a lack of code of conduct procedures.

"One of the organisers thought I was there to refill coffee — I was actually giving a keynote," said an Ensono survey respondent.

The report also outlines data surrounding the lack of accommodations at tech events for women, like rooms for nursing mothers, as well as biased design features, like podiums or projectors sized for much taller men.

It also provides actionable takeaways for companies to better equip their female associates to attend both in-person and virtual events, such as investing in internal resources that vet conferences and transmit attendee feedback.

“Although the overhaul of in-person conferences has increased the opportunity for women to gain representation at tech conferences and have better experiences, it doesn’t stop there,” said Lin Classon, vice president of product management at Ensono.

“The industry still has a long way to go, but it’s research like this that provides companies with data and tools to initiate change.”