Matt Gemmell

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Women Conference Speakers

Tech, Speaking & Women 8 min read

I periodically attend (and speak at) technical conferences, and I love doing so. One thing you quickly notice is the gender balance, or rather, imbalance - there are always far, far more men than women.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that every profession (or any other grouping of people) should have a fifty-fifty gender split, any more than I think there should be a precise ethnicity split, or a religious split, or a favourite-football-team split.

What I do think, though, is that people should be adequately (rather than artificially) represented, and when it comes to female speakers at the average tech conference, that’s clearly not true. One of the nice things about Update Conf was the more believable gender split among the speakers.

I’m not entirely sure why tech conferences don’t have more female speakers. I would assume it’s largely due to some combination of:

  1. Inertia (Most current speakers are men, and those who speak tend to be invited to speak again), and:
  2. Self-promotion (On average, men are probably more likely to volunteer to speak, for a variety of reasons both social and psychological)

The first point seems likely, and the second at least makes some kind of sense - but, never having been a woman, I can only speculate.

In any case, the lack of women speakers at conferences most certainly isn’t because there aren’t any suitable candidates in our industry. That’s just trivially true, because I know many such women myself. At my last job before I started my own business five years ago, the development team was at least 50% women. My wife is a developer too (Java, for Amazon).

So, if you’re organising a tech conference and working on your speaker line-up, think about going outside the usual male suspects and considering some female speakers too - on merit, naturally.

To make it easier, here’s a list to get you started. These are all women that I know (some just on Twitter, and some in real life too) whose work I’m familiar with and respect, and whose opinions I find interesting. They’re from the worlds of iOS development, web development, user experience and UI design, content strategy, and more.

As with any set of potential speakers, some of them won’t have spoken before, whereas some of them are regulars on the conference circuit. I’m certain that all have something to contribute to your event, and I don’t hesitate to recommend each of them.

And remember: there are many ways to participate in a conference, even if you’re not up on the main stage presenting. Blitz talks, panels, interviews and workshops all need excellent people, and can be a good way to ease new speakers into being up in front of a room.

In no particular order other than recency of their last tweets on the day I put my list together, here are some of my friends, colleagues and fellow professionals who happen to be women. In each case, I’ve included a Twitter link, and at least one link to either a blog, portfolio or business site.

Sophia Teutschler

Sophia is an iOS and Mac app developer, with a number of rather famous apps including Articles, Magical Weather, Tipulator and CoverSutra. She’s an Apple Design Award winner, and she’s based in Germany.

Anne Halsall

Anne is a product, UI and interaction designer. She’s worked at Google, Inkling and Quora, she speaks Japanese, and she’s based in San Francisco.

Amanda Wixted

Amanda is a mobile developer who’s worked on lots of well-know apps and games including Farmville for iPhone, Mafia Wars, Pacman and more. She’s an experienced public speaker too.

Amber Weinberg

Amber is a web and iOS developer who’s moving to London very soon. She specialises in valid, semantic and accessible HTML, CSS and WordPress sites.

Jane Lee

Jane is a software developer based in LA. She creates iOS, Mac and Rails apps, and she’s an avid gamer.

Sarah Parmenter

Sarah is a UI and interaction designer for iOS, the web and more. She’s an experienced conference speaker, and is .net magazine’s Designer of the Year 2011.

Courtney Boyd Myers

Courtney Boyd Myers is the founder of audience.io, a transatlantic company designed to help New York and London based technology startups grow internationally. Courtney is also the founder of 3460 Miles, a newsletter connecting New York and London and Hustle and Kale, a health and wellness newsletter for the digital age. Previously, she was the Features Editor and East Coast Editor of TNW covering New York City startups and digital innovation.

Cathy Shive

Cathy is a software developer and user interface designer based in Menlo Park, California. She cares deeply about interaction design and is an engaging and charming speaker.

Relly Annett-Baker

Relly is writer and web content strategist based in the Home Counties in England. She’s a very experienced conference speaker, and co-founder of a web user experience company.

Geri Coady

Geri is a designer, illustrator and photographer based in St John’s, Newfoundland in Canada. She’s an Art Director at an advertising agency.

Liz Lettieri

Liz is a web designer at 29th Street Publishing, and she’s based in Manhattan, New York City.

Clare Sutcliffe

Clare is a web designer based in England. She writes about design and user experience, and she’s a regular conference attendee and organiser.

Anna Debenham

Anna is a freelance front-end web developer based in Brighton, England. She’s a conference speaker, and she launched an online magazine for young designers and developers.

James Keller

James is an iOS interaction and product designer based in Portland, Oregon. She’s co-founder of a company that helps organisations create, develop and launch iOS products and services.

Evgenia Grinblo

Evgenia (“Yev-geh-nee-yuh”, or ‘Jenny’) is a UX and print designer who’s interested in the social aspects of creativity. She’s based in Israel, and her name actually means “born to design”.

Liz Elcoate

Liz is a freelance web designer, graphic designer and front-end coder. She has her own design and brand identity studio, and she’s based in Lincolnshire, England.

Laura Kalbag

Laura is a freelance designer and developer, with a focus on the mobile and semantic web. She’s based in Surrey, England.

Kelly Guimont

Kelly has spoken at Macworld, HOW Design, TypeCon, and WordCamp Portland about various Mac OS and iOS topics including introductory security measures on Mac/iOS, and how developers can get the attention of the tech press once they’ve built an app. She’s based in Portland, Oregon.

Your suggestions

I had a huge number of recommendations from readers regarding others who should be included here; they’re listed below. Be sure to consider them for your conference too. Clearly, there’s absolutely no shortage of women to speak at technical events.

Final thoughts

Conference organisers, get in touch with these women when you’re putting together your speaker line-up. There’s no cause for an all-male speaker list in this day and age.

If you’re interesting in getting started with speaking, I wrote a list of my public speaking tips that you might find useful. If you only want one tip, it’s this: you can do it.

As when making any list, I’m certain I’ll have forgotten a few people - absolutely no disparagement intended, except to my own memory. If you have a correction to suggest, or would prefer not to be listed, get in touch via email - here’s my contact info.

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