Where are the women?

Last week, I attended integratED PDX in Portland run by OETC. It was a great conference and one of the unique components of the conference was the last 2 sessions were set aside for “Room to Grow.” The concept was that during the first session, participants would breakout into different rooms and work with the conference presenters/facilitators to work on developing an idea or project that they had been thinking about over the course of the conference. Then during the second session, 10 participants would be selected to present their idea or project to the entire conference group in the main ballroom. I thought it was a great idea and I was excited to hear what people had come up with or been inspired to think about over the course of the conference.

When the presenters were called up to the stage area, the small group of people sitting at my table all made the same observation. Where are the women? Out of a group of around 10 people, there was only 1 women in the group. I was quite surprised because it seemed like there was a good balance between men and women at the conference, which is sometimes not the case at technology conferences. The one women who was sitting at our table, send a text message to the organizer, and he made an announcement that all who volunteered to present where given the opportunity.

So that leaves me with the question, why was there not more women who were interested in or willing to present?
Do women not like making impromptu presentations?
(The 1 women who did present, had a presentation that she had prepared before the conference that she used about introducing coding in her school. It was great!)
Did the women at the conference, think that there was something ‘right’ that they needed to present?

What would have made more women at the conference willing to share? 

Would more women have shared if it was in the small groups that we were working in during the first session?

All of these questions are great, but WHY DID I NOT VOLUNTEER?

I have been thinking about this a lot since the conference. I have presented at conferences before, done faculty PD, and I really enjoy presenting … but I didn’t step up this day. One ‘easy’ reason that I didn’t volunteer was that the form you needed to complete to volunteer required you have a cell phone number for a text message and because I was traveling in the US and my cell plan doesn’t cover that area – I didn’t bring it with me. But really that is a poor excuse.

Then I thought about maybe I was out of touch with what the teachers in Oregon are going through. After all – I teach in another country, a different curriculum, different pressures, and I didn’t want to seem out of touch with what they are going through. Listening to some of the challenges that those teachers face on a daily basis, is always a good reminder of the situation I find myself in. But really that is still not a very good excuse.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I was afraid that what I would say just really wouldn’t be all that impressive or interesting to everyone. I think that for so long, I have tried to share my passion with people that I teach with, and no one really is very interested or has time to be interested that I have gotten use to just sharing my ideas with myself or on my blog (and not really getting any feedback or comments). But really that is still not a very good excuse.

I think that after all of this, I wish I had have been a risk taker (in IB language) and shared my “Room to Grow” project on workflow/appflow on the iPads. I really missed a great opportunity. So – the next time you are in this position, in the words of Sheryl Sandberg – LEAN IN, take the chance, don’t worry about what others will think.

If you were at iPDX I would be interested on if you have any idea about why more women did not volunteer? How can we encourage more women to feel safe presenting.

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5 comments

  1. Loved reading your perspective @MarcieLew, thanks for sharing.
    While there were some great contributors on stage for Room to Grow, I too was troubled by the lack of representation. I’m moved by your self-assesment of why you personally did not volunteer, however, I’m left wondering what could have been done institutionally to better empower risk-taking. Do you have any thoughts on that?

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Stephen. If we look at the institutional level to empower conference participants to take more risks – I wonder if some type of mentoring/encouragement could have been put in place in the initial ‘Room to Grow’ rooms to foster some risk taking. In each room, the facilitators could have taken more initiative in encouraging everyone to consider presenting. Also, I think that stressing there is no ‘right’ presentation or way to share might have encouraged more. Do you have any ideas?

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  2. I like the idea of giving the facilitators a structured approach for encouraging participants to present, and I agree that there is no ‘right’ presentation. Another idea I’ve been thinking about is encouraging additional channels to ‘present’ information. The limited discussion opportunity provided by public speaking could be offset by presenting in smaller organized groups. This could create more opportunities to share with a lower risk in sharing.

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    1. I considered smaller groups as well. I think that bringing down the barrier to participation is definitely helpful when encouraging people to share their ideas with people they don’t know. I wonder if having more mixed tables share their ideas would have been helpful. Definitely something to consider for future events when wanting to have everyone’s voice represented.

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