A little over a year ago, Kristin Bond posted an article (reprinted here) looking at the diversity of speakers at marketing conferences. As with many articles pointing out gender issues in technology there was quite a bit of discussion about it on a related mailing list. Some of the comments were supportive and open to the idea that gender diversity is an overall good. Some of the comments, while well meaning, indicated the commenters didn’t understand some of the more systemic issues that result in conferences with speaker lists that consist primarily of white men.
Kristin, I, Jen Capstraw and April Mullen started talking privately about the issue. What I discovered during those conversations is that I wasn’t alone in how I felt about some spaces. Being a woman in tech I expect to feel left out in many places. When I go to a conference, or I participate in an online space or I meet up with colleagues in social situations, I expect that someone will say something sexist. As a woman I regularly feel like an outsider. What I didn’t realize is other women in those same spaces felt the same way. By not saying something I was missing an opportunity to find a supportive atmosphere with other women who also thought spaces were unfriendly or toxic to women.
But we didn’t just complain; we decided to take action. What would happen if we created a space to help conferences find women speakers? What would happen if we set up a framework for women to find mentors? What did we have to lose by trying? Thus, Women of Email™ was formed.
A year later:
Women of Email has had an incredibly successful first year! We’ve filled 17 speaker slots at various conferences. We’ve had our first round of mentorships. We host an active Facebook community where women working in the email space talk about all the things that affect our careers. We have had dozens of meetups around the world.
Last month Jen, April, Kristin and I all flew to Vegas to have an in-person board meeting and look to the future. It was great to finally see each other in person and talk about our goals for the organization. We’re working to get our corporate status solidified and getting IRS approval as a 501(c)3 non-profit. That’s a work in progress. We were hoping to be able to announce it on the anniversary of our founding, but bureaucracy is always slower than one hopes.
Women of Email isn’t simply for marketers, we welcome all women working in email to join Women of Email, including folks working for agencies, postmaster teams, abuse desks, and compliance teams. For those of you on Facebook, we have a closed group for members to discuss email, delivery, work and life.
In the coming months, we’ll be continuing to build out our speaker’s bureau (so add your name!). If you’re organizing a conference we’re happy to recommend names to you or share your conference info with our speakers. We’re looking forward to having another flash-mentoring event in the fall. We’re also looking for volunteers who would like to help us expand our programs.
On a more introspective note, we are aware that the current board is very middle-class and white and heterosexual. This is not very diverse and we know it. As we expand the leadership of the organization, we are actively looking for women who aren’t like us. We want this organization to address the needs of women in email, not just white heterosexual women. I can’t promise we’ll always do things right, but we’re going to do our best and accept when we’ve failed.
I’m incredibly lucky in my career. I run my own business, and have rarely had direct experience with sexism that affected my job or career. In the early days the most common problem was that some men would insist on having Steve on calls. It was annoying and frustrating, but it wasn’t career damaging. Plus, we’d charge them for Steve’s time as well as mine. He would also spend most of the calls telling them he wasn’t the right person to answer the question, they should really ask me about it. His actions helped deal with those sexist clients directly, but they also did more. They significantly increased my confidence and left me knowing I had the authority to speak on my own. Even now, clients will sometimes ask for him on a call. I don’t acquiesce any longer; they hired me, they get me.
Every woman deserves acknowledgement of their knowledge and expertise. They deserve the opportunity to learn and grow in their career. As an industry, we are better when we have more and more diverse voices. Women of Email can’t fix everything. We can’t meet everyone’s needs. What we promise is doing our best in the space we’ve claimed.