Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the WSJDLive Sausage Fest

Where The Digital World Connects.  That's the blurb for the WSJDLive conference, to be held next October.  Want to learn more about the conference?

At WSJDLive, leaders from both established and emerging tech companies will explore the most compelling tech opportunities evolving around the world. Through dynamic on-stage interviews, intimate roundtables with experts on cutting-edge topics, and interactive events, WSJDLive participants will connect with peers in an environment of unparalleled discussion, debate and global discovery.

Want to learn even more?  Here are the speakers.  They show some racial and ethnic diversity and there's variations in eyeglasses and hair color.  On the other hand, all the speakers are men.

My Twitter feed has lots of funny stuff about that last bit.  But the problem is a bit deeper than just the Wall Street Journal's usual preference to have sausage fests (as some called this) or their blindness to the fact that they are having one, again, and the problem is that most of those men are CEOs.  Capitalists, if you wish.  And women are scarce among the CEOs.

This doesn't mean that I'm defending the speaker selection process, and it doesn't mean that the conference couldn't find any female CEOs with the relevant experience.  Neither does it mean that conferences focusing on CEOs are necessarily the best idea to talk about how the digital world connects.

But it's important to note that inequalities of various types are not just interpersonal or perception dilemmas, amenable to simple solutions, such as reminding conference builders of the importance not to have gender or race blinders attached to their eyeglass frames.  Those reminders are not useless (and can be important as a way of opening the initial gates), but as long as the underlying structural problems remain, we need to put more effort into solving those structural problems.

Put in a different way, the problem here is twofold:  First the absence of female speakers in the conference, and, second, the absence of women among the relevant group of CEOs.  To ask for just more female speakers doesn't fix the second part.