Brenda Cooper

Cluelessly Excluded / Helpfully Included

Just last month, I got invited to a CIO convention in Seattle as part of my job.  The electronic flyer contained multiple pictures of the speakers – maybe ten or twelve speakers on all the usual CIOish topics like security and cloud computing and the like.  Every face on the panel was male. It could have been worse – only about half were pure white.  But still, I sent them an email and said I had no interest in attending a conference with no gender diversity (they did have one female speaker, whose name was not on page one, and who wasn’t talking about a technical topic). They wanted me to call them back and explain more about what I wan’t coming. I didn’t bother. I’m too busy to explain the obvious to fools, and I don’t want to hear about why they couldn’t find any women. There are women in technology.

Well, just last week, an interesting blog post by Owen Abroad about men not being willing to sit on panels of all men came up fairly viral on the Internet. He has a pledge. I’m not a rabid feminist (I have many male friends and family members who I love dearly and who have been nothing but supportive and helpful to me. I don’t bash men as a group, although the occasional individual has earned a few comments here and there), but I thought it was a sweet gesture, and left it at that. I think I even chose not to share it.

Zero World HoughSo then I arrive at the Emerald City Comic Con (which is working hard on diversity, inclusion, and respect). I ran one panel on creating fascinating characters (which went fabulously – and I had an almost-even gender split of three women and four men until one of my speakers dropped out). I was on the next panel about the science in science fiction.  In a conversation with the fabulous Jason Hough I learned that he had asked the panel organizers to include me because there were no women on the panel.  This had to have happened before the article went viral. So here I was, with an opportunity because someone had noticed no women had been given access to it.  I’m grateful.  I also had a blast – the panel was interesting and the room was full.  We had many people in our signing line.  Roughly half of the audience was female. It might have mattered to them that I was there, whether they noticed it or not.

I’m a forgiving soul. I believe that men get scheduled into technology and science fiction events because there are rather a lot of them in both fields, and the audiences are also very male.  It happens by accident.  I don’t believe we are actively excluded very often. I think we are cluelessly excluded.

I’m grateful to Owen (who I don’t know) and to Jason (who I do know) for not being clueless.

2 Responses so far

  1. 1. Owen Barder

    Thanks Brenda! I am not sure I’d agree that my little gesture has gone viral, exactly, but I’m glad it had this good effect.

    warm regards
    Owen

  2. 2. Jason Hough

    Great post, Brenda!

    I had not heard of Owen’s post before, this has just been my own ‘code’ of sorts for a few years now. In fact I had almost the exact same experience/response at SDCC last year and also succeeded there in getting the line-up adjusted. In both cases, the people putting together the panels are very nice respectful people, they were just laser-focused on their own panelist requirements. In San Diego, the organizer was trying to stock the panel with authors who had contributed to a certain anthology, and there were only a handful at the con in the first place, the women among them already busy in that time slot. But it wasn’t until he invited me and I pointed out the problem that he realized it was more important to expand the scope of the invitations.
    Almost the exact same situation at ECCC, where a publisher was organizing the panel and too focused on getting their own authors to the table. Again, I know the organizer and he (a gay male) is the last person who would ever deliberately make such an exclusion, it was just that he’d invited all of the women authors with that publishing house but, again, they were booked or had already scheduled travel (Sunday afternoon at a con is tough).
    I guess the point being I think it’s important for us as panelists to pay attention and point out these issues, but also to not automatically assume some deliberate slight was being made. At least that’s my approach!