In the words of Lean In‘s Sheryl Sandberg:
“Women are held back by many things: bias, lack of opportunity and lack of flexibility. We also hold ourselves back. We don’t sit at the table; we don’t raise our hands; we don’t raise our voice. I believe our world would be a better place if half our companies and half our countries were run by women.”
I recently read Sheryl’s book Lean In. I thought it was easily the most refreshing take on gender equality issues that I’ve come across, and Sheryl’s honesty and personal story struck a chord with me. The statement above is a powerful one, but rather than simply think of this challenge as something that women need to take on by themselves, I felt a strong desire to also support, participate and join the movement.
Basically, I was inspired. But Sheryl’s book was only one factor that lead me to think about this. Everyday I am reminded how lucky I am to be surrounded by incredible colleagues and inspiring cheerleaders who champion and support gender balance every single day. Two people in particular come to mind: Andrew Rasiej and Deanna Zandt, both of whom have lead the charge in regards to fighting for stronger representation of women at conferences, either as attendees, or even more importantly as speakers.
Deanna and Andrew, and many others, have been consistent forces of influence for me, my team, and the industry as a whole, and they have urged us to work hard over the past four years to achieve diversity across all of SMW globally. With support from our global partners Nokia and our local city organizers, we literally host thousands of events every year in more than 18 countries and have always strived to capture and share fair and balanced perspectives of how technology and social media is shaping our lives, changing society, culture and economies around the world. However, I’m afraid to admit that we have largely failed in our efforts. We do not have fair representation, and we have not achieved a 50/50 balance in men and women participating in our events.
The reason why is less important than our desire to address the issue, and my team and I are 100% committed towards making a fundamental change to how we approach diversity, starting with gender balance.
Today is an important milestone in preparation for our next Social Media Week, which is scheduled for September 23-27. Today, we open event submission for the thousands of event partners around the world who help to shape the experience for SMW in 10 or more cities. Today, even more importantly, we are making a commitment that by the end of 2014, SMW — together with our community — commits to striving for a 50/50 balance in all our activities and in all cities. From our Advisory Boards to event hosts to speakers, we want SMW to be truly balanced in our representation of women and men.
We invite you to join Gender 50/50 to help us move towards our goal of 50/50 representation this September. As we open event submission, we challenge you to ensure your events have half or more female participation. We’ll feature the best events and work with our media partners to highlight the most balanced. We will also document and share our experiences as we take on this challenge, including when we have been unsuccessful.
By increasing the diversity of the voices represented, we are building a more Open & Connected World, which is central to the mission of Social Media Week and our global theme for 2013.
So, when you submit your event today, rethink the balance of the participants. Encourage differing views to join you; nominate female speakers — or submit yourself as a speaker, encourage others to do the same; and help us have the vibrant dialogue with all the voices that represent our amazing community. Take it one step further and tweet our commitment with others using #Gender5050.
We hope you join us and take the challenge.