Announcing Gender 50/50:  Striving for Balance Among Social Media Week’s Global Community of Men and Women


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.

Gender 50/50: It starts with all of us.

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.

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  • Christine Medina

    Definitely looking forward to this :)

  • Elspeth Rountree

    Congrats on this new endeavor. Really looking forward to seeing a more 50/50 event!

  • anonymous

    I applaud your endeavors in this matter – however, I hope you actually follow through. I offered my expertise as a panelist or participant in this winter’s SMWNYC conference well in advance of the conference and never heard from anyone. While I am not a CEO or top social media executive, I am a mid-level female career professional with relevant experience. I’ll be interested to see if your future outreach mirrors your words or if it’s mere rhetoric.

  • Toby Daniels

    apologies your speaker application was not accepted in feb. we do look at all applications and take each into consideration when matching speakers with opportunities. if you email me at I will check to see whether there are future opps for our next event in sept.

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  • Sasha

    Firstly, I don’t think ‘gender’ means what you think it means.
    Secondly, as woman this makes no sense at all and I find it deeply offensive. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m speaking on a stage because I met some quota rather than because I’m talented and hard-working. Why do you need to have 50/50 sex parity? What’s the business case? Women aren’t disadvantaged in any way whatsoever and never have been, not in the developed world anyway. Some organisations, events etc. are predominently male. So what? Some professions, such as teaching, are predominently female; you don’t hear many calls to change that, nor moves to recruit more men into teaching, (though it’s probably not a bad idea). What’s wrong with picking on merit?
    Men account for 93% of all workplace injuries and deaths, the ten most dangerous jobs in the UK, from farmer and fisherman to building labourer and dustman, are completely male-dominated. Why don’t we try to achieve sex parity there? Why stop at parity between the sexes anyway? Why not have conferences with speaker groups that are precisely 7% gay, or 2.4% diabetic, or where 44% have experienced mental health issues, or 8% black?
    I don’t describe myself as a feminist, even though I believe men and women should be equal, because ‘equal’ doesn’t mean ‘the same’, and that’s what feminism a la Sheryl Sandberg seems to mean these days. I think you need to go back to the drawing board.

  • Sasha

    If you’re a ‘mid-level’ professional, then no matter how relevant your experience, why should you be chosen to speak at a conference ahead of a CEO or ‘top social media executive’? Is it because you’re a woman?

  • Nicky Yates

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We think a more fruitful and rich conversation can be had when both men and women are at the table sharing in the dialogue. We actually avoided equality for balance because we believe that differences should be celebrated and we want voices heard and valued — with gender accounted for. We do want content to remain strong but also feel that there are many brilliant female speakers that can join our incredible male ones already participating.

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  • Kristen

    In your e-mail newsletter that mentions the 50/50 initiative, you refer to a group called the Women In Action Network–what is that group and where can I learn more about it?

  • Nicky Yates

    You can find the group here: Thanks!

  • Meg Harmer

    The fact that SMW was not able to reach a 50/50 balance of both male and female presenters, is not a fault of SMW or Crowdcentric, but is indicative of a greater social problem we are faced with in many spheres of the professional world. I applaud SMW and Crowdcentric for its efforts and for its commitment in 2014 for a 50/50 balance in all cities.

  • Beth Granter

    This is really great to call this out as an issue, and to commit to working towards addressing it. I agree with the other commenter that this is a much wider societal issue, but we have to start somewhere with addressing it, and 50/50 sounds like a good approach. I haven’t read Sandberg’s book, but RE her quote in your post, the bit about holding ourselves back, I think needs more context. The reasons we don’t ‘sit at the table’ or ‘raise our hands’ are not self-inflicted – the lack of confidence to do so comes from society’s different expectations for women (vs men). This is an excellent article exposing how women are rated lower as conference speakers, due to confident women being less likeable

  • John

    This is not at all thought through. Where does transgender fit in?

  • Postcyberpunk

    Women in digital communications are pretty empowered from my vantage. I’m not sure this is a noble cause as it could sacrifice quality simply so your team can make a statement about an equality that is completely arbitrary.

  • Laura

    What a ridiculous and “deeply offensive” comment.

    First (not firstly, which is grammatically incorrect), gender=the state of being male or female. What are you insinuating? Or is English not your first language?

    Women aren’t disadvantaged in any way whatsoever and never have been? Maybe you should take a look at income disparity in equivalent jobs, or try to raise money in Silicon Valley, or try to get a play you wrote produced, or…

    I beg to differ with your statement that it’s okay to perpetuate male domination at events. Even book publishing, a female-dominated field, has more men than women speaking at its annual BookExpo convention. And by the way, the movement to get more men into teaching is longstanding, despite your not having heard about it.

    I go to many conferences where women make up only 10-20% of speakers and it turns me off those organizers forever. You find SMW’s attempt to build gender parity nonsensical and offensive? I think you need to get off your high horse (obviously a Lipizzaner) and find a better cause. There are plenty of talented and eligible women and for SMW to make an active choice to find them is to be lauded. It is not tokenism, it is equal opportunity. And equal doesn’t mean what you think it does: it means having the same opportunities and recognition for comparable experience and achievements. You could use a refresher ESL class.

    Saying you don’t describe yourself as a feminist was redundant after that wacko tirade.

  • anonymousse

    What about “other” gender?

  • Nicky Yates

    We’ve worked with leaders in the field to help position our move to increase diversity and unique perspectives as best as possible. We strongly feel that by allowing more space for more diverse and unique voices at the SMW table, we allow for more participation overall, not just with women and men. We do hope you join us!

  • Nicky Yates

    We will be using the same standards as always in our content curation. By allowing for more representation, we strongly feel there will be no sacrifice in quality but actually an increase. We all benefit when more diverse and unique perspectives are shared and we allow for more leaders of different backgrounds the room to participate. Thanks!

  • Anna Handschuh

    Great initiative – I am curating conferences as well and I know pretty good how hard it is to get more leading women on stage (at least in some fields) just because the “basic population” on certain levels is only white and male.
    My congrats!

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