When I first heard about an app being used at SXSW to identify panels where women are “under-represented,” I rolled my eyes. But as I thought more, I got angry. Not that there weren’t more women speakers, but that this app was reducing speakers to their gender.
The app allows you to share a graph on social media showing just what that panel is missing. Which, if you listen to the creators, is at least one pair of ovaries per panel. But what if there isn’t a qualified woman to speak on a certain topic, or she wasn’t available this week? Are we supposed to shame and ignore the men who earned a spot on the stage, or find a less qualified female just so there is at least one woman sharing the mic? I, for one, would rather sit in the audience and learn from a bunch of men than be out of my depth on stage just because of my gender.
We need to look deeper at the reason there are not as many women on certain panels and address the issues, if they exist, that are keeping them from speaking or being qualified to speak. Is there some sort of sexism at work? Perhaps in some cases, but not all. And fighting sexism with more of the same isn’t the answer. If you truly want to be “a community dedicated to ensuring that women are always part of the public dialogue” then build a community, not a bully.