This sounds so familiar. You notice a bias in the speakers at a meeting (an obvious bias that everyone notices), and so you start suggesting to conference organizers that maybe it would be a good thing to do a little more outreach, get a little more diversity. I was doing that to atheist meetings 5 or 6 years ago, or perhaps longer…it’s been a longstanding issue. So now in 2012:
So here is a plea. Next time you are involved in organizing a meeting – make some effort to have a strong representation of diversity of speakers and participants. For example, if you invite lots of women for example and all say no – try to figure out why and see if you can fix the issue. Offer travel fellowships for students. Offer child care or child activity options (even if you cannot pay for it – at least make it easy for people). Make sure to advertise/promote the meeting to groups/institutions with a high representation of underrepresented groups. Don’t give up if your first efforts don’t work. Sometimes it can be difficult to make sure diversity levels are high. But keep trying … it will help make the conference better and also will help the field in general …
That’s Jonathan Eisen, talking about genomics meetings. I hope it works out for him. I can say that atheist meetings have gotten much, much better at representing more women (the race issue, not so much, but it is slowly improving there, even).
The next stage after that success, however, is pushback from the white men who had previously been the sole kinds of faces on the stage. They can’t quite start screaming at the women to get off the stage — that degree of bigotry is a little too naked, usually — but they will aim their fury at the people who brought them to the sorry state of having women equally represented with men.
The only answer to that, of course, is to keep on fighting.