May. 2nd, 2011

lizabelle: (Lizabelle blue)
I spent Saturday at Skepticamp Sydney, an "unconference" in which participants could speak on any subject for fifteen minutes. There were some great topics, including skepticism and the Middle East, the importance of words, why Dr Google is a bad idea, and how to make skepticism entertaining. I came away feeling inspired and happy to have met so many people who are passionate about improving the world we live in.

The most interesting topic for me personally was an open discussion on how to attract more women into the skeptical movement. It was a great improvement in several ways from the panel discussed by PZ Myers in this post. Firstly, it was instigated and hosted by a woman (thank you, Lauren!). Secondly, it was an open debate, which allowed everyone to contribute. Thirdly, while there was plenty of discussion from both men and women, all the men in the room appeared willing to listen to what the women present had to say.

One topic that was raised was the lack of high-profile women in the skeptical movement, and tangentially the conflict between the need to have the "best" speakers at an event and the need to ensure that women are well represented.

Firstly, let me stress here that I am not an expert (in, well, anything except being a woman), and don't pretend to know what it takes to put on an event. I am also pretty new to activism in general, and to the skeptical movement in particular; this is my personal viewpoint, and I am not trying to tell anyone else what they should and shouldn't do.

With that out of the way, of course I don't expect event organisers to have a 50/50 spread if that means putting on substandard events. But there are plenty of women out there who are experts in their field and also good speakers. If they are never given a chance to speak because organisers don't know who they are, how can we expect their profiles, and the profile of women in the skeptical movement in general, to be raised?

No Chicks No Excuses, an initiative by Leslie Cannold, Jane Caro and Catherine Deveny, is a resource listing inspirational women "to enliven your next conference, panel, board, think tank, article, broadcast, programme or lecture". It is not an exhaustive list of experts (listing is at the discretion of the owners), but it is certainly an excellent starting point for anyone looking for speakers and participants in events. A quick scan of the people on there brought up several familiar names, including Kylie Sturgess and Chrys Stevenson. Deveny herself is a high-profile atheist.

Since one list obviously cannot be exhaustive, I'd love to hear suggestions for other places to look for female speakers! My own suggestion would be podcasts - there are loads of skeptic-related podcasts out there, many of which are hosted by or feature interviews with women.

If you are reading this and think you belong on No Chicks No Excuses, please consider following this link and applying to be listed.

If you are reading this and organising an event, please consider looking through that list as you plan the event. :)

Finally, I'm not sure of the breakdown of male/female attendees at Skepticamp, but to my unscientific eye there was a good proportion of women there, which was encouraging to see! Many thanks to Jason and all the other unorganisers and speakers for putting on such a fab event, and a special thank you to Esther for ensuring that vegan food was available! Roll on Skepticamp Melbourne. :)

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