Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something About Gender Inequality
Jeremy Katzon 17 February, 2015
(These women did.)
It may appear to be a casual call-to-arms hashtag, but #changetheratio isn’t slactavism. It is the public face of an organisation founded to put more women on stage at tech conferences. Rachel Sklar, a New York-based lawyer turned blogger turned journalist, founded Change The Ratio in February 2010 with a simple yet powerful organisational strategy: visibility begets access begets opportunity. Hence the push to start with conferences and events, which are often the most visible part of the tech and media industries. By calling attention to the disproportionately high number of men who make up the named speakers lists at these events, Sklar caused many in the industry to stop and think.
If men are the only ones seen on stage with a mic in their hand, then only men will be quoted in the trade press and social media, leading to… well you get the picture. Sklar also went after the business press in 2012, taking issue with the Newsweek Daily Beast Digital Power Index for that year. The index listed the 100 most influential people in tech, but included just seven women.
Sklar argued against the conventional wisdom that there are simply way more men in tech-related fields. She looked closely at the individual industries that were represented (not all were traditional STEM-based fields) and concluded the list was “indicative not of a numbers problem, but of a visibility problem. In other words, you are more likely to see men because, well, men are more likely to see men.”
The solution, as Sklar sees it, is to encourage those women who are already in leadership positions to encourage more women to join them. It’s a virtuous cycle that thrives in the hyper-connected world of social media, but harkens back to previous decades and another industry altogether. Sklar’s Change The Ratio co-founder, Emily Gannett, often references Margaret Thatcher’s mantra: we must, as women, not just gain more seats at the top, but also make room for and help other women sit at the table. Just in case you missed it, Gannet has also been quoted as saying “I agree with Madeleine Albright when she said ’There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’”
Which is where the hashtag come into play, providing a dual force of celebrating conferences and publishers who get it right while continuing to pressure those who are yet to notice or, presumably, are yet to care. Take a spin through a twitter search of #changetheratio and you’ll discover it has become adopted much more widely than just the speaker lists at internet conferences. That is undoubtedly as Sklar intended. In the last few weeks alone, the hashtag has helped put a spotlight on the gender imbalance in the film business, (the Oscar nominations got a particular grilling, while a Buzzfeed look at the gender politics of the Harry Potter saga was also tagged), international politics (female participation at the World Economic Forum in Davos was measured at 17%) and even commercial pornography (ex-adland heavyweight Cindy Gallop often references the hashtag while explaining her new startup makelovenotporn).
Changing the ratio in tech and business in general has become a part of the conversation in many different parts of the world—and in mainstream companies. A familiar theme in #changetheratio-style reporting now is to go beyond a general highlighting the issues and into ‘listicles’ of actions and decisions individuals can take and make to bring about change. In perhaps the most telling example of #changetheratio’s effect on the gender bias at industry events, an entire conference has emerged specifically to address the representation of females amongst Creative Director roles in advertising agencies. The 3% Conference began in late 2012, according to its own site, has since “exploded into a 2-day, 400-person event in San Francisco, multi-city road shows throughout the year, a vibrant online community on multiple social platforms, a student scholarship fund, a creative award, and a business blog.”
The primary drivers of the #changetheratio movement no longer appear to be feminism or a sense of social justice. Today, we’re talking much more gender-neutral language: money. As 3% Conference founder Kat Gordon says: “The advertising business is a $33 billion industry. Misunderstanding female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy.”