So you want more women at your tech event? Make it cheap.

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series called So you want more women at your tech event?

One of the easiest things you can do to get more women at your event is to make it cheap to attend.

Women have lower salaries and less disposable income than men. They are more often single parents. And this income gap is even larger for older women.

You will also have the advantage of an event that is more diverse in other ways, by removing a very real barrier to participation. 

The salary gap

The average salary for women in Canada in 2009 was $31,100, while men made $45,200 on average. That means that women were making less than 70% of men’s salaries. That’s a lot of extra spending money that men have for conference tickets.

Of course, you might want to look just the people most likely to attend your conference. In 2010, the median weekly earnings for U.S. women in full-time management, professional, and related occupations was $923, compared to $1,256 for men. If you ticket costs $333 (after taxes and fees), that is the exact difference between the incomes of the men and women most likely to attend your conference. That means that women have to spent 1/3 or their weekly salary just to go to your event. That’s a lot. And that’s for a professional.

What about race?

You might want your attendees to be diverse in other ways too. In the US, the average weekly salary for African Americans in full-time employment is around $600 per week. For Latinos it is about $550. In both cases this is less than half the average salary for men overall. In 2006, the average income of native Canadians was only $18,962, about half the national average.

What about age?

Age also affects income. In Canada, older women who work make only $33,000 a year, but that drops to $13,400 if the aren’t working. Young people, men and women, between 20 and 24, earned only $15, 037 per year in Canada and that’s if they have had some university education.

What about sexual identity?

Sexual orientation has also been found to negatively affect income. A 2007 study found that gay men earn 10-32% less than similarly qualified men. Lesbians also earn less than men overall. Transgender people can also face income discrimination.

So you have to ask yourself, who do you want to be able to attend your event? And who are you keeping out with high ticket prices?

What about event costs?

Organizing a tech conference definitely costs money. However, that money doesn’t necessarily need to come from ticket sales. Sponsors can often carry more of the event costs.

If you have a well-publicized policy to lower ticket sales in order to increase a diverse attendance at your event, you may even become more attractive to sponsors. Many large companies are looking for ways to market to women and by publicly supporting increased accessibility for women, you may attract new sponsors who are happy to be associated with this type of policy.

Can’t I just offer some subsidized tickets?

Subsidized tickets aren’t a bad idea, but they won’t boost women’s attendance in significant numbers. Even if women know about the tickets, and if tickets are available in substantial number, many women will be put off accepting subsidized tickets. They won’t appreciate being put in a separate category of ticket holders, based solely on gender. They will be reluctant to ask for them, or accept them if offered. But the most important reason is that women, even those paying full price, will not see the event as being generally welcoming to women.

A better idea would be to offer student tickets at a lower price. This will help women in two ways. First, the number of women, versus men, participating in technology is more equal earlier in women’s careers. By offering student tickets you will indirectly offer more cheap tickets to women.

But you will also be saying to women (and everyone else) that beginners are welcome at your event. While there are many women who feel very comfortable at tech events, some worry that they may not be welcome. Some worry (often incorrectly) that they might not have the technical expertise that would make the event worthwhile for themselves. By inviting students, you let everyone know they are welcome.

Ability to apply this strategy to other marginalized groups: high.

Want more? 15 more blog posts on getting more women at your tech event will be coming up. Stay tuned.

Agree? Disagree? That’s what the comments are for. Contribute to the discussion.

3 thoughts on “So you want more women at your tech event? Make it cheap.

  1. I’m not so sure I agree with you here. I think the stats you’ve quoted are being used in a misleading way. If we’re talking about tech conferences here, we’re talking about technical people attending. What is the difference between the average woman’s salary compared to a man’s average salary doing the *same job*? In my personal experience I’ve made a salary in the same range as my male peers.

    This might be taking a tangent from your main point, but I guess I’m wondering, given that people (including women, correct me if I’m wrong) in technical roles generally are paid a good salary, and that many tech employers will pay for conference tickets, who is it that can’t afford to go? Besides students, that is — many conferences I’ve attended have had student rates.

    Let me know what your views are on this — I’m genuinely interested in discussing this :)

    • It’s tough to find salary statistics for the exact group of people attending tech conferences. Computerworld offers data from 2008 that puts the average salary for men in tech careers at $76,582, while for women, it was $67,507. This is in the U.S. But if you want to look at specific job titles the gap remains – that isn’t exactly the same as the *same job* but it is closer. For example Forbes put the average salary for women “Computer and Information Systems Managers” at 75% of their male counterparts. For “Computer Software Engineers” the number was 85%. For Computer Programmers it was 93%.

      Tech conferences are attended by lots of different people: programmers, business people, consultants, students. The salary gap will be different for different groups. Also not all the tickets are paid for by employers (though yes, many are) and even when they are, women are more often found in more junior positions where their ability to take time off to go to a conference is less than their male counterparts.

      And it’s important to identify long-term goals as well. Yes, I’d love to have more women at tech conferences, but also more women in tech in general. It’s possible that some women attending a tech event might not be “coders” but if the atmosphere is welcoming, and the event interesting, might consider a career change in that direction. For those people the gap may be larger.

      In any case, it’s just one suggestion (I have another 15 posts coming up). Not all will apply to every event, but I hope that my ideas encourage discussion and help conference organizers come up with small changes that make big differences. I also hope that people share what has worked for them. So if you have better ideas, please suggest them!

  2. I attended and spoke at many tech conferences such as php|tek, ZendCon, and Forum PHP Paris. I saw women there, as attendees and as speakers. Last php|tek, I saw babies all around me. It was a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

    But php|tek did absolutely nothing to attract women; they just came. What kind of women? The kind that aren’t afraid to do things. They participate in and lead open source projects, organize conferences and such.

    And with all that talent and experience, when these gals do feel like blogging about gender in IT, they propose general solutions that anyone can implement at their pleasure. They do not try to teach anyone how to run a conference, how much to charge attendees and how to handle sponsors.

    Where does the link between low female attendance and being unwelcoming to women come from?

    Also, I’m tired of people constantly make women appear weak. I feel strong and am not afraid to ask for high rates. I’d like to see more articles about how to become a stronger woman, not how to stay weak and beg for mercy.

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