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An absolutely minimal way to increase invited speaker diversity

The low proportion of women among invited speakers at conferences has finally become an issue in biology and computing and science fiction (at least for the people in my Twitter feed).

You might worry, if you were running a conference, that having some sort of minimum standard for diversity might lead to suboptimal speakers, or if you had a bunch of small sessions, might be difficult to ensure in each session.  I think you’d be wrong on the first issue at least, but there are people of good will who feel that way. 

A two-stage list gives you an absolutely minimal step forward. Suppose you want 10 invited speakers, and in a perfect world you’d like 5 to be women. Make a short list of at least 15 with at least 5 women, then select your speakers from the short list.

The point of this is that it stops you filling up the list and just not thinking of any of the suitable female speakers. You have to stop and think, and it occurs to you that Eve Rybody or Marge Inovera could go on the list. And then you remember that your mate Bruce liked the talk Dr Rybody gave at “Directions in Orientation 2011”

The same approach applies, mutatis mutandis, to any other under-represented group or groups – perhaps you think increasing the number of talks by junior academics or by non-academic researchers or by people of colour is more important. 

I’m not saying this will solve the problem or that it’s a sufficient response, or even that it will save you from being first up against the wall when the revolution comes. But if you think under-representation of some group matters, I can’t think of any principled reason ever to not do at least this much.