Posted in Blogging, Speaking, WIT

A Woman in SQL 2023

When I started this blog back in 2016, I wanted to make sure I wrote a blog post every March in honor of Women’s Month. I missed it last year but I want to get back in the routine. I figure as long as it was about by the end of the month, I’m good, right?

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on

This particular post took me a long time to put together. I actually started putting it together well over a year ago. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long to hit “Post”. Perhaps because I don’t like what it says but I feel it needs to be done anyway.

I see a lot of conversations on social media related to diversity at events. It bubbles up every couple of months or so. Some organizers are great about making sure they have a diverse pool of speakers but aren’t always able to get there. Other times, the conversation is criticizing organizers who are falling short of the goal. But there seems to be a general sense that we aren’t as diverse or representative as we want to be. So I wanted to take a look to see if this is an accurate assessment.

Before we dive into things, I would like to point out that much of what I’m discussing here is going to focus specifically on women in our data platform community. My gut says that if we look at other underrepresented groups, we’ll find the same issues. But each of these demographics is going to have different challenges though so I don’t want to lump them together. However, I would say this same exercise should be done for those other groups separately as well if we truly care about being a diverse and inclusive community.

Let’s look at some data

When I looked at the data initially in February 2022, I started by looking at events going on in February\March 2020 and then February\March 2022:

Feb 2020 – From the Feb 2020 PASS WIT newsletter, I counted (approximately):

  • 35 female speakers at a major conference
  • 10 user groups had female speakers, one of them was a panel of women.
  • 8 SQL Saturdays with about 40 female speakers.

Feb/March 2022 – Using a combination of sources, I counted (approximately):

  • Approximately 43 female speakers at that same major conference mentioned above
  • A handful of female speakers at upcoming user groups but I had trouble find a comprehensive list. I think I would have to learn to scrape Meetup or Sessionize for this, but that’s a lot of extra work that I don’t know how to do.
  • Not a lot of events were out there. Looking at the Data Saturday and SQLSaturday websites, I didn’t see schedules posted or the call for speakers were still open.

Keep in mind – both of these are snapshots in time. And these are also incomplete lists so we’re not getting a full picture here. But the fact is it’s very hard to find out what’s going on with women speakers in the data community right now and that is troubling. I was hoping I was missing something, but I don’t think I am.

The pandemic definitely hurt the number of events that have been occurring during these times. The lack of events means less opportunity for speakers in general and women speakers in particular. The lack of a single place to find events means we’re also losing visibility as to what’s even available. While there were a lot of virtual events that occurred that should have made it easier to have more women be involved, I’m not sure that was entirely the case. We definitely have seen a lot of new women speakers step up, which is a positive thing.

But what hit me the most while trying to do these counts last year was there were a lot of names of speakers whom I haven’t seen in active the community in a while. I also know other female speakers who weren’t on that particular list that I haven’t seen speak or seen as well. While we’re making sure that new speakers are coming forward, with events like New Stars of Data including a large number of women who have been making the most of the opportunities opened to them, and some of the “A-List #SQLCelebrities” are still speaking, the cohort in between those groups is dwindling. It almost feels like we’re losing that group of speakers.

Over the summer, Rob Farley (t) wrote a post last summer about the numbers he received about the PASS Data Community Summit this past November. When totaling the diversity categories together, it looks great to say 43% of those who reported this information are not white men. But when the categories are broken apart – only 22% women or those who didn’t identify as male. Rob goes into this data more, but from a WIT perspective, it was still a very clearly male speaker dominated conference.

To add some more numbers to the list, I pulled together numbers from various SQL and Data Saturdays from different regions over the past year. This is not a complete list but it seems enough to give a sample size:

RegionTotal SpeakersWomen
North America153
North America265
EUR 103
North America344
North America446
North America140
North America141
North America71
North America234
North America287
North America122

Not a single event broke double digits of the number of women speaker. The highest percentage was 30%. One event had none. To be fair, a few of these did have a woman presenting a keynote or a precon. But if we took a look a the same information from 5 years ago, can we really say that we’ve made progress?

It’s not just speaking…

There are times where I wonder if we’ve done our community a disservice by focusing so much on speaking as the way to get involved in the community. I get why we do it – because it’s hard to get involved with user group leadership and visibility as a blogger is even harder. I know what my readership is. For a while, it was easier to get involved by speaking because there were so many events and opportunities. Now that we don’t have as many options, have we also forgotten how to reach out and support underrepresented groups and make sure they’re involved?

We make a big deal about calling out the lack of diversity in speaking but I don’t know if we don’t do the same for blogging. One website had voting for Author and Rookie of the Year and 2021 did not have a single female on the list. Going back for 2022, 2020, and 2019, I saw at least 1 female on those lists, but otherwise, it was still male dominated. Did they not have any female writers or enough? What are they doing to correct that?

For those aggregating blog posts, are you making sure that you’re promoting female bloggers? If you are having trouble finding them, what are you doing to encourage more women to blog?

Not just lack of opportunities, but a fragmented community

As we all know, when the pandemic broke out three years ago, we pivoted to virtual events. Then PASS collapsed and we as a community became scattered. We stepped up to find a way to keep things going but it was still fractured because of the different umbrella organizations that formed. As time passed, virtual fatigue set in and the number of events dwindled rapidly.

Throughout all of this, finding out where to go to find larger events has also been scattered. There is a collective Call for Data Speakers website. There may also be other places but we have to remember what they are and where to look for them.

The next logical place to look for opportunities is at user groups. Just finding groups to speak at is hard. In my end of year 2021 post, I mentioned that I wasn’t speaking until May and that if anyone was interested, let me know. Two people reached out from the same group.

But that brings up something else. A few weeks after that post, a male speaker mentioned that he really missed speaking on Twitter and received numerous offers to speak on the spot, along with links to say how to submit to speak to other groups. In case you think this imbalanced response is a fluke or a suggestion that I don’t get a lot of hits on my blog (which to be fair, could be true), here’s another example. A user group was reaching out for speakers on Twitter. Someone suggested several people, including me. I couldn’t do that specific date and the group did find a speaker (I think it may have been a woman as well!) by the time I was able to reply. However, I noticed how the other speakers on that thread were talking to the user group leader about finding other dates, but I was left out of the conversation. The exclusion was pointed out privately, and I did get scheduled to speak at at that UG in the end. And it certainly wasn’t a reflection of the leader of the user group’s support of WIT. But the fact that it had to called out at all bothered me. It’s still an example of how easy it is to lose track of diverse speakers.

To bring us forward one year, the state of Twitter these days makes it a more unreliable place to find speakers. So where do we turn to get the message out. Is Mastodon a good supplement for finding speakers? Personally, I’ve always found LinkedIn’s algorithm to be a little unreliable for getting immediate attention to events. So is that viable or do we need to find a way to make it that way?

I know many user groups have moved to Sessionize to help organize and recruit speakers. My concern is that without a conscious outreach effort, it will be easy to lose sight of making sure diverse speakers are applying. Sessionize alone can’t be relied on to get the speakers you want to speak. You still have to find the speakers and encourage them to submit. And as a speaker, you have to know how to search to find the appropriate places to submit.

The same issues still exist, plus the post pandemic ones as well

The saddest realization for me has been the conversations we have about WIT and making sure that we are being inclusive is that the same conversations are still being had. In-person events have had known problems due to travel, financial expenses, and other general home\life obligations, which make them harder for some to attend. How are we handling those barriers to make sure women are able to take advantage of speaking opportunities? Plus, we still have members in the community who are have medical considerations that make them susceptible to complications from Covid and are uncomfortable traveling to conferences in general. How do we not leave them behind and still make them feel included?

When we do have conversations about how to include more women, we have the same conversations are being had. We’re still saying the same thing. It’s as if nothing has changed.

And yet, we do have organizers who are actively searching for diverse speakers. How do we help them find the right speakers? If we’re missing speakers in a given area of the data platform, how can we grow those diverse speakers and encourage them to apply?

Where do we go from here?

I feel that we, the community, are inconsistent in how we address these diversity imbalances. Some groups are treated more harshly than others when they don’t meet expectations. Other times, just having a conversation publicly creates a bigger conflict and rift in the community, so others become discouraged from speaking out. And we still have times where the same standard lines of  “they’re working on it” or “wait until the next batch of speaker names” or “we tried but …” gets used. But then there are times when organizers are well intentioned, did all the things they should have done, and still miss. But we need to find a way to have the public conversations about this consistently and respectfully. Otherwise, the same unproductive cycle of yelling at each other just keeps repeating.

So how do we make the real change?

As an organizer, if you see that you don’t have women speakers submitting, you should be shifting your marketing and recruiting to make sure you’re reaching that group. Look at who is speaking at your event before the deadlines, make adjustments and reach out before then. If you don’t notice these things until after call for speakers are closed, you’re essentially shifting the burden on to women for not submitting and making it their fault your event isn’t diverse.

We need to be doing more to reach out and mentor and sponsor those in underrepresented groups to speak. One of the things that is said about women – we tend to wait to be asked to do things rather than ask for it directly. So make sure your message is that they are being asked to participate and the support they need to succeed is there.

We also need to be better about making sure we have the resources to find the speakers and bloggers to help build a bigger pool of diverse group. It’s not just asking one person but seeing who they know to ask and who that next person knows, etc. We need to build that network of women in the community so we can create that pool of speakers and bloggers to draw from.

I know that I don’t have all the answers by myself. In fact, I feel like I’ve brought up even more. But I know we’ve had the conversations about the different approaches we need to take. Tracy Boggiano wrote a a post last year with some ideas. Have a WIT lunch at your SQL or Data Saturday led by women in your area. We need to make sure we’re truly listening and hearing what women are saying and more importantly, implementing suggestions to make sure more of us are included. And if those approaches aren’t enough, let’s work together to find new ones.

But most importantly, we need to keep having this conversation and checking in to see if we are meeting our goals.

Final Thought…

A keynote speaker for a Massachusetts Conference for Women I attended several years ago said:

It’s not just about noticing who’s at the table but noticing who’s missing.

Let’s make sure we notice who’s not there and start pulling up some chairs.


3 thoughts on “A Woman in SQL 2023

  1. Interesting thoughts, and I’m glad you did this. Looking back, I started to try and compile some numbers for SQL Sat events for the last year. I do try to ensure that organizers have at least one woman, but that’s clearly not a great solution.

    I don’t have solutions, and I do like the idea of more WIT panels. I’d also like to see more support and encouragement to find new people and help them speak or blog and start to showcase themselves. I have tried at times to get more female authors at SQL Server Central, but it’s a very slow, and not scalable process for me to do it. Would like to see more ideas/hints/experiments/thoughts/etc.


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