Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Winner of the "genome conference speakers should be male" award ...

Presenters at the World Genome Data Analysis Summit.  Women highlighted in yellow.
  1. Richard LeDuc, Manager, National Center for Genome Analysis Support, Indiana University
  2. Gholson Lyon, Assistant Professor, Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory
  3. Christopher Mason, Assistant Professor, Cornell University
  4. Liz Worthey, Assistant Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin
  5. Garry Nolan, Professor of Genetics, Stanford University
  6. David Dooling, Assistant Director, Genome Institute, Washington University
  7. Peter Robinson, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, DataDirect Networks
  8. Thomas Keane, Senior Scientific Manager, Sequencing Informatics, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  9. Eric Fauman, Associate Research Fellow, Pfizer
  10. Geetha Vasudevan, Assistant Director and Bioinformatics Scientist, Bristol-Myers Squibb
  11. Shanrong Zhao, Senior Scientist, Johnson & Johnson
  12. Bill Barnett, Director, National Center for Genome Analysis Support, Indiana University
  13. Zemin Zhang, Senior Scientist, Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Genentech
  14. Christopher Mason, Assistant Professor, Cornell University
  15. James Cai, Head, Disease & Translational Informatics, Roche
  16. Eric Zheng, Fellow of Bioinformatics Science, Regeneron
  17. Monica Wang, Associate Director, Knowledge Engineering, Millennium
  18. Joachim Theilhaber, Lead Bioinformatics Research Investigator, Sanofi
  19. Francisco De La Vega, Visiting Scholar, Stanford University
  20. Don Jennings, Manager of Data Integration, Enterprise Information Management, Eli Lilly
  21. Deepak Rajpal, Senior Scientific Investigator, Computational Biology, GSK
  22. Mark Schreiber, Associate Director, Knowledge Engineering, Novartis
So that is a ratio of 19:3 for a whopping 13.6% women.  Please - I beg of you - if you are organizing a conference give some thought to the diversity of speakers.  In my experience the best conferences have always ended up being ones with highly diverse speakers.  These conferences were good probably because the organizers put a lot of thought into who to invite to speak, rather than just inviting either big names or people that one knew in some way.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that I listed one person (Chris Mason) twice -- so it is only an 18:3 ratio.  Phew.  Much better.

For other posts on this topic see


  1. Presenting at my first conference last year I noticed this straight off the bat. I made a joke about it at the beginning of my talk...I don't think anyone thought it was funny.

    1. Women aren't the only ones. How about a diversity of countries in the "World" Genome Data Analysis Summit??

  2. Thanks for bringing this up from time to time. How about this seminar series at Stanford? Only 10% women (one out of 10). Apparently, you have a 3x larger chance to be a speaker at this seminar series if your name is "Eric" or "Erik", than if you are a woman. This list was just sent out by email, and I cannot find a link online yet, but here is the announcement:

    "Its our pleasure to announce speakers for this year's Frontiers in Quantiative Biology seminar series. A spectacular set of 10 scientists has accepted our invitation to come out to Stanford to address a diverse bio/math/physics/CS/chemistry audience in this cross-departmental, Bio-X-sponsored series: "

    Thursday, October 4, 2012 - Johan Paulsson, Harvard Med School
    Thursday, November 1, 2012 - Eric Siggia, Rockefeller
    Thursday, January 10, 2013 - Bonnie Bassler, Princeton
    Thursday, January 24, 2013 - Jeff Gore, MIT
    Thursday, February 7, 2013 - Eric Wieschaus, Princeton
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 - Thierry Emonet, Yale
    Thursday, March 21, 2013 - Erik Winfree, Caltech
    Thursday, March 28, 2013 - Martin Schwartz, University of Virginia
    Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Richard Losick, Harvard
    Thursday, May 16, 2013 - Chris Chen, University of Pennsylvania

  3. Just got yet another email about this meeting. I finally got fed up and wrote back to the person who sent me the message

    "Please remove me from all mailing lists associated with this meeting. I am personally disturbed by the gender ratio of speakers at the meeting. See for more detail. In addition I am not particularly impressed with the representation of the "world" in regard to the title of the meeting.


    Jonathan Eisen"

    1. Well said, this is a pervasive problem across all STEM subjects and at all expertise levels. There's a lot of work going in to inspiring more women to "enter the clubhouse." There's a great org I've worked with called Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) that runs a program at Berkeley, Stanford and elsewhere and brings more diversity in to STEM at an earlier age (

      I've found volunteering with them to be one of the most fulfilling acts I've done in my recent past and I'm sure they'd appreciate if you'd come by sometime and chat with their scholars. Ping me on twitter (@cyrusradfar) or elsewhere if you want me to connect you to their team. Note that I have no formal association with them, just really love their work.

  4. Whoa... that's pretty depressing.

  5. I head up the life sciences division at Hanson Wade - we organised this meeting. Jonathan - for what it's worth I think your comments on gender balance are totally valid, and have started a discussion within organisation. In the meantime, I thought I'd offer some more information on how we build our events.

    The speaker line-up was put together from beginning to end, within our office, by a woman who is a scientist, who is passionate about science, and is passionate in particular about the new opportunities sequencing will bring to drug developers and patients. We put our meetings together by speaking to lots of people in the field, and finding out who they want to speak. Then we invite them. Interestingly, the majority of people on our team (the people in charge of researching and finalizing the speaker line-up) are women (the balance is 5 to 2, women to men).

    In any case, the gender balance is a reflection of who people tell us they think would be good to speak. I think there are a few ways of tackling the gender balance. One is immediate - to be more aware of the gender balance when we put together our programs - this is a totally valid point. Another, as Cyrus suggests above, is to build from the bottom up and encourage more women to enter the field. We could also provide a better environment for women to balance their professional and family lives as they progress through their careers - maybe that's a societal change that is happening naturally - perhaps it needs to be accelerated via policy. One more way I can think of is for companies to recruit and promote at least partly based on gender balance - this should ensure more women reach the top of their profession (and hence are identified by their peers as THE people to ask to speak, when we research with those people).

    Having said that, I think this post raises a really interesting point. Honestly - we find that the above speaker line represents a relatively typical final gender balance at one of our events - significantly more men are mentioned than women (when we ask who we want people to speak) in our research calls. I'd love to hear your suggestions on how to get this right, AND give people the meeting people tell us they want. Having the correct speakers on our program (REALLY listening to people when they tell us who they would like to speak) is really important to us, particularly as we're a new company operating in this space, and we're desperate to build the conference people need.

    I hope that gives you some context. Like I said, I'd welcome your suggestions, both on this blog and direct to my email at

    I'd particularly like to hear from some women on this.



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