Sunday, March 29, 2015

Calling attention to meetings with skewed speaker gender ratios, even when it hurts, part 2

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the Future of Genomic Medicine 2015 (aka #FOGM15) meeting.  The talk seemed to go over well.  I talked right after Martin Blaser in a session on "The Microbiome".  I posted my slides and then a video of my talk as well as notes from the meeting: see My microbiome talk at #FOGM15 - the perils (and fun I guess) of redoing one's talk at the last minute.  And I met some really interesting people at the meeting and enjoyed most of the talks I went to.

But alas, one thing stuck in my head from this meeting.  One single Tweet from someone out there threw me for a loop:

And this let to a bit of soul searching on my part.  Some of the conversations on Twitter are captured in this Storify:

Which I guess culminated in a post to the organizers of the meeting

Then, when I left the meeting I went to say goodbye to the organizers.  And, well, one of them did not take too kindly to the critique of the meeting, saying that they were doing a better job than other healthcare meetings.  I disagreed and said I thought they could do much better, but I had no numbers to cite at the time and the conversation ended there.

So on the way to the airport I started digging around for some numbers and I found some great resources - especially this from Rock Health.

And for the last few weeks I have continued to fester wondering - well - should I post more about this?  Should I dig into the gender ratio of the FOGM meetings in more detail?  Well, why do it?  Because I think it is important to know how meetings perform in terms of diversity.  Why not do it?  Well, I like Eric Topol and the other organizers.  And the meeting has many strong points.  But, as I wrote a few days ago - sometimes one needs to call attention to meeting gender ratio issues, even when it hurts.  

So then I decided to dig a little deeper and look at past versions of the "Future of Genomic Medicine".  And, well, when I did this, things just do not look so good (detailed analysis is at the end of the post). (Note - for the numbers i counted all presenting slots - session chairs, keynotes, welcomes, etc.  The numbers are not much different if one counts just "talks").

If one compares these meetings to the ones catalogued by Rock Health, the FOGM meetings are at the low end.  Not the worst certainly.  But definitely not something to be proud of.  And certainly something that could be improved upon enormously.  So I repeat the Tweet I posted during the meeting, and I stand by it, even if it means I am unlikely to be invited back and even if it means pissing off some big shots in the world of genomics ...

If you are running a meeting, please consider the ways in which bias may creep into the speaker and session chair slots.  If speakers come from invitations, perhaps the invitation list is biased.  Perhaps certain types of people are more likely to say no to invitations.  Perhaps the timing of the meeting (e.g., on weekend) may lead certain types of people to not be able to participate.  Perhaps the meeting does not provide enough travel funds or child care or the right kind of schedule.  There are so many things that can lead to bias - from explicit bias against certain groups to very subtle implicit biases.  Consider inviting people from diverse career stages, which can open up speaking slots to more women and underrepresented minorities.  Consider providing child care.  Consider asking people why they say no to invitations to try and understand what is going on if many people say no.  Consider asking for help in finding speakers covering the diversity in the field.

If you do all these things, and the meeting still does not have diverse speakers, well, try some other things.  Keep trying to figure it out.  There are resources out there that can help.  Read things like Some suggestions for having diverse speakers at meetings (by me) and Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance (by Jenny Martin) and Increasing Diversity at Your Conference by Ashe Dryden (which is just completely awesome) and How To Create A More Diverse Tech Conference ... and Would I attend my own conference? - O'Reilly Radar by Sarah Milstein.

Why is this important?  Well, speaking at a meeting is important for people's careers.  It helps in merit and promotion and tenure cases.  It helps get their work recognized and known.  Speaking at a meeting is also good practice for speaking at other meetings.  Having diverse speakers also is important in terms of providing role models to attendees.  And having diverse speakers helps a meeting not just be about the same old, white, men talking about their ideas.  Or, in other words, it makes a meeting more, well, diverse.  And almost certainly more interesting.  And so on.  Diversity of speakers at meetings is important for 100s of reasons.  And don't just focus on one aspect of diversity.  I post a lot about women speakers because, well, it is easy to make a reasonable guess as to whether a person is male or female.  But there are MANY other aspects of diversity to consider (see Increasing Diversity at Your Conference by Ashe Dryden (which I referenced above and which really is awesome).

Anyway - if you are organizing a meeting, make sure to think about these issues.  And do something about them.  And if you are invited to a meeting, look at the speaker list (if it is available) and consider saying no to speaking if the meeting has diversity issues (see a post of mine about doing this here: Turning down an endowed lectureship because their gender ratio is too skewed towards males #WomenInSTEM).

And if you are considering attending a meeting, consider diversity of speakers when deciding whether or not to attend.  Meetings with high diversity of speakers should be supported.  Meetings with poor diversity relative to possible candidate speakers (e.g., who is in the field) should be avoided, shunned, and called out.  We need to force change upon some fields and the only way will be to call out the bad apples.  Mind you, it is not possible to know WHY a meeting has a skew in terms of diversity of speakers.  Thus one additional thing to consider is whether something is a consistent pattern.  For example see my post about meetings from the National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquia - Apparently, the National Academy of Sciences thinks only one sex is qualified to talk about alternatives to sex #YAMMM. Sadly it seems to me that the FOGM meetings have a consistent pattern of poor representation of women among the presenters.  Unless the organizers commit to changing this, I think people should not attend this meeting in the future.

Detailed analyses of these meetings are below.

People I have identified as males are labelled in yellow.  People I have identified as females are in green.  I realize that this is an imperfect thing to do.  I may make mistakes in my inferences.  And dividing people into two categories is not representative of the true diversity in the human population.  But I still think this is a useful, informative thing to try to do.

2015 FOGM (schedule is from the one sent around to participants on 3/4/15)
  • Welcome
    • Eric Topol
    • Pateint #1 - Eunice Lee and Nilesh Dharajiya
    • Francis Collins
  • Session 1
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Diana Bianchi
    • Evan Muse
    • Stephen Quake
    • David Hoon
  • Session 2
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Mark McCarthy
    • Christopher Austin
    • George Yancopoulos
  • Session 3
    • Moderators Nathan Wineinger and Andrew Su
    • Atul Butte
    • Eric Schadt
    • Andrew Su
    • Joe Pickrell
  • Welcome Day 2
    • Patient #2
    • Eric Topol
  • Session 4: 
    • Moderator Ali Torkamani
    • Cristian Tomasetti
    • Nazneen Rahman
    • Roni Ziegler
  • Session 5
    • Moderators Kristin Baldwin and Fyodor Urnov
    • J. Keith Joung
    • Fyodor Urnov
    • TBD
    • Kristin Baldwin
  • Session 5
    • Moderator Kristian Andersen
    • Martin Blaser
    • Jonathan Eisen
    • Stephen Steinhubl
  • Session 6
    • Moderator David Goldstein  (he did not show up)
    • Elizabeth Worthey
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Seth Mnookin
    • Virginia Hughes
All speaker and session chair slots
  • Male: 30 (81%)
  • Female: 7 (19%)
Just speakers
  • Male: 23
  • Female: 6

2014 - Future of Genomic Medicine VII -  schedule from here
  • Welcome
    • Chris Van Gorder, FACHE
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Patient / Family #1
  • Session 1
    • Frank McCormick
    • Bert Vogelstein
    • Elaine Mardis
    • Robert Nussbaum
    • Sarah Jane Dawson
    • Michael Pellini
  • Session 2
    • J. Craig Venter
    • Eric Topol 
    • Al Gore
    • Heidi Rehm
    • Muin Khoury
  • Session 3
    • Moderator Katrina Kelner
    • Leonid Kruglyak
    • Carl Zimmer
    • Magdalena Skipper
    • Chris Gunter
  • Session 4
    • Patient / Family #2
    • Athur Beaudet
    • Jay Shendure
    • Howard Jacob
    • Hakon Hakonarson
    • David Epstein
    • Nir Birzalai
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Jeffrey Hammerbacher
  • Session 5
    • Michael Specter
    • Jessica Richman
    • Andrew Feinberg
    • Russ Altman
    • Anne Wojcicki
    • Harry Greenspun
    • Zubin Damania
  • Male: 25 (76%)
  • Female: 8 (24%)

2013 - Future of Genomic Medicine VI - schedule from here
  • Welcome: Eric Topol
  • Patient / Family #1
  • Session 1:
    • Michael Snyder
    • William Gahl
    • Howard Jacob
    • Ali Torkamani
    • Gholson Lyon
    • Cinnamon Bloss
    • Misha Angrist
  • Session 2
    • Evan Eichler
    • Eric Schadt
    • Katrina Armstrong
    • George Weinstock
  • Session 3
    • Joe Ecker
    • Stephen Kingsmore
    • Stephen Quake
  • Session 4
    • Patient / Family #2
    • Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • Elaine Mardis
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff
    • Randy Scott
    • Susan Desmond Hellman
    • Elias Zerhouni
    • Janet Woodcock
  • Session 5
    • Peter Vesscher
    • David Goldstein
    • George Church
    • Jonathan Eisen
    • Atul Butte
    • AJ Jacobs
    • Neil Risch
    • Lonny Reisman
    • Daniel MacArthur
  • Male: 26 (84%)
  • Female: 5 (16%)

2012 Future of Genomic Medicine V - schedule from here
  • Welcome
    • Chris Van Gorder, FACHE
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
  • Joseph Beery and Family
  • Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Matthew J. Price, MD
    • Julie Johnson, PharmD
    • Michael R. Hayden MB, ChB, PhD
    • William E. Evans, PharmD
  • Moderators: Evan Eichler, PhD and Sarah Murray,
    • Evan Eichler, PhD
    • Christofer Toumazou, PhD
    • Siddharta Mukherjee, MD, PhD
    • Sarah Murray, PhD
  • Moderators Nicholas Schork, PhD and Bradley Patay, MD
    • Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD
    • Isaac Kohane , MD, PhD
    • John A. Todd, FRS, PhD
  • Moderators Eric J. Topol, MD and Nicholas Schork, PhD
    • Howard J. Jacob, PhD
    • Joseph G. Gleeson, MD
    • Stanley F. Nelson, MD
    • Lynn Jorde, PhD (note - originalled labelled as female - corrected thanks to comment from Bruce Rannala)
  • Eric J. Topol, MD
  • Moderators: Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD and Richard Klausner, 
    • Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD
    • Joseph Nadeau, PhD
    • Nicholas Schork, PhD
    • Hakon Hakonarson MD, PhD
  • Moderator Eric Topol
    • Matthew Herper
    • Daniel B. Vorhaus, JD, MA
    • Issam Zineh, PharmD, MPH
  • Moderators: Elaine Mardis, PhD and Jeffrey Trent, PhD
    • Richard D. Klausner, MD
    • Thomas J. Hudson, MD
    • Jeffrey M. Trent, PhD
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD
    • Elaine R. Mardis, PhD
  • Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Fred Gage, PhD
    • Fred H. Gage, PhD
    • Bruce D. Gelb, MD
    • Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD
All speaker and session chair slots
  • Male: 44 (88%)  45 (90 %)
  • Female: 6 (12%) 5 (10 %)
Just speakers
  • Male: 31 32 (91.4%)
  • Female: 4  3 (8.6%)

2011 Future of Genomic Medicine IV - schedule from here
  • Session 1: Moderators: Sarah S. Murray, PhD and Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Hannah A. Valantine, MD
    • Geoff Ginsburg, MD, PhD
    • Steve Shak, MD
    • Cinnamon S. Bloss, PhD
    • Matthew J. Price, MD
  • Session 2: Moderators: Bradley Patay, MD and Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Kevin Davies, PhD
    • Thomas Goetz, MPh
    • Melanie Swan, MBA
  • Session 3: Moderators: Samuel Levy, PhD and Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Kári Stefánsson, MD
    • Aravinda Chakravarti, PhD
    • Howard J. Jacob, PhD
    • Sarah S. Murray, PhD
    • James R. Lupski, MD, PhD
    • Nicholas J. Schork, PhD
    • Stephen L. Hauser, MD
    • David R. Bentley, D.Phil, F.Med.Sci.
  • Keynote: Juan Enriquez, BA, MBA
  • Session 4: Moderators: Robert L. Strausberg, PhD and Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Robert L. Strausberg, PhD
    • Elaine R. Mardis, PhD
    • Thomas J. Kipps, MD, PhD
    • Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD
    • Dennis A. Carson, MD
  • Session 5: Moderators: Eric J. Topol, MD and Bradley Patay, MD
    • Eric J. Topol, MD
    • Amy Harmon
    • Misha Angrist, PhD
  • Session 6: Moderators: Sarah S. Murray, PhD and Samuel Levy, PhD
    • Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD
    • Mark McCarthy, MD, F.Med.Sci.
    • Karen Mohlke, PhD
    • Stephen S. Rich, PhD
    • Philippe Froguel, MD, PhD
    • Muredach P. Reilly, MB, MS
All speaker and session chair slots
  • Male: 35 (80%)
  • Female: 9 (20%)


  1. FOGM 2012: Last time I saw him Lynn Jorde was male.

    1. thanks Bruce -have updated the text and will work on the table and figure

  2. Great post. So what we also need to know is what the gender balance is for this discipline as a whole. What would be the ideal gender ratio to aim for in a conference? Ecology Ngātahi

    1. Yes, excellent point. I do not know the gender balance for this field but I would note a few things. 1) It depends on what range of career stages you care to measure. If one includes post docs and PhD students and junior faculty, most fields in biology have a relatively even balance. 2) I did an analysis of a very biased meeting with a best guess for the field. See this post . I never felt totally comfortable with my best guess and am not sure where I would get the #s here. 3) The field of "genomic medicine" is kind of new and it is not really clear who is actually in the field. But I note, I think it would be relatively easy to find a diversity of female speakers who do spectacular work who could represent the field. Just for example, in the microbiome area, there are at least 20 women doing spectacular work who could have been there instead of me and Marty Blaser.

  3. Gender balance is important to both the present and future of all aspects of biotech. Thanks for bringing this issue to organizers' attention. Your blog is now a starting pointing for our team at Eurofins Genomics to take a hard look at who we feature in our marketing materials to make sure we're not promoting this type of bias.
    Thanks! -

    1. Thanks - very nice to hear. (Note - seems like there is a typo in the web address you posted. I assume you mean