Monday, October 17, 2016

No - #FFS - no - I will not speak at your meeting given the lack of diversity of speakers

So a few days ago I got asked to do a paid speaking engagement for a meeting

Dear Dr. Eisen,

I hope this email finds you well!

We have a client that's interested in you speaking at their Autoimmune Conference in New York on March 24, 2017

Do you have a standard speaking fee/range that I can report back to my client?  If you're able to confirm your availability as well, that would be great!

The audience would be primarily physicians. 

Your consideration is very much appreciated!


Sounded nice - getting paid to go to New York.  What could go wrong right?. Then I did some Googling to find out about the meeting.  Found it - the Interdisciplinary Autoimmune Summit: And, as I do for all meeting invites these days, I looked at their speaker line up.  For this years and previous years.  And well, I was not impressed.

A lot of men.  Men men men and men. So I wrote back

Apologies for the delay.  Was on the traveling science roadshow for a while.  

My speaker fee depends on whether this is a for profit or non profit event, so I would need more details.  In addition, I usually ask that all speaker fees get donated to my lab rather than paid to me.  

However, I have another requirement for speaking at a meeting.  The meeting has to have a good representation of diversity for other speakers.  Unfortunately, in looking at the 2016 faculty for this conference I am distinctly unimpressed.  In a quick glance I count 16 male and 3 female speakers for a ~ 15% female speaker level.  In order to accept speaking at the 2017 meeting I would need to know more about the other speakers.


Jonathan Eisen

I got a rapid response

Hi Jonathan,

Thank you so much for the email, I commend your notions on gender equity!

The summit seems to bring together a lot of knowledgeable and influential people -- I will speak with my client and get some additional details for you.


And then a more detailed one

Hello Jonathan,

They are a for-profit company, HMP Communications Holdings (HMP). HMP is a global hub for healthcare - helping to educate, inform and connect the practitioner community. They do this through the delivery of:
·         High-quality, clinically relevant continuing medical education
·         Credible, cutting-edge content that informs and inspires
·         Live events and online networks that provide practical training and allow professionals to connect with one another

In regards to gender equality, their team are in the early stages of finalizing topics and reaching out to potential speakers for the IAS 2017 meeting, but can assure you that they're always seeking to secure the best possible speakers and educators for their events, including folks from all demographics.

That being said, they would also be interested in any speaker recommendations you may have since they're so early in the process and always looking to bring new speakers into the fold each year.

They are happy to address any other details or concerns you have.

Thanks so much!

So I wrote back again

Given the track record of this meeting, I am not sold with statements like " but can assure you that they're always seeking to secure the best possible speakers and educators for their events, including folks from all demographics."  They certainly failed in this "all demographics" regard last year and as far as I can tell in previous years.  

I would only do this if there was evidence of results in increasing the diversity of speakers.

And now the person who invited me is looking into it

Hi Jonathan,

Understood -- I will see what we can do.


So that is where we stand now.  I note.  I am writing this up in part to encourage everyone out there to ask about the diversity of speakers for meetings for which you have been invited to speak or that you would like to attend or sponsor.  Don't just say "Yes' without examining the meeting and the track record of the organizers.  We need to take action to stop the underrepresentation of diversity of speakers at meetings.

For other posts on STEM Diversity see here.  See the end of the post for links to articles about how it is possible and why it is important to have reasonable diversity of speakers at meetings.

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