This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference is featuring more panels on representation, gender, and sexism in the tech industry -- which is great!
But the real test of progress is to see how many women are actually included on panels that have nothing to do with "women's issues."
The Gender Avenger Tally (which will soon be available on mobile) was created for people “who want to make sure that women are always part of the public dialog.” In the spirit of keeping everyone accountable, you can even use this app to check up on books, advertisements, lists, and just about any other piece of media that should be representing the ladies (so, you know, everything).
Halle Tecco, an investor and donor who backed Gender Avenger, has used the app on different occasions to keep track of speakers at health care conferences. She’s found that fighting the gender imbalance starts with the organizers and requires a bit of leg-work to challenge the status quo.
“In my experience, men are more likely to reach out to organizers and nominate themselves to speak,” Tecco told MTV News. “They're also more likely to accept an invitation to speak.”
On a simple input screen, attendees can plug in the ratio of men and women along with an identifying hash-tag (like the conference and panel) and the app will created a “gender balance pie chart” that can easily be posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like in kindergarden, a good job (meaning a solidly represented panel) receives an adorable smiling gold star, and a less-than-stellar representation gets a slightly less adorable storm cloud with a lightening bolt.
The app comes from Gender Avenger — a web activism community dedicated to challenging the numerous “instances of women being absent from and underrepresented in the public arena.”
Tecco says that creating transparency and fostering discussions about the numbers of female speakers helps keep organizers accountable.
“I don’t think conference organizers even realize it’s a problem until someone points it out,” Tecco said.
And just pointing it out isn’t always enough. Gender Avenger co-founder Gina Glantz said that the changes made are sometimes slow-going and require constant attention.
She remembers when her organization sent an email to iTunes about a promotion email that featured all male artists. Even though the follow-up promotion saw 3 female artists in the mix, the next in the series was back to being a boys club. Glantz said that by “the next promotion, they went back their old ways.”
But Gender Avengers presses on, challenging the media and outlets that fail to give female voices a platform. It's an emotional subject, sure, and the conversations can get pretty heated. Their weapon of choice? Cold hard numbers.
A one line preface right under the submit button urges users of the app not to “miscount or misrepresent” the numbers and to avoid “nasty language” and personal attacks. ”The facts will win the day,” it promises.