One of our goals here at Skepchick HQ is to get more women interested and involved in skepticism and science, and as a part of that I like to keep an eye on skeptic events to see how many women are showing up. It’s kind of tough since most events don’t have participants fill out surveys, so usually you just have stand off to the side and count boobs, then divide by two. Ideally, you end up with a number similar to the number you get when you count up all the testicles and divide by two. Given a large enough sample size, the abnormalities should cancel one another out.
(The boob/testicle counting is a joke, but I know some of you are currently Googling the rate of mastectomies vs. orchiectomies, and I applaud your diligence.)
Anyway, Randi just mentioned the number of women at The Amaz!ng Meeting this year. At past TAMs, I was only able to guess by being the perv in the corner staring at everyone and adding in my head, then comparing my number with that of others. In general, we all thought the percentage of women slowly grew from TAM3, to TAM4, to TAM5, to TAM5.5, with estimates ranging from 20% to 35% over that period. I was worried about TAM6 due to the utter lack of women speaking, but hopeful that all those new women I had met at SGU, Skepchick, and Skeptics in the Pub meet-ups would still make the rate go up. Sadly, Randi says that women made up 29% of attendees this year. Blah.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not necessarily the JREF’s job to appeal to women. It is their responsibility to not discriminate against women, and I think they do a fine job of making TAM fun for everyone. In addition, they can take strides to make the program more appealing to women by maybe having more than one speaker with the dreaded double-x chromosome.
I do think that regardless of whether or not JREF puts more focus on improving the diversity of future TAMs, the responsibility lies mostly with us. By “us” I mean Skepchick, other skeptical organizations, and you as an individual. The JREF will listen to your feedback, so let them know you want to see more women at TAM7. If you’re part of a skeptical organization, you can concentrate on increasing your diversity — if we get enough smaller meetings that reach out to women, we’ll increase the chances that those women will want to attend larger meetings like TAM, regardless of how many women happen to be speaking that year.
Other groups are making it happen, like the New York City Skeptics. On July 26, they’ll host Lori Lipman Brown for their ongoing lecture series — she’ll be their third female speaker out of four speakers this year. (And remember, the Skepchicks are hosting an afterparty!) Their Drinking Skeptically meet-ups have been attracting 50% women — that’s a goal all groups should hope to reach.
For the record, I don’t think that getting half the attendees at any meet-up to be women is the most important goal of the skeptical movement, nor do I think it’s the only indicator of how effectively we’re reaching women. We could be reaching a much larger number of women, but they’re just not that big on Vegas, or pubs, or whatever. But, I think it’s important and inspiring to see it’s possible to get that 50/50 male/female split. I hope more people pay attention to what groups like the NYC Skeptics are doing so we can keep refining our approach and get more women involved.