Where were the women at SXSW? Well, at SXSW.

sxsw registration card
WAY high-tech SXSW registration process

I am just back from Austin, where I didn’t pick up a temporary southern accent and use it to tell Republican voters that I enjoy cheese grits. Which I do.  A lot. However I did learn a ton of stuff, meet throngs of inspiring people, eat my weight in guacamole, catch up with friends, and enjoy a pedicab ride or two.

As a woman, I kind of wondered what it would be like for me. I’ve heard reports over the years of sexism, frat boy antics, and the rare “token women” speakers.

I experienced none of the sort.

(Well okay, there were a few guys stumbling across 4th Street in a free beer-induced stupor. I take it they made it home safely, or at least to the opposite corner where they may or may not have remained for the night.)

So interestingly, I caught an article in my feed yesterday morning called Where Were the Women at SXSW?

The answer, apparently was “getting their nails done” at the Beauty Bar. (h/t to Deb Rox)

red stamp
Erin and Lindsay of Redstamp.com

Now I too was at the Beauty Bar, because I was invited to a Women in Mobile lunch, featuring really wonderful speakers like (correction] Rachel Sklar and Erin and Lindsay, founders of Red Stamp, a site and now an app of which I’m a long time fan. But, crazy me–I went for the content, not the nail care.

Not to be dissing manicures. Or pampering. Or girlie activities of supreme girliness, all of which I love with my very girlie heart.

I love that we can be business owners and mimosa-sippers. I love that we can network in environments with pink chairs and fuzzy carpets–and have done it myself and enjoyed it thoroughly. And I love environments filled with smart women. Which is partly why I like Blogher, and partly why I liked the premise of this event.

But–and I say this not without some hesitation–it turns out that a beauty salon is not the best forum for a panel of compelling, expert speakers.  In fact, I wanted to hear more from them but they were cut from an hour to barely 30 minutes, because, according to the moderator, “we all want to get back to the manicures.” Oof.

In the future, I’d just gently suggest that when Rachel Sklar is spouting gems like “the smartphone is a convenience machine, not a productivity machine”…ask a follow up question. Then tell the manicurists to keep it down, not the speakers.

consumer intent panel
Harnessing Consumer Intent Panel moderated by Jolie O'Dell

In any case, I wanted to mention, should you be wondering, that there were a few other things I saw women doing at SXSW besides shinying up their nails. They were:

-Moderating panels.

-Talking code.

-Making business deals.

-Schmoozing VCs.

-Riding the start-up bus

-Cruising the trade show floor to learn about optimized cloud storage solutions.

-Meeting fellow developers.

-Lending their power cords

-Graciously inviting strangers to parties

-Chatting up company founders.

-Inspiring with words like “There’s no shame in failing. It’s worse to be irrelevant than to worry about one person hating you.” (Thanks, Aria Finger.)

-Showing us the future of marketing as we know it.

Liz Gumbinner, Guy Kawasaki
girl + guy

And for the record, the Girl+Guy Party was a nice mix of both “guys” (as in, Kawasaki) and “girls”–and no make-out room (huh?), despite strange rumors to the contrary. Or maybe I was just too busy shoving my fave in the guacamole and talking to Lynette Young about her chapter in Guy Kawasaki’s book to notice who might have been making out somewhere.

In fact, one of the things that surprised me about SXSW was the total lack of the “token woman” factor, in pretty much every panel, event or party I attended. Perhaps I chose wisely? Or maybe I gravitated to topics  and events that weren’t dominated by men?

In any case, one of my favorite panels of the entire weekend was about consumer intent on the social web featuring Edward Boches (who I adore), AV Vaynerchuk, fellow Brooklynite Farrah Bostic, Jeff Janer of Springpad, and Jolie O’Dell of Venture Beat.

It got me so excited about ideas I can bring back to clients, and even use as a blogger. Jolie was a fabulous moderator–beyond fabulous–although I was initially thrown by her bio in which she made it exceedingly clear that SHE WILL NOT BE MAKING ANY PUBLIC APPEARANCES NOR ATTENDING ANY PUBLIC PARTIES. I thought perhaps they had accidentally swapped her bio with Angelina Jolie’s bio,which would be an easy mistake to make except for the fact that Angelina Jolie was not at SXSW.

Although Al Gore was, and  he did not have a bio at all.

Note to self: Rethink bio.

But I digress.

The thing that was so fantastic about this panel is that it wasn’t a panel “with two women on it.”

It was a panel of experts.

The people best qualified to talk about the subject. Period.

ken denmeade, kristen chaseI felt the same way about the Kids and Technology panel at the Dad 2.0 summit, featuring  Kristen Chase of Cool Mom Tech (whoo!) with Ken Denmeade of Wired and Clay Nichols of Dad Labs. The content was so considered, so invaluable, they should totally repeat at SXSW ’13 for an audience of 5000 next year.

I wonder if even 3 years ago, we would have been having discussions about children and technology and considered that as valuable a topic as coding and flash hacks.

I wonder if even 3 years ago a mom would have been not only welcome on that panel, but as knowledgeable as the dudes.

I wonder if a man (Jason Avant) would have been the first one to jump in and defend the presence and contributions of women at the conference when another man questioned it.

Perhps not.

It makes me question whether conferences like Blogher need to do what Mom 2.0 has done, and invite the best experts to discuss the issues women care about, whether or not they are women. It also makes me wonder whether we can get a little more church and state with our informational needs and our pampering needs so that we can give our full attention to both.

So I completely understand why the Beauty Bar event was created, especially for those pioneering women have been attending since 2005.

It also reminds me I probably am late to the proverbial SXSW party, as Nate reminded me last week. In a way, of course I am. I totally am.

Let’s just commit to it: Yes. I’m late.

On the other hand, old skoolers (and Nate) will always say that pretty much anything used to be better back in the good ol’ days. Just ask anyone who was at BlogHer 2006.

Case in point: I  had a nice, if brief, handshake-moment with Gary Vanyerchuck at the Austin Airport Gift shop, and mentioned that on my virgin voyage, I just loved how open everyone is, and what a great community feeling there is. He explained that it was even more like that before.

And I thought, really? Wow.

And then later I wondered if it was better before for everyone, or mostly just for the men.

Sunday, I sat with the techiest of the male techies at a great TripIt brunch (hi, Shashi B!)  and they never once acted that it was silly or marginalizing that I ran a parenting site. They were welcoming, interesting and interested, and we all had a great bonding moment when we talked about how the iPad is helping children with autism, and then they asked me to recommend some good apps for all of their children and nieces and nephews.

(Wurm Jr: Huge hit.)

In fact, that was my experience all weekend. No one was put off by the fact that I publish a parenting blog. (Or if they were, it was totally in hushed whispers behind my back and I missed it completely; which is for the best.) In fact, they were interested in how I can combine that knowledge with what I do in advertising, so we can start reaching parents in more innovative, effective, and uh, less insulting ways.

taco truck
Also where the women are: taco trucks.

So maybe this is the time to be at SXSWi.

Maybe this is a great time to be a woman in the interative world after all.

Yes, we can care about design and gardening and fashion and family while running successful businesses and reinventing the purposeful web.

And yes, there is something cool about women who can be powerful while getting their nails done.

But I also think that there’s something cool about women who can be powerful anywhere at all.

I saw so much of that this week.

That’s not the nailpolish fumes talking.



34 thoughts on “Where were the women at SXSW? Well, at SXSW.”

  1. I really dislike the whole “It was better before” because there is always the wondering of an unsaid, “It was better before *you* and your kind got here.” And that’s for SXSW or BlogHer or any other event. If people want smaller more intimate events, then they need to create them and keep them that way, i.e. not “sell out”…possibly, or create your own with your small group of intimate friends. Invite only, etc.

    Worst of all, it’s a sly socio-economic punch in a way – there are a lot of people for whom such an event still means saving over a few months if not years to attend and working around a lot of other life stuff. This could be especially true for women with kids who might be juggling jobs and childcare and barely making ends meet while trying to enter the Internet world and all its opportunities for the first time. And while going to a conference doesn’t need to happen, either these things are valid, valuable networking and learning experiences…or they are what others sometimes accuse them of: parties dressed up with a few speakers. I believe they can be the former. And I believe that women – maybe especially – need to do what they can to keep the conferences true to self so that they can truly benefit and empower the women yet to attend.

    You know, working selling techie toys, I’m sometimes reminded that there are actually quite a few people out there who don’t have ready Internet access in their homes or easily available to them. So, there is a whole socio-economic – and sometimes geographic – swath of voices we aren’t hearing from at all yet. I know the Internet seems like the great communication equalizer, but we’re really not there yet. Not all women’s stories are being told. Not all women have equal access. The conferences are a good reminder in a metaphorical way that not everyone is at the party yet, and we need to be careful not to close doors or start setting cemented rules or become jaded to new voices at the very least until everyone is in the room.

    1. Awesome comment Josette, thank you.

      I think when people talk about “better before” it’s the same way people say that college was better Freshman year before those alcohol rules kick in, or how music was better in the 90s when people wrote their own music. I think it’s rarely meant to insult the other person, and more comes from nostalgia–and our innate ability to dislike change.

      But this: “we need to be careful not to close doors or start setting cemented rules or become jaded to new voices at the very least until everyone is in the room.”


      1. “I think it’s rarely meant to insult the other person, and more comes from nostalgia–and our innate ability to dislike change.”

        I do understand that. And I’m guilty – if guilt is even involved – of waxing nostalgic myself. But hearing you bring it up even as nostalgia by the speakers was a reminder to myself to at least be aware of what I’m saying and to whom. I think there is a time for reminiscing with comrades who’ve btdt with me, but especially in social (media) situations where the point is to include and invest newbies (whether on the Internets or in a kids’ sports club or scout troop) in the experience as fully and seamlessly as possible, making them feel a part of the history as well as incorporating and sometimes giving way to their new ideas and POV. I mean, yes, people have to do their own work to not be the outsider, but sometimes little things can count when the old guard is helping them along. Does that make more sense?

  2. I don’t think we’re late at all. It’s not as if we’ve been idle for the past several years; in fact, we’ve been quite busy making our own contributions to the interactive world, helping make it into an even larger and more inclusive space. SXSWi, while a huge part of the interactive world, is just that – a part of it. So are the parts that we’ve created or participated in, such as BlogHer. Overlapping circles in a big interactive Venn diagram.

  3. After your tantalizing tweets, I was waiting for your recap.

    I am intrigued by SXSW – Although I love a beauty bar, I am truly haunted by an inner tech geek. I think it is amusing that it seems as though they felt manicures had to be provided to lure the women. I actually prefer a smutty novel during my mani/pedi – I believe in the segregation of beauty and brains.

    Your experience sounds fabulous of course – and I am certain that you made a positive impression on those there about the world of blogging and parenting sites. Thanks.

  4. Love Austin, Love to Love SXSW (and have every year, never thinking it was better the year prior), and Love You and the way you say it. xo

  5. I love your recap, Liz! I felt the same way after attending and speaking at SXSWi last year for the first time. Although I was there for a split second – in and out in less than 36 hours – I felt extremely valued as a part of the tech and media community. And, yes, I didn’t feel that “token woman” vibe either. I wish I had been able to make it this year. I will definitely be there next year.

  6. After seeing that my fave bloggers (You, obviously, Rebecca Woolf, Kristen Chase), were at said conference, I felt like I wanted to be there too, even though truth be told, I have a pedestrian knowledge at best of what this conference is all about. Kind of like Star Trek. Or The Lord of the Rings. I’m the new girl to whom Josette is referring, just dipping my big toe in all this business.

    That you would feel like you would be possibly shunned because you write a parenting blog makes me feel like we’re not nearly as far ahead as we should be. That maybe we’re still in the process of recognizing and verbalizing the confluence of motherhood and power and intellect and what that all means.

    Again, in the greater context of the conference I’m sure this apprehension all makes sense.

    I have a lot of reading and learning to do when I can-checking out all of the links above. Glad you had a good trip and thanks for posting, as always.

    1. I will say that a knowledge of Star Trek and Tolkien would be helpful at SXSW

      and yes, of course we have a ways to go. I can name so many mainstream articles (“Don’t bother mommy, I’m busy blogging” notoriously) that diminish the work of mothers, the writing of mothers,the writing about mothers. But for some reason, I felt none of it there.

  7. As most of my twitter stream has been filled with SXSW tweets this past week I’ve been following along and I loved knowing you and other women I respect in the social space were there!
    Really great thoughts and I really felt that “oof” about the manicures. Sure, love all things girlie, but sounds a little over the line ditzy in my book.

    Hoping to make my virgin voyage to BlogHer this summer!

  8. I don’t find that I am dismissed at events for being a woman, but I do find that I am dismissed in some contexts for being someone who blogs about “women’s issues”.

    I have a very successful and large social media presence relating to parenting. I also own a successful consulting business with a very small social media presence.

    When I go to social media events that are not women-specific, I’m often torn as to which persona to lead with, because the one that has taught me the most about social media is also the one most likely to get me patted on the head along with a joke about “oh, so you blog about diapers”.

    1. I think that’s what was so cool, Annie. My badge said DEUTSCH but it also said COOL MOM PICKS and COOL MOM TECH. People seemed interested in it, not turned off at all. And honestly, I didn’t even feel that way at the first Blogher!

  9. Hey LOOK, you finally got your green card. Sorry, I had to say that!

    While I wasn’t there (though I wish I had been), from what I saw, more women were Tweeting about being there than men. Of course that could be influenced by the people I follow. A personal friend of mine went to the PBS Kids event and she had a wonderful experience. I’ve heard so much positive feedback that I’m really hoping to join my friend next year.

    1. Oh trust me, the way the 4 hour (!!) registration process was for some people, there were more than a few green card jokes.

      Go. You’ll love it But register early!

  10. “The thing that was so fantastic about this panel is that it wasn’t a panel “with two women on it.”

    It was a panel of experts.”

    LOVE this!

  11. Posts like this are one of THE main reasons I read your blog.

    And I think your site is ‘more’ than a parenting blog. And I don’t mean that in any kind of bad way. I just mean that you bring up other topics on here a lot more than most ‘parenting’ bloggers do. You know, like me. 😉

    Glad you had lots o’ Austin guac. Did you hit Chuy’s? Sooooo good!

    And did you make it to Kerbey Lane? I hope so!

    Anyway, now that I’m hungry… great post and yay for us ladies!! 😀

    1. My one regret is missing Kerbey Lane – so many people recommended it.
      Though as my parents always said, if you do everything, you don’t have a reason to go back.

      Thanks for the compliment. I think I see the world through the eyes of a woman and a parent, and that goes beyond parenting topics. But hey, I’m not above a cute kid photo, ever.

  12. Hi Liz. As much as I wish I could have made SXSW this year, I wasn’t there. You mentioned I presented at an event and linked to my blog…but it wasn’t me — unless it was my doppelganger. 😉 -Sarah

    1. INDEED it was Rachel Sklar. So sorry. Maybe it was wishful thinking that I could have seen you speak!

      1. Rachel is a dynamo! Glad you got to see her. As a new mom (and one who works from home and travels), I’m excited to join the “club” with such wonderful women. -S.

  13. Hurrah! I was at SXSW for the panels I pitched in July of last year that were accepted. It’s funny–tech has always had a lot of men milling about, but I felt this year women really owned it just as you were saying. Like Willo O’Brien and her more craft business work with Stitch Labs. And all the panels I repped had amazing women because they were the right people for the panel, although SXSW has this crazy VOWEL thing that you must use when you pick your panelists–and pretty much said your panel must include a female… I wished I made it to the Guy + Girl party, but alas, work first. Sigh.

    Sounds like you had an amazing time!

    1. Oh Dottie I’m so sorry I missed you…and Willo. I guess that’s what happens when there’s SO much going on. I’m counting on a rain check. (No pun intended–no more rain! Please!)

  14. I was asked by someone (at either Dad 2.0 summit or SXSW, can’t remember which) what my site’s readership was, in terms of men v. women. A little over 50% women, I replied. I was then asked if this bothered me – if I thought I might be doing something wrong, seeing how so many women read a site by and about dads. I said what I always do – I’d be doing it wrong if I DIDN’T have so many female readers.

    1. Oh Jesus Christ. Is it supposed to bother me that I have male readers then? Maybe I should write more about my period.

      People read what interests them. We’re all so fortunate to have audiences and communities. If they’re nice and they’re smart, I’m happy to have them here, whatever their chromosomal makeup. Glad to hear you feel the same way.

  15. Liz – I am so happy that you so wonderfully articulated the issue of women and tech at SXSW. I also did not feel marginalized when I went there in 2009 to talk about parenting and tech – infact my session was packed and covered by WSJ: http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2009/03/16/sxsw-roundup-moms-who-tech/

    I think it is just important that women mix into all SXSW panels and events – from beauty bars to party at bars (great music at SXSW). Key is that we take the step to speak out at panels to share our voices – a great example is the Parents and technology panel at Dad 2.0. I specifically try to speak at tech conferences to make sure my voice is heard as well as “female” focused conferences (I never miss BlogHer!). Guy Kawasaki has always been so supportive of women’s voices – and Kirtsy always has great events!

    I think as parents we are limited by not having the time to travel to conferences as much as we want (I have scaled by my travel but miss going to SXSW!). So maybe it is to be aware of local conferences and mix it up so parenting voices are heard across conferences!

    1. Awesome points Beth! And this is why you’re such a leader in the tech space. Cool Mom Tech is lucky to have you.

  16. The “it was better before” is often pronounced before “the now” had a chance to prove that it’s wrong. And how many time it happened in human (quite recent too!) history..eh..will we ever learn ?

  17. It is probably because I worked as an executive for 20+ years in Japan, but I am just not thrown to complaining about male female ratios. I enjoy BlogHer and other all women events but I am equally happy at a WordPress developer meetup where there are few women. I personally don’t feel that special efforts are made to exclude us.

    1. I have to disagree Linda. There are plenty of places in which women are majorly excluded, either by intention or habit. Some women enjoy mostly male environments; I’ve worked in quite a few of them so I get it. But I happen to enjoy diverse perspectives, which is why I was glad to have found them at SXSW.

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