In November, 2014, Speak Easy was created by Fiona Charles and Anne-Marie Charrett. They had joined forces to tackle one of the most deeply ingrained challenges we face in tech: the issue of diversity. There is a gender imbalance in technology, and that is also displayed in conference line ups. Much has been said about how few women speak at conferences, but few people have done anything about it. Fiona and Anne-Marie did something; they created Speak Easy.
Speak Easy is a voluntary program designed to increase diversity in tech conferences through dedicated conference spots, mentoring and events. One of the first conferences they partnered with was CAST 2015. The committee thus far has selected three speakers from Speak Easy, and these women will have their first shot at public speaking in August.
Alessandra Moreira interviewed Anne-Marie and Fiona to find out more about the program and their plans for the future.
Q: Anne-Marie and Fiona, tell us why you decided to start Speak Easy.
The two of us were grumpy over drinks at a conference speakers’ reception about the poor ratio of women to men all around us. After all, we each knew lots of bright, engaged women testers doing really interesting work. Why weren’t they there with us?
Neither of us is a patient person and we share a low boredom threshold, so we were soon having much more fun tossing around ideas than just grumping. We wanted to DO SOMETHING POSITIVE! What could we do to get more women on stage? We sounded out some prominent women speakers at the reception and they were all enthusiastic about doing something too. Speak Easy was born out of those conversations.
Q: What is Speak Easy about?
Speak Easy is a volunteer-run initiative created to help increase the diversity of speakers at conferences. Our particular focus is gender diversity but of course we’re open to other aspects of diversity.
Our core combines a mentoring program that matches experienced speakers with novices, and conference partnerships. We liaise with conferences to secure Speak Easy speaker spots. This means that a new, inexperienced speaker has a greater chance of getting a speaker spot if they apply through the Speak Easy program.
Q: How does one get involved?
There are many ways to participate. Apart from registering with us to begin your speaking career, you can elect to mentor someone. Simply go to http://speaking-easy.com and fill in the form to become a speaker. We will then match you up with a mentor who will help you work out what you want to say, help you put it together and where possible help you practice your talk. It’s free of charge and we’ve got some fabulous mentors you can elect to work with. They’ve got their stories online so you can have a read up on why they became a Speak Easy mentor.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with this initiative?
The software testing industry has more women in it compared to software programming, but for some reason that ratio doesn’t translate to speakers at testing conferences. Having organized a couple of conferences, we find one problem is that it’s a real struggle to find good women speakers. When we approach good female testers, and ask them to speak, we often get “I have nothing to say” or “I’m not ready yet”. So it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to speak, but often it’s that they feel unready to make the leap and actually send in a proposal. Speak Easy helps them be ready.
Q: There are three testers from Speak Easy presenting at CAST 2015, how are the preparations for that?
Going well! We were so excited that CAST was the first conference to support our initiative. Our goal was to have one speaker, so you can imagine how excited we were to discover 3 of our speakers were selected. Since then, we’ve had a number of amazing conferences approach us wanting to support Speak Easy by offering a speaking spot.
Q: How can others help?
If you like the idea of this initiative but don’t want to be a speaker, you can volunteer. We have fantastic volunteers who help keep the website up to date, but we could do with more! We also want meetups to help us create Speak Easy programs and give novice speakers some speaking experience by holding Speak Easy talks in their local area. So meetups please contact us!
Even if you don’t have time to volunteer, you could always follow @spkeazee on twitter, and help us spread the word there and on other social media.
Q: Where do you plan to take Speak Easy from here?
We want to keep expanding opportunities for (especially) women to speak at conferences. For example, we’ve just started a new program to assist experienced female speakers to begin their keynote career.
We’re also exploring various Speak Easy conference options, both to give women speakers more speaking experience and also to celebrate women’s contributions to software testing. We’re currently looking at doing a web summit, but we won’t likely stop there. Remember, we both have a low boredom threshold and we love to do new things. We’re just getting started with Speak Easy!