How TiE StartupCON 2017 Achieved Speaker Gender Balance


Transforming the composition of a conference program from male-dominated to gender equal is a deliberate process. It doesn’t just magically happen. As a community, we certainly spend time calling out the event producers who, let’s be honest, are just lazy about prioritizing diversity. This week, Avenger Bobbie Carlton shows how conference organizers can make a complete turnaround in a short time by being intentional and explicit about their diversity goals.


Sharing Diversity and Inclusion Lessons Learned and Best Practices

If you’re not based in the Boston area, you might not be aware of the Boston TiE StartupCON. TiE StartupCON is the largest conference of its kind in New England, bringing together innovators, business leaders, and funders for a one-day event focused on startup success.

StartupCON 2017 takes place today, October 6th, at the Hynes Convention Center. It promises to help attendees get inspired and to show them how they can make new connections and accelerate their startup’s growth. It also promises a stellar diverse and inclusive event.

This year, TiE StartupCON will field an impressively diverse slate of speakers, especially for a tech and startup-focused conference. For the 2017 StartupCON, over half of speakers are non-Caucasian (53 percent) and nearly half (45 percent) are female. The latter is a massive jump from 2016 where 77 percent of StartupCON speakers were male.

This change, which happened in a single year, is a great example of how an organization can bring about speedy change by focusing on the issue. Here are some ways TiE Boston accomplished its inclusion goals.

  • A diversity goal was incorporated into the event’s vision and reviewed frequently, especially during the early planning phase. “Attract diverse and serious rising entrepreneurs that TiE-Boston can serve through its other programs and events.” One way to attract diverse attendees is to demonstrate commitment to inclusivity in the speaker lineup.

  • The addition of outside-the-organization conference and track chairs helped expand the network and the opportunities to diversify the conference. This year, I was invited to be one of the conference chairs, which brought the Innovation Women network into play. (We currently have 9 Innovation Women speakers scheduled to speak at the event.)

  • Marketing partnerships with a variety of organizations also helped expand the source of speakers and presenters.

  • Each week, an organizing committee of conference chairs, track leads, and session producers reviewed panels, topics, and speakers, always questioning diversity and gender balance.

  • Speaker “asks” were mostly made sequentially to help the organizers maintain diversity.

Today we hear of many organizations setting long-term goals for diversity and inclusion. TiE StartupCON’s experience seems to be proof that change can come about swiftly, if we focus on it.

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn on September 19, 2017.)

Bobbie Carlton

Bobbie Carlton is an award-winning marketing, PR and social media professional who is also the founder of Innovation Women, an online speaker’s bureau for entrepreneurial, technical and innovative women and  Mass Innovation Nights, a free monthly product launch party and networking event powered entirely by social media. She tweets at @Bobbiec.