GenderAvenger Goes to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (#SSAC18)
The 2018 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (#SSAC18), the first and largest analytics-focused conference of its kind, took place in Boston, February 23 & 24, and was accompanied by lots of social media buzz about the lack of women in the program.
According to the conference website:
The conference goal is to provide a forum for industry professionals (executives and leading researchers) and students to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the global sports industry. MIT Sloan is dedicated to fostering growth and innovation in this arena, and the conference enriches opportunities for learning about the sports business world. The conference is open to anyone interested in sports.
SSAC is the MIT Sloan School of Management, student-run, non-profit conference that relies on sponsors to meet funding needs. For context, here is a bit about Sloan:
- The 2017 entering Master of Business Analytics (MBA) class was 42% female and 18% underrepresented US minorities
- The (MBA) program had 33% women enrolled in 2017
- Undergraduate enrollment of the school is 52% women and 24% underrepresented minorities
These facts are important because throughout its website, Sloan touts diversity and an engaged community, along with its commitment to innovation and solving big problems, mentioning how these extend beyond the campus, into the surrounding community, leaving with students as they embark upon their careers.
It’s impressive. Yet, when #SSAC18 took place, largely planned by MIT Sloan students, the commitment to diversity seemed to leave out gender as a key factor in the world of sports analytics.
- MIT Sloan student conference leaders: 7 men, 5 women, co-led by 2 men (42%, consistent with 2017 MIT Sloan enrollment)
- Workshops (7)
- 7 men and 1 woman (13%, really?!)
- Research papers presented at #SSAC18:
- 8 Research Paper Finalists: 17 men and 1 woman (6%)
- 12 Research Paper Posters: 32 men and 3 women (9%)
- 192 speakers: 162 men and 30 women (16%)
- 9 of the 30 women were women of color (6%)*
- 2500: exact men/women breakdown is unknown, but one attendee shared this:
But it's sports. Of course more men are going to be represented.
Is that true? What is the reality of women in sports? Since the conference is about data, let’s look at just a few data points.
At #SSAC18 there were two panels and three activities dedicated to eSports. Of these sessions, speakers/participants included 23 men and just 3 women. That’s about 12% women for anyone who’s counting. In reality, women comprise 29% of fantasy sports players, 41% of fantasy gamers, and 45% of NFL fans.
How #GenderAvenger Pressured #SSAC18
GenderAvenger noticed the disparity between men and women speakers during last year’s conference, so leading up to #SSAC18, the team put a call out to active members of the greater Boston community to spotlight the lack of women in the program. Individuals tracked the hashtag on social media, adding #SSAC18SoMale in the same style as #CESSoMale, which triggered a significant backlash, inspiring dialog between conference organizers and GenderAvenger founder, Gina Glantz. It was enough for former elite athlete, entrepreneur and investor Fredson Gomes to notice.
More significantly, DICK’S Sporting Goods Senior Manager of Strategy and Innovation and #SSAC17 organizer, John Martell III, engaged us in thoughtful conversation about some of the reasons why gender parity has been a challenge for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference over the years.
Read the full thread here.
Among the reasons he gave for the gender disparity were:
- There is a general lack of female representation in the Big Four or Big Five sports leagues, which are the panels that draw the most interest from attendees.
- The cost of attendance can be a deterrent. The conference budget is not such that it can provide for travel arrangements.
What I love most about his response is that he goes on to say, bringing the issue of pay equity into the conversation: “It’s no secret that male athletes and other sports figures are again generally more well paid than their female counterparts. What might be a rounding error in their budget (travel and hotel accommodations) can be a meaningful cost for willing female participants.”
What can #SSAC19 do better?
GenderAvenger will be watching #SSAC19, scheduled to take place on March 2, 2019, to see if some positive changes to the ratio take place. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for the conference planners:
- Add at least 1 woman expert to each panel (and don’t ask her to moderate).
Pay attention to ALL data. What does it say about women as a fan base? How much money do they spend? What are the growth rates? Then make sure the event presents that data.
Use the data about women in sports to drive sponsorship agreements and allot funds to support hotel and airfare for speakers.
Don’t use the excuse that the women experts don’t exist. Get creative about where you’re looking for them. (If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten!) If you can’t find them, ask the men to help identify women in their networks who would be great subject matter experts.
Move beyond “innovation” as a buzzword and make it a practice. The missions of both the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference focus on innovation. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation writes, “leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights.”
After all, if three-time Major League Baseball MVP Alex Rodriguez understands the power of adding women’s voices to the table, shouldn’t the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference?
Stephanie Goodell, Founder & Principal of Samaya Consulting, is a strategic consultant whose passion is achieving gender parity and supporting organizational growth through diversity and inclusion. She is a dot connector, an optimist, and a keen facilitator of conversations and relationships. Stephanie is committed to helping corporations and higher education institutions instill sustainable diversity initiatives and has supported efforts to achieve pay equity for women, with a focus on women of color.