It's Never Too Late to Open the Door to Diversity and Feminine Badassery

It’s never too late to share your career experience by speaking at conferences, but, as Carla Silvey shares, you might hit some bumps along the way.

Photo credit:  DESIGNECOLOGIST , via  Unsplash  (cropped and rotated)

Photo credit: DESIGNECOLOGIST, via Unsplash (cropped and rotated)

In my 20 years in product and design, I haven’t once spoken at an industry conference.

The environments I’ve worked in haven’t exactly nurtured public speaking, or at least the inclusive, inspiring sort I was drawn to. Instead, I was used to being pitted against my colleagues and left even internal presentations sweaty and drained — and certainly not inspired to look for a larger stage. It’s not chance, either, that I was used to being with one or two other women, at best, in a sea of men. I was used to having my voice drowned out.

But I wanted to change that. I have amazing experience building and leading teams and designing award-winning digital experience, and I was ready to find ways to share my perspective.

Before looking for speaking opportunities, I looked for support, and I began to get excited when I found Women in Digital. In person and online, these women were showing up, authentically and in support of one another. I joined the organization, and then I joined the local chapter’s board.

When an opportunity to speak at a design event came up, it seemed like the perfect rookie-league chance to get started — it was not a notable brand, there were only a couple hundred attendees, and I was invited to pick my own topic.

So, what to talk about? I brainstormed areas I know: evolutions in the field, rapidly scaling effective teams, and end-to-end experience design. I wasn’t inspired. Then a friend had her own brainstorm, and I got excited by her ideas like “Otherness as an Advantage in Product” and “Lead with Your Feminine Badassery.”

I looked at the conference website for more ideas, and it was then I realized: there was not a single woman on the speaking panel. (The final conference had three women speakers, 11% of the total.)

If I’d known about the all-women OURSA conference, created in response to a major conference with just one woman on the 20-speaker panel, I may have been inspired to go big like that. Instead, it seemed obvious that this event needed me to speak on women in tech, and I got excited to pitch the idea.

But the conference organizer didn’t share my excitement: “I hate to close the door on diversity and inclusion…” he said. I know he said some things after that, but how could I hear anything else? Why are you closing that door if you hate to? I wish I’d asked. Why are you closing it when data shows that gender inclusivity drives bottom-line growth? When the Bay Area is the epicenter of Brotopia, the home of Susan Fowler?

I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I tried to diligently go back to my original list of topic ideas. But I couldn’t. I kept finding myself drawn instead to women’s stories of resistance, like Whitney Wolfe who sued Tinder and continues to speak out and stories of how far we still have to go: as the most recent Glass Ceiling Index reported, there are more Fortune 500 CEOs named James than there are CEOs who are women.

So, I declined. I declined to invest my time in a talk about some aspect of design. I declined to stand on a stage surrounded by men. I declined to sit quietly with the people in the boys’ club who just “hate to close the door”.

I am here instead. And I’ll be on stage at the Women in Digital national conference in September, and I’ll be on as many stages as I can between now and then. I won’t be talking about design; I’ll be talking about feminine badassery.

Carla Silvey

Carla Silvey has been designing digital experiences since the last century. She is passionate about building strong, diverse teams and together creating things people love.