Women speakers and attendees at Amsterdam web conferences

As a slight contribution to the diversity in web development discussion, here are the ratios of female attendees and speakers from the Amsterdam web conferences Krijn and I organised or are close to. I’m not sure what these numbers mean, but someone will surely have a bright idea after staring at them for long enough.

Krijn gathered the crucial attendee numbers, while I added the speakers, a calculation, and some general remarks.

Before we show the numbers, here are some caveats:

  1. Attendee numbers include all speakers.
  2. We only counted an attendee as a woman if we’re 100% certain. Some names are inconclusive, and we counted those as men.
  3. Ratio is the ratio of female speakers and female attendees, both in percentages. Thus, a high ratio means there are relatively more women on stage than in the audience.
  4. Fronteers 2017 ticket sales have not yet concluded; the number of female attendees may yet go up.
  5. My apologies for Fronteers 2008. In my defence: diversity was not in fashion yet back then, and I had no clue what I was doing anyway. The miracle was that the conference took place at all.
Women at Amsterdam web development conferences
Date Name Attendees Speakers Ratio
0809 Fronteers 2008 6% 0%
0910 Fronteers 2009 6% 13%
1010 Fronteers 2010 10% 12%
1110 Fronteers 2011 11% 21%
1210 Fronteers 2012 11% 11%
1310 Fronteers 2013 12% 22%
1410 Fronteers 2014 9% 17%
1510 Fronteers 2015 10% 33%
1610 Fronteers 2016 10% 38%
1710 Fronteers 2017* 12% 50%
1306 CSS Day 2013 10% 25%
1406 CSS Day 2014 10% 13%
1506 CSS Day 2015 15% 50%
1606 CSS Day 2016 18% 31%
1706 CSS Day 2017 16% 31%
1411 dsgnday 2014 19% 50%
1511 dsgnday 2015 24% 50%
1105 Mobilism 2011 11% 12%
1205 Mobilism 2012 7% 5%
1305 Mobilism 2013 11% 12%
1503 Mobilism 2015 11% 25%

Now what can we glean from these numbers? The number of female attendees varies between 6 and 24%, and they form a higher percentage in later years, although it partly depends on the conference topic. dsgnday scored really well, while Mobilism fell somewhat short.

The ratio column really asks more questions than it answers; specifically: what SHOULD the share of female speakers be? If the share of female attendees is the benchmark, then all but three of these conferences overshot their mark, sometimes considerably.

The other view would be that there should be 50% woman speakers. Although that sounds great I personally never believed in this argument. It’s based on the general population instead of the population of web developers, and if we’d extend that argument to its logical conclusion then 99.9% of the web development conference speakers should know nothing about web development, since that’s the rough ratio in the general population.

Make of that what you wish. Your mileage (kilometrage?) will vary.

Historical female ratios

This raises the question: what is the share of women in web development anyway? Right now my answer is 15-20%.

The table above is one of my sources. Another is my recollection of my first job, when between 1999 and 2002 I was lead front-end engineer of a team of, to the best of my memory, 13 front-end developers, of which four were women.

Since I had no clue if my experiences were extraordinary or pretty mainstream, I recently asked on Twitter. Based on the replies I conclude that my 30% score was on the high end, and that the average back then was slightly lower. 20-25%?

For many years A List Apart ran an annual survey. I was able to find gender data for three years: 16% women in 2007, 17% in 2009, and 18% in 2011. This sketches a somewhat darker picture, but we can conclude there have always been women in web development — though not as many as we’d like.

So after squinting at these bits of data and doing heuristics (also called AI nowadays), I arrived at my guesstimate of 15-20%. If anyone has more data to share, especially data that does not conform to this picture, now would be a great time to publish it.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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