A Call to Arms: Ladies, I’m Looking at You!

I’m helping to organize SQL Saturday #89 in Atlanta. This morning, I looked to see where we were with speakers and submissions. Running through the list, I saw we had 32 speakers. Awesome. Scrolled through again. We had three women. Not awesome.

As of right now, we’re at 35 speakers and 3 of them are women. That’s 8.6% for those keeping track at home. That’s less than 1 in 10 speakers. I just spoke at SQL Saturday #77 in Pensacola, and was the only female speaker. This is not good. This is not the trend I want to see. (By the way, thank you to Melissa Coates (Blog | Twitter), Jen Underwood (Blog | Twitter), and Sarah Barela (Blog | Twitter) for submitting!)

I have a very strong opinion about objectivity in our community. Pick me based on the value of my content, not based on my gender. I’ve said a few times, publicly, that if we just leave smart women to their own devices, gender diversity will work itself out. Wow… That’s just not happening.

What is happening? Was I wrong? Where are we missing the boat? Where are the smart women who are database professionals, and why aren’t they clamoring to submit sessions? You know what’s the worst? I tried to think of someone I could call and say, “Submit already”! I couldn’t think of anyone. That made me angry. Really angry. Ask Aaron Nelson (Blog | Twitter). Poor guy had to listen to me rant (a lot) today. On reflection, I’m mostly angry with myself. I don’t have anyone in mind? I haven’t thought through who I should be encouraging to submit an abstract? Shame on me.

So, I’m stepping off my standard-issue Gender Neutral Soapbox and putting out a call to arms. Ladies, (yes, you… I’m talking to you), submit a session to a SQL Saturday. Get involved! Put yourself out there. Is it scary? Yes. It’s also fun, exhilarating, and rewarding. The first time someone e-mails you to tell you that your presentation taught them something useful, you’ll be hooked. I promise.

Here’s my commitment to any woman who’s trying to decide if she wants to try her hand at presenting and is on the fence: I will be there for you. I’ll review content, help you practice, give you pep talks, whatever you need. There are too few of us out there. Get involved. Help prove me right – that we’re just as capable, just as passionate, and just as ambitious as the boys.



16 thoughts on “A Call to Arms: Ladies, I’m Looking at You!

    • Thanks, Tom. You’ve been a great supporter of diversity within our community, and I’ve been a direct beneficiary of your hard work. Likewise, if there’s anything I can do to help you with your efforts, please let me know.


  1. Sadly, I have already submitted to SQL Saturday Kalamazoo that weekend. (I have never been to Kalamazoo. I’m not sure if there’s even a zoo there. But in life we have to make difficult choices.)

    To any readers who are first time speakers and are thinking about submitting to SQL Saturday Atlanta: go for it! It’s extremely rewarding, and you’ll be glad you did.

    • Hey Kendra,

      We knew you were down for Kalamazoo–and we checked on the schedules of all the women we knew for that weekend via the sql saturday site, On top of the scarcity of female speakers, there is also an abundance of events that weekend, so lots of gals are already spoken for. 🙂 Thanks for the hurrah!

  2. 10% is actually not bad for this industry. SQLBits went through about six events before they got a female speaker (new MVP Jen Stirrup). Presenting is something that the “typical” woman avoids, and with the industry being skewed already, it’s not brilliant.

    But on the flip side, the average woman in SQL is stronger than the average man.

  3. I am searching for a way back into a SQL DBA position after a few years of being out, but once I get back in and have something to share, I will, at least after this call to arms. 🙂

    • Genelle,

      That’s the spirit! But, I say: Why wait? Jump in now! You’re in a position to talk about how to stay sharp and/or get sharp again when you’re not using the technology every day. That’s a great professional development topic. Or, pick an area you’re really interested in and see what you can do with it. There’s no better way to get back in the game than having the opportunity to network with other people who love SQL Server enough to present on it. E-mail me!


  4. Audrey,

    I have signed up to attend SQL Saturday #89 and I am one of the ladies that is on the fence about moving from attendee to presenter. Even though I have been working with SQL Server for a number of years I feel I know a little bit about a little bit not enough to present. Also, speaking publicly scares me to death. I don’t know if I have it in me but I truly admire the women that do.

    • Erica,

      I sent you an e-mail. Hopefully, it made its way to you. If not, let me know. Here’s the gist: If you wait until you’re an “expert” to present, you’ll never do it. The best way to really learn something is to teach it to other people. Pick a beginner topic that you’re comfortable with and go for it. If you’re even a little bit game, get in touch. We can talk about how to go from thinking about it to celebrating after you’ve done your first presentation. There are a lot of people in our community who will step up and help. I know – I lean on them all the time. 🙂


  5. I’d love to speak on something if I thought 1) I was knowledgeable enough on any one subject; and 2) I had enough BI experience to speak, even though I have 17 years of IT experience. I truly feel like a Jill of many trades but not an Ace at much. I hope my dear colleague, Melissa Coates, inspires me to speak on something one day. 😉

    • I’m going to get in touch with Melissa and tell her that she needs to talk you into presenting! I’ve said it before – if you wait until you think you’re an expert, you’ll never do it. I’m not an expert, not by any stretch. I’m a person who’s been in the business a while (15 years), who likes to learn and likes to talk. That’s it. Jump in! I’d bet a fair amount of money that there’s something you know how to do that some other people don’t. And, I’ll bet that you’ve got something interesting to say about it.

      Also, putting together a presentation is a little like writing a research paper. The operative word there is “research”. The best possible outcome of building a presentation is that you’ve not only shared your experience, but you’ve also learned something about the topic in the meantime. How cool is that?


  6. Audrey — are there limitations on what can be presented at a SQL Saturday. For example, we are using a 3rd party tool that parses emails and then imports the data derived from them into SQL Server. If showing a 3rd party tool (and I am not an employee of the company that developed the tool by the way) is allowed, I might have something worthy of presenting.

    • Margaret,
      There really aren’t limitations to what can be presented at a SQL Saturday. When we put a schedule together, we try to look for sessions that will be informative and interesting for the attendees. Of course, we like for the session to be related to data, but sometimes .NET sessions or Windows Phone sessions get in as well. That being said, you have to be careful to keep the presentation solution-based, and avoid turning it into a sales pitch. While SQL Saturday is pretty open, other PASS events might be more strict about promoting a specific company or tool in a presentation.

      If you’re using a tool to parse unstructured data (e-mails) into a database, I think that’s a fascinating topic. It’s a common challenge, and if your company has found a solution, then sharing it with the rest of the community is a great thing. There’s a wealth of opportunity there – you can talk about what unstructured data is, why it’s valuable to a company, how to design a database that can hold this information, and how to use that data. Don’t think you just need to talk about the product; it can be a component of the presentation, but does not have to be the focus.

      I’d recommend that you contact the 3rd party software company and let them know what you’re up to before you submit. It’s always best in these situations to get permission in advance so that there is no confusion at all. But, having one of their customers talking about their product should be exciting to them. Shoot, you might even ask them about sponsoring you… If you have a good relationship with this company, talk to them about it. It might be a mutually beneficial situation.


  7. Audrey, very nice article and may i request those reading it to also consider submitting for http://www.sqlsaturday.com/87/eventhome.aspx – SQL saturday louisville? This is our 3rd sql saturday, and we went up from one to three lady speakers last time (Sarah Barela, who happens to be local, Kathie Kellenberger and Kim Tessereau from St Louis). Would very much like more.

    As for speaking myself – I am no expert on subject matter to speak at a technical event. I do speak at work and it is not the stage fright, but am truly nervous on subject matter esp. when you have several MVPs and even MCMs at these events. Someday..maybe..as Kendra once told me she started at a place very far from home.

    Thanks again


Leave a Reply