On November 16th, 2013, Entangled Bank Events will host a panel of distinguished scientists for a unique day of presentations and discussion. You, too, can attend!

Just don’t go expecting to see any women scientists.

Go ahead, visit their page and get a look at the overwhelming diversity. All six presenters are men. (Let’s put aside for the moment, the glaring lack of age and ethnic diversity, too.) In a preemptive strike at what organizers knew would be coming, they decided to add this gem to their FAQ page:


Fortunately, the online site Jezabel cached the page and exposed Entangled Bank (EB) before they had a chance to delete the text. If you visit EB’s FAQ page now, the above text has been replaced by this:


Summary: “We tried to make a joke. Our bad. Sorry we offended people. And no, still no women cuz we couldn’t find any.” Wow. Us ‘feminists’ feel sooooo much better.

And dear EB, I call BS on:

[The error] “should have been spotted by us, but as soon as our attention was drawn to it…we removed it.”

Really? You either tried to make a joke, or you didn’t. If you tried to make a joke, then the text was posted intentionally. It didn’t need ‘spotting’ or ‘attention drawn to it’. It’s your site and you know what goes on there. You didn’t post it by mistake. The error was in thinking it was funny.

It’s not funny that a scientific panel is exclusively men. And it’s not funny that nowhere in EB’s ‘apology’ do they talk about remedying the situation. Instead, their response is an all-too-familiar one: “It’s not our fault. We tried, we really did. We just couldn’t find any women speakers”.

I’d like to make something very clear to conference organizers everywhere: We – and I don’t just mean women; I mean men and women of the scientific community – are NOT buying the “I couldn’t find any women speakers” excuse. Never. Ever. Again. No, not even just this one time. No, not even because the event was “set up at short notice”. It’s BS. Plain and simple. Best-case scenario, it’s laziness. Organizers just couldn’t be bothered to make a few more phone calls, write a few more emails, to actually SEARCH for talented female speakers. Worst-case scenario, it’s sexism. (Yes, sexism still exists in science, so let’s not bother arguing that one.) Jokes don’t make up for a lack of diversity; they just make it all the more obvious how insensitive organizers are to the problem.

And another thing, conference organizers: No, one ‘token’ woman speaker does not absolve you. At a very minimum, the representation of women at scientific meetings should be equal to their representation in the field. If 26% of tenure-track faculty in the field are women, then even 15% female representation at your conference is not acceptable. (Neuroscience, I’m looking at you. See my previous post on this.)

There are many talented, eloquent women scientists out there who should be heard. Some scientists have even started to compile online lists of potential women speakers to make it easier for conference organizers.

So, don’t tell me you couldn’t find any women to speak at your scientific meeting. That’s just not good enough.

[Hat tip to Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics), who wrote about this on his blog.]