Conferences 2016

Alphabettes will end 2016 by celebrating the people who organised inclusive type, typography and design conferences this year. Your commitment and dedication to gender equality means a lot and the success of your events gives us hope that you will be serving as an example for many other conference organisers.

Here’s to you!

In order of percentage of female speakers:

57.89% Sans Everything, FR – Amiens
52.08% ICTVC, GR – Thessaloniki
50.00% Typographics, US – New York City

47.37% AIGA Design Conference, US – Las Vegas
46.67% BTS Away Days, DE – Berlin
42.55% TypeCon, US – Seattle
40.00% Encontro de Tipografia Conference, PT – Lisbon
38.46% Beyond Tellerrand, DE – Düsseldorf
37.50% Rencontres Internationales de Lure, FR – Lurs
37.50% Typofest, BG – Plovdiv
36.27% ATypI, PL – Warsaw
34.78% 7CIT, ES – Valencia
34.29% TYPO, DE – Berlin
33.33% BITS, TH – Bangkok
33.33% DiaTipo, BR – Porto Alegre
30.00% Dynamic Font Day, DE – Munich
25.00% Typo Day Köln, DE – Cologne
23.08% Granshan, EG – Cairo
22.22% DiaTipo, BR – São Paulo
22.22% DiaTipo, BR – Caruaru
20.00% Typo Day Hamburg, DE – Hamburg
15.00% Automatic Type Design, FR – Nancy
14.29% Typo Day Basel, CH – Basel
12.50% Kerning, IT – Faenza
12.50% DiaTipo, BR – Campinas
11.11% Walbaum Wochenende, DE – Weimar
10.00% TYPO Labs, DE – Berlin
5.00% Serebro Nabora, RU – Moscow


[This list is not exhaustive but a crop from the conferences we attended. If you know of one that’s missing, feel free to add it in the comments. For the %%%, we counted the persons listed on the speaker pages of the respective conferences. Award badge kindly designed by Ulrike Rausch.]

20 Comments Conferences 2016

  1. Frank ADEBIAYE

    For 2016 session of Rencontres Internationales de Lure, based on the speakers who actually made it, there were 9 female speakers out of 24 speakers, therefore 37,5 %.

  2. Frank ADEBIAYE

    Hi Bianca. Thanks for adding and asking. For the conference, sure thing. We have major lectures planned in English for 2017. We have also new people on board to welcome and guide English speakers during the conference. Regarding the website, it is a different matter, we shall manage a (tiny) design overhaul so the English contents could be more easily accessible.

  3. Bianca Berning

    There has been a lot of talk about the gender disparity at font technology conferences (read this Twitter thread, for example: In short, the claim is: font tech conferences would invite more female speakers if there were more qualified female font engineers. I think we can all agree that women are indeed underrepresented professionally. It’s a catch 22: How are women supposed to feel inspired to dig into font technology if all people visible in that field are men? Fewer tangible role models deter women from even considering font engineering as a career option. So instead of complaining about it on Twitter, why not try and break this vicious circle? We have every opportunity to add names to the list. Some thoughts:
    – create spaces in which women can progress, feel valued and are able to make worthy contributions
    – increase visibility of female font engineers
    – acknowledge the benefit of gender diversity and encourage it

  4. Frank ADEBIAYE

    As I suggested it on the same Twitter thread, initiatives and talents like the female scientists Microsoft Research have (see could inspire more fair practice regarding gender balances. Some scientists included in the aforementionned link may bring decisive contribution to font technology conferences. I am thinking for instance of probabilistic programming as introduced by Kathryn S. McKinley.

    1. John Hudson

      Inviting speakers who are not directly involved in font technology, but whose work in other software fields, or e.g. linguistics, is an interesting option. Over the years, the Unicode Conference has often taken this approach for keynote speakers, looking for individuals whose own work is sometimes quite tangential to text encoding standards, but which is inspiring, provides insight from new perspectives, or challenges preconceptions about the scope of discussion at the conference.

  5. Indra Kupferschmid

    I wholeheartedly agree, and I remember we talked about how to improve the situation and make the scene more welcoming for women in this great Type Drawers thread, too (and on my personal blog). It’s not that there aren’t any female type technicians, it’s just that they’re not that visible, on Twitter, on online fora, on stages where men almost never have a doubt they can contribute something valuable. (But especially the big type/tech companies definitely need to up the diversity in this field!) Yes, female designers, technicians or engineers are not as old, senior and “famous” as the type establishment so may not seem as attractive to invite to a conference that wants well-known names in the program to attract attendees. But why not encourage them anyway and show them that we take them seriously and have confidence in their contribution.
    I liked parts of what John suggested: introduce smaller presentation slots alongside the big (scary) one-hour ones, spaces where you can get a smaller idea across, present on a specific thing and get a feel for the tough crowd that is the discerning senior type person. But I also don’t want to see women “representing” only on panel sofas and in moderation roles.

    Without much thinking, I could name 10+ women who have expertise in the field and would be great to invite, but I never know – is it OK to recommend people to conferences, or is that matronizing? And do these people even want to be recommended or find this weird, too. #overthinking

    1. Bianca Berning

      I wonder if it’s particularly difficult for *curated* conferences to identify competent female speakers because they are more likely to miss out on less visible people?

      1. Indra Kupferschmid

        Yes, that is a big part of the problem and where the whole thing perpetuates itself and makes it hard for new people to enter the scene. (Also, on a smaller scale when conferences require video of previous speaking engagements as proof of capabilities.)

        I don’t want to say curated conferences are bad or biased. We also see great examples where concious curation introduced less visible people to a wider audience. They just have to look beyond the Tellerand of the big-names plate, be open to recommendations from outside, or even introduce a track where they call for submissions.

        It’s maybe less known among women but men pitch themselves to curated conferences all the time!

    2. John Hudson

      I completely agree, Indra, that women participating only in the context of panels, let alone only as moderators, wouldn’t be an adequate outcome and not reason for a conference to be congratulated on its gender balance. It’s not enough to have a lot of women on a speaker list if what they’re doing is not equivalent to what men are doing. I do think, though, that a good practical way to encourage diversity of participants is to diversify the ways in which people can participate.

      During the Twitter discussion, Bianca mentioned building ‘visibility’ and ‘confidence’, and that seems to me exactly right. Elsewhere in that discussion, Pablo Impallari asked, with regard to the TYPO Labs programme ‘Which of the men will you remove? in exchange for which women?’, which prompted me to offer different ways of thinking about solutions, about ways to make more people visible and more confident about participating.

      A 50 minute lecture to a crowd of mostly knowledgeable people on a technical topic is a big ask of anyone. Indra used the word ‘scary’, and I can attest that after twenty years it doesn’t get much less scary. My favourite part is always when the lecture ends and the question and answer begins. When I met Bianca in London recently, she made an observation about the Unicode Conference that she attended last year: she liked the way the audience members got engaged and sessions fairly frequently broke into short discussions during the presentations. I like that too. That’s why one of my suggestions yesterday was ‘More seminar less lecture’.

      I put forward that and other suggestions — shorter sessions, more panels — in order to suggest ways of thinking about improving gender balance by changing the framework of participation rather than replacing one set of participants with a different set. But I also think they might generally make for a better conference.

      1. Bianca Berning

        I couldn’t agree more. I’d encourage different ways of participation. Unicode conference was an unexpected eye opener in many ways. It had a very different dynamic from what I’m used to from type conferences. Attendees and speakers were in constant dialogue and, in general, the atmosphere was extremely amicable and supportive.

  6. Bianca Berning

    Further thoughts:
    What are the career options for font engineers? I’m thinking out loud: For the majority of font projects you don’t need much knowledge of font technology. Font editing software like Glyphs takes this off your shoulders and makes most of the decisions for you. If you do encounter something unexpected its developers will fix it for you in no time. Font tech knowledge really only starts being crucial when you handle more complex font projects. So if it isn’t all that significant for the majority of fonts we are designing, why bother learning it? I guess what I’m asking is: Is there a lack of women in font technology or is there a lack of young font makers in font technology? Or are we in the midst of a major shift?

    1. John Hudson

      Thank you for providing a space to discuss this beyond the Twitter character limit.

      Re-reading some of the comments from yesterday, and those here, confirmed my suspicion that people are thinking about ‘tech’ in different terms, and that I should clarify what seems to me the ‘deeper problem’ that I thought we should consider. It is not the general gender imbalance in the engineering side of font making, nor even in the font business at all. It is a specific and extreme imbalance in a subsection of a subsection of a subsection of the US software industry. The gender imbalance of the TYPO Labs conference lineup seems to me *in part* symptomatic of that deeper problem, because it is a conference at which, due to its content focus, that subsection of the software industry directly intersects and interacts with type designers and font makers.

      I have spent a lot of time in meeting rooms and on conference calls over twenty years with the people who make the technology that the rest of us — whether we’re type designers, font engineers, or typographers — utilise in our work. I visit the headquarters of US software companies several times each year, and one of the things I observe at e.g. Google’s Mountain View campus of Microsoft Redmond campus is that there are a *lot* of women working there. Just not in the subsection of the subsection of the subsection — the very small groups of people, in case you’re not getting the point — who deal with the core tech of our business: font formats, rendering engines, shaping engines. [I’m not saying that there are no women working in these areas. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with a few; most of them have gone on to other things.]

      I wrote to Indra last year, after the first of the OpenType variable font meetings that I attended. I couldn’t, at the time, explain to her the confidential particulars of that initiative, but described two observations I brought away from the meeting: 1) that I had spent two days in conference with exactly the right group of people — based on their knowledge and experience — to be having those discussions and developing that initiative, and 2) they were all men. I wrote to Indra, because I wanted help thinking about that extreme and specific imbalance, and how it might change. I’m still thinking about it, and am worried that there’s only so far we can move the situation from the font maker sider.

      So when I talk about ‘tech’ and a deeper problem than the lineup of a conference, that’s what’s troubling me. And I’m sorry if it was inappropriate to want to link the discussion of the TYPO Labs conference speaker list to that of the deeper problem I see, but the latter has been troubling me for a long time.

      [I also don’t want to derail discussion here away from the topic as framed by Bianca, but I would like to note that this is linked to another question that our business mostly ignores, which is ‘Who gets to make technology?’]

      1. Bianca Berning

        Thanks for adding a bit of background to your tweets and for being aware and concerned, John. It’s really appreciated.

        I agree that this intersection between industries is particularly apparent at TYPO Labs. (And I’m glad it is, it brings together a unique set of people.) But looking through the speakers’ profiles I fail to recognise that a majority of them are working in a subsection of a subsection of a subsection of the US software industry. You are right in saying that we don’t have much influence on their gender situation but why is the rest of the programme so out of balance? And, more importantly, why is getting women involved handled as an afterthought?

        1. John Hudson

          You’re right. I’m probably guilty of looking at the programme and speakers primarily in terms of what interests me personally, and those sessions to which I am most looking forward or which I consider unmissable.

          [The fact that I do think about conference sessions in terms of missable/unmissable also says something about the lecture format. I tend to spend a certain amount of time at conferences outside of the lecture room, engaged in conversation with colleagues. A format that provided more room for conversations within the conference programme, and that broadened participation in those conversations, would be welcome.]

        2. John Hudson

          You’ve prompted me to look again at the speaker list, Bianca. In terms of numbers, I count nine speakers who work directly in the aforementioned subsection … of the US software industry. That could be raised to eleven if we consider that parts of Monotype might reasonably be included. These nine or eleven speakers are all men, and even if they’re not a majority of the speakers overall, they still outnumber the women. So I do think there is an impact on the overall gender imbalance of the conference lineup from the extreme imbalance in that professional sector, just as there would be a positive impact on the lineup if that sector involved more women. I think it is good to acknowledge this impact, because it means that until such time as more women are working in the core tech areas of font formats, renderers, shaping engines etc., and representing their companies at events, there’s a need for conference organisers to compensate with more women participants from other areas. That means developing strategies to broaden participation, which I hope conference organisers will be more inclined to do if they understand the particulars of the deeper problems that can have an impact on their programme.

          There, now I think I might have managed to put into words what I didn’t manage to say on Twitter yesterday.

  7. Indra Kupferschmid

    Very good points re “Who gets to make technology?” Alas I have no better answers than
    – tech/type companies, please train and hire more diverse people in these fields
    – committees, please allow more junior people among your ranks alongside “exactly the right group of people” so there is a chance for others to get into the field
    – conferences are putting together their programs covering more than one single aspect. A font tech conference doesn’t have to be 100% about variable fonts (an area where the currently spearheading experts are apparently all men) but can touch on different topics of font production and tools where knowledgable people are more diverse. [Edit: Bianca expresses this much better above than I tried to at the same time]

    Still thinking about the thesis that the easy-to-use software created by men may be keeping women from getting more interested in technology. Like the ready-made meal is keeping you from finally learning to cook. There is something to this, but it implies low expectations of women and a lot of expectations and wisdom on the side of the tool builders. Would not as encompassing tools leave more room for creativity and explorations then?

    1. Lila

      I think a huge problem in type design (especially on the engineering side) is that a lot of folks making these tools are often just building things for themselves that myself and others cannot use or implement into our workflows.

      It frustrates me the amount of times I have made a suggestion for a software feature to be told “build it yourself”, “why do you want that?” or “that’s not possible”.

      What frustrates me being a woman in type is seeing a lot of men who don’t engineer and build getting to suggest and dictate what is built. How can women like myself be able to contribute to the evolution of type design and development? It takes more than engineers to make fonts and solve typographic problems.

      People in type (especially men) need to keep in mind that most women in type in addition to our day to day work, spend a lot of time learning how to get and keep a seat at the table.

      1. ADEBIAYE Frank

        In accounting and structured document design, I saw similar things happening. From those experiences, I am convinced that science should prevail over gibberish tricks, alas very common among technical communities. I do not know if it has anything to do with gender, but we should always keep in mind the practicalities and openness of things. I do not see any glory in rounding in closed circles. From what it is worth, let’s keep in mind that there is technê and logos in technology. I saw many men using logos as a smoke screen to hide some practical deficiencies. Women and other so-called underdogs could easily challenge this status quo, if they dare to depart from an unjustified inferiority complex. Speaking of underdogs, we should remember Robert Mitchum seeing Rintintin acting and saying “If a dog can do it, it will be piece of cake for me”.


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