Simply being a woman in technology doesn’t automatically make you qualified or interested in presenting about women in technology. It’s not some sort of ZOMG Uterus! club, and the assumption that it’s the only thing I’d be useful at talking about is a problem for me, regardless of how well-intentioned you are in wanting to bring this topic to the forefront at your conferences.
If you want women to feel less like outsiders in technology, try having a few of them speak at your conferences about gasp* technology.*
Those are excellent points to make. I happen to have a Certificate in GIS and I run a few websites and know a little html and css but I am kind of not really a "woman in tech." My forte is more social (I have had classes on things like Social Psychology and Negotiation and Conflict Management, etc) and I like writing about social things, including women's issues. Some of my writing on such topics has been discussed a little on HN. But, yes, she is absolutely right that being female and in tech does not, by itself, make "women in tech" her forte and she is also absolutely right that a much stronger position for promoting diversity is to hire her to talk about the thing she is an expert in, in spite of, gasp, her having female genitals.
I am glad to see this here. It fits nicely with some of my ideas and past comments, I think.
The industry would be 80-85% men in perpetuity? I can understand the author's desire not to have gender be such a big issue. But it is a big issue whether we talk about it or not, and if we don't talk about it, we'll never fix it.
Wouldn't behaving as if we are living in a world where there is no underrepresented group in tech be better? Where it is no surprise that a woman be interviewed and hired for a position? That a little girl building robots and taking apart electronics is just kind of the way things go? That encouraging all children to excel in tech is the norm? Where it is a little strange that a women be asked to speak about a social issue at a tech conference?
It seems that calling attention to bad actors all of the time is kind of like calling attention to school shooters -- suddenly, to the younger more impressionable generation, there is a new alternative to their behavior that they were previously unaware of.
You're assuming a world where the fair arrangement is the only stable equilibrium. Remove overt discrimination, and the world moves to that equilibrium.
Empirical evidence shows that this is not the case. If you look at the dynamics of gender representation in law and medicine, two professions where female representation has gone from 5-10% to 50% over the last 50 years, you can see it behaves like a beam in plastic deformation. You move them to one point through discrimination, and it stays there when the force is removed. You move it to another point through affirmative action, and it stays there when the force is removed.
The industry made it a priority. Academia took the lead by admitting gender-balanced classes, and industry supported such measures by recruiting gender-balanced teams and putting pressure on schools to give them qualified candidates of both genders. Eventually, at least at the entry levels, the status quo being self-perpetuating without proactive measures.
There is an important wrinkle, which is that law and medical programs tend to admit students based on objective measures, and employers in those fields hire based on grades and test scores. Women tend to do better than men in terms of grades, and perform competitively with men in the relevant range of logical/mathematical tests. E.g. even in the 98-99th percentile range of the SAT Math, the representation is 40% women. Tech employers, however, hire based on measures that have a large social component. If you give a big bump to those who were programming computers as a teenager or fit well with the "culture" of your company (staffed mostly by 20-something men), then it becomes much harder to find "qualified" women.
One factor is that it's easier for women to apply to med school or law school because there's no required major. Law, especially, was a default choice for liberal arts majors who didn't know what else to do. If you want to be a CS major, however, you need to commit freshman year.
> One factor is that it's easier for women to apply to med school or law school because there's no required major.
This is true of most graduate and professional programs. I had a friend in college whose undergraduate degree was in Rhetoric and Communication, who then went into a Physics Ph.D. program.
> If you want to be a CS major, however, you need to commit freshman year.
Whether that's true or not depends on the school, and its not necessarily generally particularly true of CS, though it may be more true of CS at particular institutions. OTOH, unlike law or medicine, where a particular professional degree is essentially mandatory , technology has no particular degree requirement (while a CS degree is helpful, particularly for the best jobs, its not a legal requirement to enter the field and plenty of people in the field don't have a CS degree.)
Anyhow, I'm not sure any of that is relevant -- why is the requirement for a particular degree, or a requirement to commit early for a degree, a barrier for women entering the field? Are you arguing that women are inherently less likely to commit early?
 in some states, its still possible to meet the requirements to practice law through what amounts to a private apprenticeship rather than professional degree.
Is it possible that women may be exercising their free will by choosing to go into fields like medicine and law not into fields like computer science, simply because more women prefer the former over the latter? It's apparently impossible to prove this, because the fact of women expressing a dislike for CS and not choosing to major in it is assumed to be problematic on the face and self-evident proof of bias and discrimination. It's a bad idea to even openly suggest the possibility. But consider, as a thought experiment, what the world might look like if there truly existed a preference among women for some school subjects and against certain other subjects, among them CS. It would probably look a lot like the world we are in. Now consider whether it's implausible that a difference in subject preferences could exist between men and women. It doesn't seem all that implausible to me. If my statistics are up to date, women are now attending college at a slightly higher rate than men. Since women make up a huge presence on college campuses, you might expect that if large numbers of women were interested in CS, but faced bias, there would be more of a grass-roots movement to bring attention to the subject. But, instead, the interest seems to be coming from researchers looking at statistics, not students with personal stories of discrimination. To me, the fact that women have entered equally-prestigious fields like biology and medicine with great success is evidence against the idea that women are being relegated to study less challenging subjects and settle for careers that are not intellectually demanding. I am skeptical that the lack of a 50/50 split between men and women in some technical subjects is evidence of a problem that needs a solution.
Are you arguing that women are inherently less likely to commit early?
Guys are more likely to start coding in high school or earlier, so they're the ones starting freshman year. For example, the number of women who take the AP CS test is ~18%, which is close to the % of CS degree grads who are women.
If you want to graduate in 4 years, you have to start your CS program freshman year. You can switch later, but you're going to have to pay for more semesters, or work harder and cram in more units. And yes, you can start coding after 22, but it's an uphill battle.
Fair enough, but affirmative action is a proactive behavior. How much do those points of equilibrium get moved by mere discussion? I think we've all heard the discussion and decided diversity is a Very Good Thing. What I am arguing for is just getting on with it.
> Fair enough, but affirmative action is a proactive behavior. How much do those points of equilibrium get moved by mere discussion?
Discussions are how you transmit ideas about proactive behaviors, you can't separate them.
> I think we've all heard the discussion and decided diversity is a Very Good Thing. What I am arguing for is just getting on with it.
Diversity isn't an action you can get on with, its a goal you pursue through actions.
Discussion is a pretty big part of moving from a goal to something actionable.
Of course, discussion can be poorly focussed (e.g., not addressing how to take action when the goal is already accepted), which is a problem, but its not a problem with discussion vs. something other than discussion, its a problem with having the wrong discussion.
That's what I'm saying: it is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same thing is said over and over -- while you have already implemented the action items and you're wondering what good will come from Yet Another Meeting where the only things expressed are ones you've long since agreed to and committed yourself to acting on.
Really? Link the bill, please. I'd be happy to signal boost it.
> That's what I'm saying: it is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same thing is said over and over -- while you have already implemented the action items and you're wondering what good will come from Yet Another Meeting where the only things expressed are ones you've long since agreed to and committed yourself to acting on.
I don't think you understand what "proactive" means. What you're talking about is like getting into your wheelchair everyday and expecting your legs to fix themselves as a result.
> while you have already implemented the action items
This is the vaguest part of your analogy. What were the action items? If you wanted to improve system performance, and your action item was splitting the engineering department into two groups, how does implementing that help meet the goal?
The "meetings" and discussion happen because people disagree on what the action items should be. You feel you know better than everyone else, and that's a pretty common sentiment. A company has the luxury of splitting apart or shutting down when people can't agree on a strategy to proceed; a society does not, because that generally involves the usual suspects justifying war.
Now, it turns out that society is large enough that it has millions of departments, and some of these departments have picked action items to go on. Some of these items worked; some of them were poorly implemented; some of them were well-executed and still failed. The discussion continues because people have drawn different conclusions from these events.
Of course, who invited you to the meeting? Why are you here, if you're getting no value from it?
Expect the same professional output from all employees. Done.
Encourage different groups early in their lives to pursue tech. Done.
Don't be an jerk/treat people with due respect. Done.
Call out people for acting like jerks or not treating people with respect. Done.
(Here 'Done' means it has been my policy and will continue to be my policy not that it is finished, just to be clear).
I don't think any of these things are controversial. I look around my office and I see people from all walks of life doing their jobs, meeting their goals, progressing in their careers, and treating each other well so something must be going right. It's not complicated.
If you have suggestions for more action items, I'm all ears. I am even more interested in knowing what other people have tried and what worked and what didn't. I am not saying there is no more room for improvement, there is always room for improvement, but it seems like a backward step to be stuck on the 'identify the problem' phase.
I think the impedance mismatch between us is that you are advocating a top down approach through legislation and I am advocating a bottom up approach.
> I don't think any of these things are controversial
They are. Especially the first one, which is just a slightly lower-level affirmative action, and a lot of people will use the second one as a justification for discriminatory treatment. The convenience of surrounding yourself with people who are not assholes doesn't magically make all the assholes in the world disappear.
There are people who complain that things like Girls Who Code is discriminatory against men.  There are people who complain that the demand for respect is censorship against their right to self-expression.
> I am even more interested in knowing what other people have tried and what worked and what didn't.
Then stop asking people to stop discussing solutions.
> but it seems like a backward step to be stuck on the 'identify the problem' phase.
Except that a lot of people don't even recognize that a problem exists. Seriously, the "Maven is my girlfriend" slide hit the social media only a week ago.
> I think the impedance mismatch between us is that you are advocating a top down approach through legislation and I am advocating a bottom up approach.
I'm actually not advocating anything. I'm arguing against your "everyone please stop discussing the topic" policy, because it's harmful.
I expressed a willingness to vote on a bill because you expressed an interest in using that method. I mean, really. You can't tell me the action items aren't controversial when you're disagreeing with what you think my proposed action item is right now.
>The convenience of surrounding yourself with people who are not assholes doesn't magically make all the assholes in the world disappear.
No, but just like no one can replenish the all of the lost trees by themselves, no one can uproot all of the assholes of the world either. What I can do it plant a few trees on my property, encourage others to do the same until, collectively, a difference is made. If people find it harder to be assholes there will 'magically' be fewer assholes.
>Then stop asking people to stop discussing solutions.
That's the thing, they are not discussing solutions, they are just pointing out that there is a problem. It is a signal to noise issue at this point.
>Except that a lot of people don't even recognize that a problem exists.
I think those that recognize that there is problem far outweighs those that don't. Eliminating all of the detractors is never going to happen. I mean, there are still flat-earthers out there for crissakes.
Also, I don't think it is all that helpful to think of it as 'a' problem. It is a cluster of related issues and viewpoints. A person can recognize one issue or viewpoint as a problem that needs to be fixed while another does not for /that particular issue/ without invalidating vast areas of agreement between the two parties. There is a lot of room in this arch-issue. To try to get everyone to agree in totality is absurd, I hope you agree.
I think it is perfectly acceptable to mark some people as lost causes if their cluster of ideas are hopelessly disjoint from the overall consensus. And if we all agree to treat them as pariahs (and I think many of us have) then we can discount their contributions to the overall equation.
>I'm actually not advocating anything. I'm arguing against your "everyone please stop discussing the topic" policy, because it's harmful.
I think you mistake my position. It is not 'everyone please stop discussing the topic' it is 'If we are going to talk about something lets talk about solutions since the problem has been identified.'
A bit more subtle, I know, but the distinction is important.
>You can't tell me the action items aren't controversial when you're disagreeing with what you think my proposed action item is right now.
I am also not saying that /some/ action items are not controversial. If people were running around talking about the merits and effectiveness of various action items I'd be pleased as punch. I mean, one possible action item would be to require by law that people hire two women for every man until parity is achieved but I'd probably not get behind such a 'one size fits all' solution.
IOW, don't take a relatively small disagreement in one area of this vast topic and turn it into a giant chasm. We are not at a 'we agree completely or disagree utterly' level of granularity here but that is where a lot of people tend to want to take it.
Is there something unique about racism and sexism that solves itself if you ignore it?
Through some historical circumstance, or due to the sensitive nature of the subjects, there is a lot of energy expended around these topics which is counterproductive and divisive. Calling out bad actions is good and necessary. Vilifying people, not so much. (In this, I am not accusing you, but making general observations.) The group dynamics of targeting and scapegoating are part of the unsavory range of human behavior manifested by sexism and racism, yet these can be manifest under the banner of fighting those sexism and racism.
Again, I'm not accusing you of this, but you seem to be asking about why many people don't want to engage. It's often this dynamic which makes many otherwise well meaning people wary and weary of talking about these issues.
Another way of putting it: What you're saying is that the industry should just start acting like a community of equals and get on with it. I entirely agree. We should also keep in mind that community is key here. This will work if there is some sense of community and will fail if there is only the facade of community with people paying lip service, playing parts, and wearing masks.
There is a reason why Nelson Mandela went for "Truth and Reconciliation." In this, a bottom-up approach may have fundamental advantages over a top-down one.
Talking about it helps promote awareness. Also, talking about it can (but does not automatically) promote ideas about how to effectively move forward so that those people who wish to do so can act on it. She makes an excellent point that people who really care about promoting women in tech should just hire her to talk on whatever she normally talks about at tech conferences. In some sense, hiring women to only talk about "women in tech" is keeping them in a pink collar ghetto. It sort of assumes she has no real expertise to offer that would matter to REAL tech folks: You know, successful MEN. (Basically.)
>> people who really care about promoting women in tech
>> should just hire her to talk on whatever she normally talks about at tech conferences. In some sense, hiring women to only talk about "women in tech" is keeping them in a pink collar ghetto. It sort of assumes she has no real expertise to offer that would matter to REAL tech folks: You know, successful MEN.
Pretty much this. (I wrote the article in question.)
I'm not even saying we shouldn't talk about women in tech. I have absolutely no problem with - and in fact encourage - discussions about ways to improve diversity at conferences, online, wherever we can.
Progress isn't made from choosing to be ignorant about issues that are laid right in front of you. Get communities talking about issues, otherwise all you'll be left with is a bunch of folks who think everything is fine the way it is and will fix itself eventually.
Problem is some people won't stop talking about "fixing it", which gets really frustrating to those of us who have already "fixed it" and moved on. There really does come a point where incessant yelling about societal problems becomes a problem and the continuing attempt to "fix" backfires.
It is not telling people to be quiet, it is telling people 'Yes, we get it. Can we move on to the action items, please.'
It is like being pulled into meeting after meeting where the same problems are discussed -- and most of the discussion is about how such and such is a problem and a problem worth solving even after we've all decided 'Yes, this is a problem and yes, it is worth solving.'. Now is that point in the meeting where we discuss solutions. Beyond even that, it is time to hear about what people have done and how it has worked out for them to help other people and organizations along on their journey.
Perhaps. Aren't women capable of making their own choices, and not liking a field or career path?
The underlying assumption behind all this is: "women should be absolutely like men" or, "the natural state for both men are women are to think and behave absolutely alike". As if women are just men with vaginas, and vise versa.
In the real world, men and women have their own sensitivities. It's not like men and women are abstract thinking machines, and only raw calculations and logical arguments affect their decisions. There's a very real gender bases sensitivity.
(And that's part of what TG people also adopt -- they don't just changer their genitals, they also alter their character/behavior -- or they always had the tendency to have the genders they "trans-ed" into character).
And that not all due to "patriarchy" and "sexism". Even in nature, male and female can be seen to assume different roles and exhibit different behavior.
If anything, women are smarter for not getting into the crappy IT work hours, death marches and unhealthy physical activity (basically sitting all day staring at a screen).
Who says it is broken ? Most of all what is actually broken ?
We know the outcome, there are fewer woman in IT. However the problem is normally touted in 2 ways .... the first that woman are discriminated against .... and the second that woman need to be more active.
I think the author's approach is a great one, ignore the diatribe and get in there and do. If woman are being treated as second class then doing shows that it is a wrong opinion, if woman are less active then having them do is also solving the issue.
However if the issue is caused by factors such as a lack of interest in the industry by women, or the lack of study in the field by woman, then how are going to "fix" it, force women into tech ?
There are many industries where woman are a majority, should we "fix" these industries also ? Maybe all these tech savvy people who are focused on the tech industry can come up with some sort of algorithm to "fix" all of this issues.
Certainly, but she wanted to speak about diversity overall, not just gender. Ignoring all the other parts of diversity in favour of only gender doesn't help solve all the other problems.
Plus, having more awesome women speakers talking about technology rather than their vaginas would help set a precedent that women are just as capable of talking about technology, and the fact that precedent needs to be set still is a big part of that problem too.
It's the fact that she keeps being asked to speak about owning a vagina in technology, rather than being a technologist who incidentally owns a vagina, that upsets her, and that's part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The same way it would apply, in general, to people assaulting other people physically at a tech conference. It generally wouldn't.
It would assume that, in general, people are going to do the right thing and those that don't will bear the brunt of society's punishment for that behavior if they show they are willing to violate the enlightened norm -- be it criminal prosecution or negative social consequences or all of the above. And that bad behavior will be drawn in that much more stark relief because everyone will be acting under the assumption that everyone else will do the right thing.
Unfortunately people don't seem to work that way. Instead you get stuff like men concluding that it's not a big deal because it never happened to them or any of the other guys they know, and failing to take action.
Exactly this. People are not going to suddenly change their behavior if they don't even see that there are issues right in front of them. Keeping quiet, pretending as though nothing is wrong, hinders progress immensely.
I am not advocating pretending nothing is wrong. We've all (for reasonable approximations of 'all') acknowledged what is wrong. What I'm advocating is moving from the 'raise awareness' stage to the 'implementation and experimentation' stage.
I think the organizer should have been upfront with you about what he/she wanted you to talk on. That said, I don't think it was an offensive request. The organizer wasn't being presumptuous that you would be interested in speaking on this topic just because you're female -- he/she was merely asking you... As a woman in tech, I get how it's these little things compounded over time that get annoying, but this ask on its own is not unreasonable is it? You can always just say no (as you did). :)
I didn't actually know what the previous speaker was scheduled to speak on. I never thought to ask. I recently spoke in Paris as a pinch-hitter for someone who couldn't make it last minute, and they asked me what I could speak about. That's pretty common, in my experience. Last-minute replacements don't always have to speak on the same topic, as long as it's a valid topic for the conference itself.
In retrospect, women in tech may well have been the original topic, but I never thought to ask, since I have never presented about women in tech before, so why would I be selected as a replacement if it was?
Well this is great. We're told to "just give women in tech a voice". So some organizers go looking for someone who's comfortable with keynoting the damn conference on these issues. She gives a weak "no, but maybe I could generalize to a talk about diversity in general", and they DO NOT cancel the diversity keynote, they find someone who's more confident to talk about this PARTICULARLY bad targeted issue. And she assumes that they are just dum-dum conference organizers... or something.
And frankly, the entire point of that blog post was that "giving women in tech a voice" shouldn't always mean having them talk about women in tech, but it should also be about actual tech. The meta conversation is useful, but cannot be the only thing. When the only time men (and women) see women presenting is on topics about women in tech, I think it's damaging. As if we're allowed to exist in the tech space, but not because we actually solve difficult technical problems, but because of moral obligations.
Try "or something". Re-read the piece. I never called them dum-dum, I said I was disappointed that they assumed that because I am female, that's a topic I would want to talk about. If you were going to bring in a keynote speaker, wouldn't you check that they are an expert - or have at least presented about - a topic before you schedule them? They didn't, and assumed that just because I'm female, I obviously must present on women in technology. I had no problem with their WIT keynote theme. I was aggravated because they seemed to assume that any chick would do.
at least she has a mercy to not name the conference in her righteous rant, as after reading it i also started to feel that the conference organizers are arrogant chauvinist pigs because they reached to a woman in tech to talk about ... you'd not believe it ... women in tech. I guess the right choice was to reach to a man in tech. Yes, yes, that would be the most PC solution that everybody, especially women in tech, would applaud loudly long after the conference ended - a man in tech talking about women in tech.
> after reading it i also started to feel that the conference organizers are arrogant chauvinist pigs because they reached to a woman in tech to talk about ... you'd not believe it ... women in tech
I looked through the article to see what you were referring to with the remark about "arrogant chauvinist pigs," but there was nothing like that. Her issue is that, as a woman in tech, she's doesn't believe she is a default ambassador for women in tech. The apparent implication in your statement that, as a woman, she should be speaking about women instead of technology is the very mindset she's responding to.
I don't believe they were arrogant chauvinist pigs. I believe that they wanted to make sure this important issue was covered in their conference, which is their right and not a bad thing, overall. I did find it weird that my offer for a talk about diversity in tech wouldn't work for those purposes.
I think she takes issue with the fact that the organizers already had a narrow topic in mind when they asked her to present. And that the topic was kinda stereotypical (You're a tech woman? Talk about women in tech!). I think the right choice is to let your presenter present what they are experts in. Especially since she offered to speak on a similar, but less bounded, topic!
>I think the right choice is to let your presenter present what they are experts in. Especially since she offered to speak on a similar, but less bounded, topic!
is she an expert or have any equivalent experience to talk about say "African-Americans (or latino) in tech" or any other facet of diversity which she has no direct relation to? Is she an expert on diversity? If yes, than what makes her that?
I am not an expert on diversity. If I was an expert on women in tech, or diversity in general (although I care deeply about it and would have been willing to put together something great for that), it wouldn't have been weird for them to ask me to speak about it at their conference.
That's sort of the point of the article. I am an expert on many things - women in tech isn't one of them (other than the fact that I have been one for a long time). But there mere fact that I'm female seemed to dictate to them that I would want to and would be qualified to speak about it.
>I am an expert on many things - women in tech isn't one of them (other than the fact that I have been one for a long time).
multi-year experience with something frequently makes an expert or at least gives others a good reason to suspect so. Have you never stated how many years you do PHP/MySql/whatever in order to communicate your experience level?
Assuming the experience being a woman in tech gives you particular expertise relating to the situation of women in tech is, pretty much, the same thing as assuming that because you knew one black person for many years, you are an expert on black people -- it relies on a "what's true for one member of the class is true for all members of the class" stereotyping.
>Assuming the experience being a woman in tech gives you particular expertise relating to the situation of women in tech is, pretty much, the same thing as assuming that because you knew one black person for many years, you are an expert on black people
no. It is, pretty much, the same thing as assuming that because you are a black person, you are an expert on black people - pretty reasonable assumption at least to some degree.
> It is, pretty much, the same thing as assuming that because you are a black person [for many years], you are an expert on black people
That's the same stereotyping assumption as the one I suggested. I've been a member of my race and gender my whole life (obviously!). I am expert on my experiences, and have opinions (some of which are pretty well grounded in other knowledge I have, from formal education and elsewhere, that is more general than my personal experience) on how my race and gender relate to those experiences.
But it would be grossly stereotyping my race or gender to assume that I was an expert on my race or gender generally to assume that I had general expertise on the experience of people of my race or gender (or even only those of my race or gender in my career field.)
Precisely. I'm an expert on being this particular woman in tech - which is a far cry from knowing what it's like to be other women in tech. Our stories are widely varied, and my experiences are not an accurate reflection of many other women in tech. I do not speak for them, only for myself.
I think it would've been pretty awesome if you proposed a slide deck composed purely of vaguely captioned images, and then got up there, and derailed the talk for 90% of your alotted time by just delivering an off-topic talk regarding subject of your choice (maybe something highly technical and intimidating). All the while clicking through slides as if they related to your spoken word, and then at the end, summed up with the sentiment you expressed in this post on your site. And then, when you open up the floor for a Q&A session, respond to any questions with markov-chain generated non-sequiturs.
In my book, that would be a great talk. The more extemporaneous, the better.
Maybe that's a little anti-social, but remember that in comedy, a joke that bombs can be entertaining all by itself. And if your worried about losing your nerve, when the moment arrives, and it's time to be beligerent, just do a couple of shots before you get on stage.
...on the other hand, if the talk gets a positive response, you'd probably have another problem on your hands: being asked to come back and give the same talk again. One way to curb that would be to pre-record your protest and just play the recording into the microphone.
I had thought about it, trust me (in very much the way you're describing, funnily enough) :) But ultimately, it's their conference, and they do have the right and the responsibility to schedule the sessions they feel will be most valuable.
Not to mention that if I pulled that stunt off, I probably wouldn't be invited to speak at many conferences anymore, because organizers aren't fans of loose cannons. But really, I didn't feel the need to be a dick about it. Their loss. I give a pretty good presentation. shrug
As I am reading it, the problem is not reaching out to talk. It is the assumption that is the only topic she should talk about. Meaning, if you're interested in person enough to give her a keynote, wouldn't it be better to let her actually decide what the topic would be instead of putting it as "you're a woman in tech, so you'll be speaking about women in tech or we'll find somebody else who will!"? That would be much better solution than arguing what form of genitals more appropriate to represent a fixed topic. If you're interested in the person, let the person speak.
No, it's not wrong in general. Don't try to make the argument about some abstract principle reduced to absurd generality. It was "wrong" in this specific instance to limit the topic to one narrow topic which is related to speaker's gender without letting the speaker to speak on more broad issues in which she's actually more knowledgeable and interested. "Wrong" meaning that if I visited a conference I'd wish the organizers didn't do it. Of course, it's their conference and they can make all the speeches be on any narrow topic they want, regardless of how displeasing it to me - I just say it would be better if they did not limit their horizons this way.