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Where Are the Women in the Streaming Media Industry?

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As (hopefully) many readers will know Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, Tim Siglin, and I have been strong vocal supporters of Women in Streaming Media and more broadly of our ‘sisters-in-streaming’ for many years.

In programming conference sessions and panel discussions, webinars, and more we always proactively try hard to reach out to those women we know in the industry to ensure there is frequent representation for women in public events.

Photo above: Speakers on the "Future of Monetization" panel at Streaming Media West Connect earlier this month. Top row, L to R: , Consultant, Reality Software and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media; , Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Revry TV; , President, Parks Associates. Middle row, L to R: , SVP - Ad Products, Amagi; , SVP, Revenue, Cinedigm; , Senior Vice President, Digital Enterprises, Shout! Factory. Bottom: , General Manager, Redbox On Demand

We attended the launch of Women in Streaming Media at IBC in 2018 as invitees of Alicia Pritchett, Diane Strutner, and Peggy Dau (who drive the initiative). We have always held one of two guest seats for them in SMAdvancedForum.com—our monthly catchup with ‘characters’ from the industry, and we traditionally try to hand over the reins of the show to an all-woman crew specifically for International Women’s Day each March.

When interviewing for articles, we keep our ears out for opportunities for womansplaining to take the priority over mansplaining, and (unknown to you all) we have protocols for keeping an eye out for when women are getting squeezed out in panel discussions where we are moderators, to ensure their voices are heard.

And if you think it is bad across the streaming sector as a whole, once you dive into the CDN sub-sector, the situation is seriously dire. In fact, no event has even been more painful for me to programme than the Content Delivery Summit, the latest iteration of which ran earlier this month.

Just look at the agenda. Great topics with really engaging speakers, and a dense day of exciting engagement across the sector. But we had only two women on the program—kudos Elsa Pine from EdgeConnex and Nino Doijashvili from Tulix). 

On publication of the agenda, this issue was raised directly with me by both Ian Wagdin from the BBC (whose PR department raised it on a ‘non-discrimination’ concern) and by active support of Vanessa Vigar, who is a member of Women in Streaming Media and has pointed out the issue in events beyond Streaming Media and SMAF.

And absolutely rightly so. But I had to clarify the back story, which I want to share a little with you all here.

We initially worked with sponsors to place their participants. Elsa has been a frequent panelist at CDS, and so she and her company were very much involved from the outset of this event. 

And while a couple of the other sponsors initially did put forward women speakers, in both cases they switched them out for male representatives before the programme was finalised.

We don’t really have much control over who sponsors put forward to speak, so at that stage we took that on the chin, and decided to focus on the panels and non-sponsor placements in the event. So we put out the call for speakers in August/September, and we had about 3 dozen responses. 

The respondents were 100% from men. 

Not a single woman replied—and that call was distributed on StreamingMedia.com and its associated feeds with no (known of) bias.

This is the first time that has happened, and it ties up strongly with evidence I have seen in SMAdvancedForum (SMAF) too; while up until this summer we have never had any issue reaching out for and finding female speakers for panels and session, something happened over the end of the pandemic that means I absolutely struggled to programme a woman speaker for our monthly webcast even 3 months ahead. Peggy at WiSM has been mailing out to their group for ages, and while there are a pool of active women in the group willing to appear for a second time, we have always striven to have new guests on SMAF since we started. In some ways, if we always invite the same ladies back to “cover over” the fact we cannot source new guests, I personally feel that is “gender-washing” and in the long run “faking it” would look bad for SMAF and not really achieve what we are trying to accomplish in raising the profile of female experts in the sector in a fair way.

So  as an engineer with an enthusiasm for CDNs and not personally being particularly stage or camera shy, (and being a proud dad to a wonderful daughter), I find myself drawn inexorably into a complex gender issue that I feel underqualified to really comment on, but viscerally keen to try to "do the right thing." 

Yet it is proving really really hard at the moment.

Yes, this is obviously a male-dominated industry, and yes that is broadly true of many of the IT sector’s niches. And pragmatically, no there are not, counting by head, nearly as many women working in streaming companies as men.

No, there is no reason why any engineer’s skill is in any way limited by their gender. 

No, as far as I am aware, the misogynists do not have control of secret clubs in the streaming industry that preclude supporting women’s success, although I am aware that the “all-boy” nature of some events must be both intimidating and an unpleasant breeding ground for some outdated attitudes. And of course there are men out there who consciously or otherwise do hold some crazy ideas about gender and roles in society that really should have died out along with cathode ray TVs.

But let me stick my head above the parapet and ask a question of us all: What is wrong in the sector at the moment? 

In fact, “at the moment” is itself an understatement: I started working with streaming professionally in 1996. It was only in 2004 that I, for the first time, sat opposite a female engineer. Yes, I had met two other women in the industry at that time who both had project management and business oversight roles, but it was a full 8 years of working in the sector before I had met an engineer who was not male. 

That has felt like it has improved a little in simple numbers, but then the sector has grown immensely, so I would imagine the ratio has, if anything, become much worse.

Indeed, as I look at the 3 or 4 thousand people that follow my linkedin feed (which is unashamedly focused on CDN and Streaming engineering) , I would estimate that less than 300 are women.

And right back at home something else worries me—out of about 25 girls in my daughter’s school year, and despite huge effort to get them into science and computing, only ONE girl is taking computer science forward to the next exam tier. And when I quiz my daughter as to why, her response is ‘“It’'s boring.” That’s is a real shame since I know the teaching is good, and many of the girls were getting higher grades in computing than in other subjects which they dropped computing to opt for. They just seemed to “talk themselves out of it” (or something like that…)

This is broken. And a shame. And frustrating. And … and … 

I don't want to end up in a world where we positively discriminate all the time and ignore skill and merit to “‘just focus on gender:” That won’t really solve anything in the long run.

Instead I want a cure to the problem. Gender politics is fraught with “PC” complexity which ends up compromising honest open discussion quite often. And gender in the workplace is not something I understand at all—certainly not in the same way i understand the inner workings of a live streaming CDN.

But to be honest, colleagues: we NEED to talk about it. A lot. And now.

And if you are a female engineer wanting to speak on behalf of your company, or about your technical passions in the sector, then PLEASE reach out to us and shake us repeatedly until these legacy issues are no longer an issue and we (and of course our female peers!) can programme a completely gender balanced lineup at all future technical events.

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