Gender, Role, and How We’re Trying to Build a Diverse Speaking Slate

We’ve written previously about how we’d like the speaking slate at Hero Conf to more accurately represent the industry and the unique needs of our audience. We’ve been as blatant as to ask specifically for more pitches from the countless talented women and brand experts working in PPC. These are important perspectives that deserve to be shared. In fact, in our 2015 edition of the Top 25 Most Influential PPC Experts, 12 of the top 25 were women.

It’s not that we’re unhappy with the excellent pitches we’re receiving, but that we feel our attendees, regardless of who they are or where they work, deserve the value of opinions across industries, functions and genders.

In programming the conference the past 3 years, we’ve set goals that we feel are important to the worth of Hero Conf. That is, female and brand speakers should each represent 30% of our slate. These were interim goals, as we strive to equal out the mix. Our hope is that seeing quality, diverse speakers year after year will encourage attendees that haven’t pitched in the past, to join in the fun. And it’s working! For the first time in our pitch process, females submitted more than 40% of speaking pitches (for Hero Conf London). We’re on our way, but don’t plan to lose our focus on diversity any time soon (with recognition that these two components only touch a small part of what a diverse speaking slate should include).

It is worth noting that the initial stage of our speaker selection is completed free of identifying information. Members of our paid search and leadership teams review all pitches and score them on quality, relevance, depth and originality. Any pitch that doesn’t meet our set baseline score, including those from females and brands, aren’t considered. This ensures quality is our first metric.

With a nod to SMX’s inaugural Gender Diversity Report, here’s a look at the breakdown of speakers for Hero Conf 2015 in Portland:


Speaker Breakdown


Speaker Pitches

29% Female
71% Male

Speaker Slots

33% Female
67% Male

Sessions Including Women Speakers


Speaker Company Type

Speaker Pitches

6% Brand
88% Agency
6% Automation Software or Ad Platform

Speaker Slots

27% Brand
59% Agency
14% Automation Software or Ad Platform

Sessions Including Brand Speakers


It’s easy to see where some of the biggest programming hurdles start. Although we’d love to choose every pitch from a female or brand, quality has to be at top of mind as well. So we start with far fewer pitches than we need to create a diverse agenda. Where do the additional female and brand speakers come from? Direct outreach and past events. We spend hours searching for speakers we’ve seen at past events who would be good additions to the Hero Conf schedule, and also add creative and unique perspective.

Although we clearly state our goals and make our best efforts to meet them, we can always do better. We’ve yet to have a female or brand speaker keynote, which we hope to achieve in the near-term with continued outreach to qualified experts. We feel our outreach has produced quality sessions – 2 of our 4 “Best Presentation” awards in Portland went to women – there is much more work to be done! It’s good for the industry to have realistic and representative speaking slates and we’re excited to see other conferences with the same goals in mind.

What do you think? How would you suggest we make the Hero Conf speaking slate as representative as possible?