Who creates it?
This week, I watched as Ben Shapiro, a conservative podcaster and business owner, appeared at Podcast Movement and made both left-wing liberals and right-wing conservatives furious at the creators of the event. People complained that his mere presence was offensive as well as his company, The Daily Wire. He is well known for advocating against trans people’s rights, and thereby his presence made many LQBTQIA+ people feel unsafe. When they apologized, people who don’t support The Daily Wire complained that it was a bullshit apology with bullshit sentiment, too little too late. People who do support them complained that they were being weak, spineless, and pathetic.
The rest of us are now left to wonder: did Podcast Movement do something wrong by allowing The Daily Wire to exhibit? My answer, believe it or not, is no. No, I don't think so.
Where they went wrong is allowing these types of businesses to be comfortable enough to ask for sponsorship in the first place.
During the week, I joked a lot about white dudes. I often have jokes at the ready because that's just me, but this year – wow. I mean, there are REALLY a lot of them in podcasting (now we know 70% of all shows, in fact) and therefore, of course attending Podcast Movement. I don't think it helped that one of the booths close to ours was what looked like a man cult posing as a success mastermind. (Another questionable sponsor choice? Ahem.)
My main joke was that there were so many white guys there, I was starting to see them as part of a whole, a sea of same-minded people with not-very creative opening lines, questions, hats, shirts, and so on. After all, with a room full of “dude-bros” as we like to say, it was hard to feel as if I'd meet a lot of up and coming women for our community, membership and fall event. There have always been dude-bros at PM, though.
The first year of PM, in 2014, was a veritable entrepreneurial mecca – including a keynote about the State of Podcasting by Jaime Tardy, someone who, at the time, hadn't been podcasting nearly as long as many in the room and whose podcast, The Eventual Millionaire, was solely business focused, as was other featured podcasters – John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, and so on. These were the podcasters that the founders were familiar with, having their own business podcasts. After the event, we (Elsie and myself, as well as countless others, I'm sure) gave them feedback.
The following year, we noticed that they had expanded their repertoire, but were still quite heavy on the male speakers. We offered the feedback as perhaps others did. They listened.
The following year, we suggested that they go out of their way to include diverse voices, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and so on. They tweaked again.
They listened, they changed, and they did so under the guise of wanting to please all and include all. Truly. And all the while, they got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And so did She Podcasts. And it was around a few years into this conference that I started thinking about having our own event.
We didn't do it because they didn't change enough. We did it because in podcasting, ALL OF PODCASTING, there is this underlying ‘whose dick is bigger' question constantly being asked – who is the most successful, who has the most downloads, the biggest sponsors, and at events, the largest booths. In our community, we don't often ask these questions or care about the answers.
This is why She Podcasts has grown to include over 21,000 women and non-binary individuals. Because the “race to the finish” feeling in podcasting can be exhausting. Many of our members just want to put out meaningful content, or funny content, or educational content, while being told how to do it that best fits their lives, not someone else's idea of what the “right” way is.
That underlying aggression is the first reason why we started She Podcasts LIVE. People started asking for it, and I was already daydreaming about floral stages, glitter, and T-shirts with inspirational sayings. I was ready for our community to see each other in person for longer than a few hour happy hour.
You see, somehow, amidst all the competition and rush to monetize, Elsie Escobar and myself had curated a group of people in a Facebook group that didn't judge each other. They didn't snipe at each other. They didn't make fun of each other, or make snide comments. They were supportive, helpful, accepting, open, honest, and frankly, delightful.
And don't get me wrong. I've always had a LOVELY time at Podcast Movement, and at Podfest, and I am very, very good friends with those founders. HOWEVER:
- I am not the only woman/person who has been blatantly interrupted while asking a question in a session at Podcast Movement.
- I am not the only woman/person who has been stepped in front of to meet a speaker by a taller, more in-a-hurry male podcaster.
- I am not the only woman/person who has been asked “what do you do” only to have the person look bored or walk away when it wasn't something they've immediately heard of or needed in order to get ahead.
- I am not the only woman/person who has felt out of place at a sports bar parties/beer gardens with no food, lots of beer and loud music (this year's iHeart Media party was at a “sports club” and apparently after midnight, the waitresses are only dressed in thongs.)
- I am not the only woman/person who has been disappointed at the vast amounts of navy blue, grey, and black swag at each booth.
Yes, I have had a good time in the enormous hotels, the bowling-alley meetups, the men's fit T-shirts, and I've attended the exciting panels about Black networks moderated by the white-guy CEO, and I’ve sat on panels that were all-white guys and me, or all-white people and the POC that we’ve suggested. I’m not angered by it. Because I'm a person who knows what to expect where I go. And I also know how to read into what to expect, because I look for language and clues that tell me what type of event I’m attending.
Podcast Movement is a HUGE podcast conference, founded by 4 white guys who live in the south. Their logo is a male hand holding a microphone. Their events have been in the following cities: Dallas, Ft. Worth/Dallas, Chicago. Anaheim, Philadelphia, Orlando, Nashville, Dallas. They do not pretend to be anything but the largest conference. They themselves have watched their Kickstarter dream turn into the industry's biggest gathering, and I applaud their success. It has not been easy, especially in the last few years, to be an event business.
But, back to the question of where they went wrong. Ben Shapiro and The Daily Wire felt comfortable to come to and sponsor Podcast Movement. Why wouldn't they? After all, podcasting is for everyone, and so is this conference. And everyone knows that if you want a piece of the podcasting pie, you go where the bakers are. Right? Wrong. Where they went wrong is by being complacent, in order to appeal to all.
She Podcasts is clearly NOT for EVERYONE. She Podcasts LIVE, our fall event, does not say that our conference is for everyone. ALL are invited to attend, if they'd like. But She Podcasts LIVE (SPL) does not allow men to speak on stage. It’s all marginalized genders on stage. Many sponsors who want to support our show offer to teach on stage, but have an overrepresentation of men and thus no one to take the stage. In being told they can't share the stage, they often tend to make some human resource changes in the coming months. This is good. Some of them choose to exhibit instead and show their products and services themselves. Fine. Hooray! At least they are still supporting the cause.
I see and hear some of the sponsors at Podcast Movement talk a lot about supporting women and underrepresented voices, but can't seem to advertise to them at a conference specifically dedicated to this group. I don't need to call them out. Anyone is welcome to look at our sponsor list and compare, if they like, who in the industry says they're a supporter of historically excluded voices and who shows up to She Podcasts LIVE with a pretty booth, fun swag, fascinating talent, and funds one of the many offerings we give to companies that want to help attendees travel, or feed them at a party or a break, or somehow make their experience special in other ways.
You have to MAKE your conference different than the ones in the past. Like, on purpose. In some cases, with extra effort and new regulations that people aren’t used to or comfortable with. Some examples:
She Podcasts LIVE decided last year to have non-gendered bathrooms. Our hotel fought us about this, but we reminded them that not allowing this was perhaps an ACLU issue and they relented (we were in Arizona, after all and their politics alone were the reason they refused to reschedule/push our event in the first place.)
She Podcasts LIVE makes an effort to have at least half our speakers not just female identifying, but of other marginalized genders, people of color, LGBTQIA or all the above. This, of course, depends on who applies but we have been successful for both events so far. We try to have BIPOC and other marginalized group meetups sponsored if possible. We allow discounted sponsorship for women-BIPOC-LGBTQIA+ owned businesses that focus on podcast-specific services and we offer attendee scholarships including some travel every year to everyone we can afford to send for free, mostly based on sponsorship donation and generosity.
I'm not trying to congratulate myself, or our group. In fact, we don’t have all of the answers. We will not get everything right every single year. We learn and change along the way just like everyone else. But here is my main point. (hooray!) What I'm saying is that these things take EFFORT and CREATIVITY. Our first year, we had a diversity consultant. We don’t try to please people who actively work against our community. Our policies and standards that we enforce are the result of our organizing team being extremely intentional and taking a STAND to do what we feel is right in order to make sure people feel safe, represented and heard. We will not settle for anything otherwise. People who are racist and homophobic tend not to rush to join an event where LGBTQIA+ and people of color are highlighted and celebrated. Our sponsor partners understand this, and they not only agree but they go out of their way to do things DIFFERENTLY at our event so that they can contribute to the accepting and supportive vibe we are creating.
Sponsors like The Daily Wire probably won't ever ask us to sponsor our event. We won't have to make that kind of decision. I'm not envious of the position our friends are in, whatsoever, and I can stand by their character as lovely men, kind and accepting and helpful and supportive, and not money-hungry or flippant (or anti-Semitic, what?) people at all. What they have been, in my opinion, is casual. Like most white men who don’t consider themselves the problem, they know that they’re not racist or homophobic and therefore have not made the extra effort to make sure that their event is diversity friendly. They have changed as the winds change, instead of putting up storm windows. When you are white man, you get to decide that you’re “nice enough” and harmless, and you’re right! You can then look elsewhere as your entire c-suite or board of members populates with those just like you, sponsor a diverse event here and there and call your work done. (Hey, even offering money is better than nothing – events don’t happen without generosity whether you can travel there or not.)
Perhaps it's been easier for us to create a diversity-friendly event as women founders. We don’t have to work extra hard to make SURE we don’t make mistakes that overlook underrepresented members of the community. After all, we already know what makes us uncomfortable at a conference, and that's not just thanks to PM. It's thanks to every single conference that wasn't consciously – or unconsciously – recognizing the vast overrepresentation of white men at every level – since the dawn of time.