UPDATE: I just wanted to note something epistemically interesting. We’ve had endless discussions over the years here about why women might be refusing conference invitations, but the number one reason from our poll was *never* suggested in any of those discussions.
Our poll is now over and we’ve got some interesting results. The most popular reason for women to turn down conference invitations is a lack of funding to attend. If it’s true that women turn down conference invitations more often than men do (we still don’t know this), a key reason may be that they are less likely to have good travel funds available. Why think this? Well, we already know that women are disproportionately to be found at less wealthy, less prestigious institutions, and more likely to work part-time. They are also less likely to be have reached senior ranks. All these factors are likely to mean that women have less access to travel funds. So conference organisers may want to think about who they give their limited funds to. They might want to think about prioritising the women. Alternatively, and with quite possibly the same effect, they might want to prioritise funding the junior people from less wealthy institutions. I know it’s awkward asking senior/famous people whether they can fund themselves, but unless they’re arseholes they’re unlikely to be offended if you explain that you want to use your limited funds where they’re most needed.
Reason number 2 is having a clash of obligations for which more options on dates would help. The fourth most common reason is being asked very late. Both of these point to the thought that conference organisers should try to invite women as early as possible, perhaps giving them first choice on a range of dates. After all, somebody has to be asked first. If women in your field *are* really hard to come by, then perhaps make them the first ones you ask. At the very least, don’t wait until two weeks before!
Tied with the above reason number 2 is having so many obligations that more options on dates wouldn’t make any difference. It’s hard to see how conference organisers can help with this, but one commenter has noted that she has turned down conferences due to simply having too many obligations rather than a clash– and that asking her far enough in advance would help. So, another reason to ask early.
The third most popular answer was “I have never turned down a conference invitation”. We can’t take this to show anything about relative numbers of women and men saying yes to conferences, but at least it’s some indication that women aren’t just serial turners-down of invitations.
Reason 5 was invitation outside my area of competence/current research, and reason 6 was lack of childcare at the conference. So: do be sure you’re asking someone to do what they actually do, and do think about help with arranging childcare.
A few women said they’d turned down conferences in order to avoid harassers, help the environment or because there was a lack of accommodation for their disabilities. Even though the numbers here are low, the issues are significant, and there are things an organiser can do. Don’t invite known harassers (I very much like a “no arseholes” rule at my conferences); offer the possibility of speaking by video; and work harder on accommodating disabilities.