The issue of conferences in which all the invited speakers are male is probably well known to blog readers, and is the target of campaigns such as the Gendered Conference Campaign and the hilarious Tumblr Congrats, You Have An All Male Panel. Recently, Greg Martin, a mathematician at UBC, gave an interview with the Atlantic with a nice mathematical argument showing that most all-male panels are in fact statistically quite unlikely. This nicely undercuts an all-too-common response among conference organizers that their all-male panel “just happened” or was simply the result of chance.
If conference speakers were being chosen by a system that treated gender fairly (which is to say, gender was never a factor at all), then in any conference with over 10 speakers, say, it would be extremely rare to have no female speakers at all—less than 5 percent chance, depending on one’s assumption about the percentage of women in mathematics as a whole.
Turning that statement around, we conclude that any such conference without any female speakers must have come into being in a system that does not treat gender fairly.
Martin’s interview also links to a Conference Diversity Calculator that lets you play around with calculating the likelihoods of various demographic distributions among conference speakers, given their representation among the pool of available speakers.