Don’t Tell Us You Can’t Find Diverse Photographers for Your Conference

Don’t Tell Us You Can’t Find Diverse Photographers for Your Conference - Mastin Labs

I woke up this morning will fire in my belly about gender equality. As a woman and an activist, I will note this isn’t any different than other mornings. At Mastin Labs, I am so lucky to be surrounded by feminist men and allies. When I come to work and lament about yet another typical experience as a woman in business or a woman in photography they rally behind me and always ask, “what can we do?” Most days just their genuine interest and the way they raise their daughters and treat the women in their lives is enough. Today was different; my heart swelled with pride as our founder, Kirk Mastin, noticed something surprising, The Way Up North Online Conference has a 100% homogenous gender line up and for once its women. As an intersectional feminist, it would be remiss if I didn’t also note it’s all white women, so work is still needed, but this is a start.

Diversity and Inclusion are core values for us, both as humans and as a company.

We actively seek out women and people of color to participate as ambassadors, models and contribute to product development. To see that a conference, who has consistently had 50% gender diversity, has put together a conference speaker line up of only women made all of us here proud to support them. It made me want to take a deeper look at what other conferences we have been a part of and/or are considering being sponsors of are doing.

When I brought up examining how we are spending sponsorship dollars, Kirk shared a post with me from photographer Stacy Colleen where she outlines the stats on speaker lineups for the most popular photography conferences. She compares to US/EU population breakouts. I don’t include them here because later in the comments she clarifies that’s just a benchmark, she would like to see it equal across the board. I agree with the sentiment. She also notes she had to guess on some people’s racial background and if the breakouts aren’t spot on she apologizes.

“Of the ~160 WPPI Online speakers, about 60 are females (37.5%). 46 are speaking on their own (apart from a husband/wife team), whereas 94 males are speaking on their own – almost double. Only two speakers are black (1.25%). About 19 are Asian (11.88%). Latino/Hispanic is harder to tell, but my best guess is about 9 (5.6%). Another handful is other ethnicities – Indian/South Asian, a few that may be Native American, some who may be Italian or Spanish. Let’s say five misc. That brings the percentage of white speakers to approximately 78%.

Professional Photographers of America’s Imaging has ~94 speakers. 39 are women. (41.4%). There are ~4 husband-wife teams, so that’s 51 men speaking alone vs. 35 women speaking alone. The biggest non-white group is that three are black (3.2%). There is one, maybe two people who might be Asian, and one definite, maybe two or three that might be Hispanic. At best you’re looking at 5-6 nonwhite panelists. That’s ~6%. So 94% white.

Field Trip has some fake “speakers” listed; I did my best to weed those out of the numbers. ~70 speakers total. 25 female (35.7%). Three husband-wife teams, so 22 female solo speakers versus 42 single male speakers – again almost double. One black speaker (1.4%). 3 Hispanic, 2 of which are a husband-wife team (4.3%). 2 Asians, 1 South Asian/Indian (4.3%). That’s six non-white, for a total white percentage of 91.4%.

For Way Up North I combined years one and two since it is a smaller conference (Stockholm 2015 and 2016 and Rome 2016). 35 speakers total. 18 females (51.4%), five husband-wife teams so 13 females speaking solo versus 12 males speaking solo. By far the best gender equality of any conference, hands down. 3 Hispanics (8.5%) and no blacks or Asians. 91.4% white.

Canada Photo Convention has 30 people listed on their speaker’s page. 14 female (46.6%), four husband-wife teams, so ten females speaking solo versus 12 men. The only non-white person I could identify is the organizer, who also lists himself as a speaker. Unless there is another one I am missing, that’s 96.6% white. If you don’t count the organizer, which I think you shouldn’t since the point of this discussion is who organizers are choosing to speak, then CPC is 100% white.

Mystic Seminars has 26 speakers listed for 2016. ten female (40%) but six husband-wife teams, so only four women speaking solo versus ten men – well over double. 2 black, 2 Hispanic, 2 Asian (8% each). 80% white.

Foundation Workshops is trickier as they often repeat instructors and have a different setup than most. I wouldn’t normally include them since the number of instructors is so small, but they are one of the most well-known and one of the biggest investments so I thought it might be worth looking. For their FF conference, 7 instructors, 2 are female. For their FW conference, 9 instructors, 2 female. That’s 4 unique females out of 11 total unique instructors (36.3% total, but 22 and 28% respectively per conference). Notably, 100% of their support staff is female (whether this is a positive or negative thing is subject to debate). 0 black instructors, 1 Asian (9%), 2 Hispanic (18%), 1 Turkish (9). 63.64% white.

WRKSHP has 39 speakers listed, 12 female (30%). Seven female solo speakers with 23 male solo speakers (that lopsidedness blows everyone else out of the water, over 3x more). 1 black (and a female, yay! 2.5%), 1 Asian (2.5%), 2 Hispanic (5%). 90% white.”

What can we do to highlight how diverse photography really is?

Seeing the numbers laid out like that is pretty jarring. As much as I believe we need to draw attention to the issue, I think we can all agree we all know it is a problem. If you didn’t see Nikon’s gigantic miss on gender diversity with their D850 photographers, you just don’t want to see the problem. At this point I think it is clear, women and people of color have shared their experiences, and we need to take action to fix them.

A lot of people ask how to do that. It’s pretty straightforward, go into communities of those not like you and see who is speaking, teaching and leading in those spaces. We naturally go to our own networks for resources and more often than not they are going to be full of people very similar to ourselves, so we have to be intentional. I just got an email from another company asking us for recommendations of diverse photographers to purchase marketing photos from. I can assume it was a weird email for her to send me, as we are both middle-class white women. I can admit, I am extremely uncomfortable as a white person (I am actually Latina but I admit I do not suffer from the same social stigma as I am very fair skinned) discussing race. I can assume it’s extremely uncomfortable for men to discuss gender diversity. We don’t want to be wrong, we don’t want to, as author Reni Eddo-Lodge says, be implicated in existing inequality. We just have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings and get it done. If I mess it up fine. Will I be extremely embarrassed when I get called out? Absolutely. I can deal with that.

I call bullshit on anyone who says they can’t find diverse speakers or photographers. It’s really easy to find amazing photographers of every background. Seriously, the staff at Mastin Labs just went on Instagram and went to our own hashtag #MastinLabs and started clicking into every single great photo we saw to see who took it and then we bought them. We went outside our normal network to find great work, because it is out there and it’s easy to find if you look for it. We paid them for their amazing work and when I got that email asking for recommendations I sent those photographers to her. We didn’t solve racism and sexism in photography with those actions but we took the platform we control and did something. We continue to discuss how we can do more because we aren’t nearly as diverse as we should be. These conferences can do the same. You can do the same.

As you come out of wedding season and enter the end of 2017, you’re likely starting to make decisions about continuing education. I hope you will spend your time and money learning from the places that are actively working to close diversity gaps. I hope we as a photo community will hold all conferences to a higher standard and demand change. I know at Mastin Labs we will be.