The pros and cons of speaker ribbons on conference badges.
As a graduate student and postdoc, I don't remember a single scientific conference where attendees wore ribbons on their badges. However, over the past two years, it seems to have become the norm. I personally feel uncomfortable wearing a "speaker" ribbon. It bothers me because I think it mistakenly suggests importance. Perhaps the many years of attending conferences as a student, with posters only, made me sensitive to this. I would hope that I am no more or less worthy of a conversation in the hall, regardless of whether I am presenting a talk or a poster.
Curious about other people's perspectives on this, I ran the following Twitter poll:
Speaker ribbons on conference badges are:— Lenny Teytelman (@lteytelman) January 25, 2016
What struck me the most were the specific comments like:
@lteytelman Numerous women have pointed out to me that without such ribbons they are mistaken for grad students, servers, etc.— Bill Hooker (@sennoma) January 25, 2016
There are also "first-time attendee" ribbons, and William Gunn pointed out that they are intended to encourage folks to chat with the newcomers.
I still wonder if ribbons might serve to segregate professors from the trainees. I have often noticed clusters of attendees, all with the speaker ribbons, talking to each other. In fact, at conferences with a heavy skew towards male speakers, these ribbon groups are mostly senior men. I suppose the clustering is natural and most likely not the consequence of the ribbons per se. So, I guess, the takeaway is that the ribbons are fine, as long as they are used to facilitate mixing and broader communication at conferences. And whether you are a speaker or not, with or without a ribbon, please make an effort not to simply chat with the colleagues you already know.
[Update January 27, 2016]
The following badges give an additional good argument in favor of ribbons.