Many of you know that I am from a small community in Oklahoma and have worked in a variety of male dominated professions, you know like home building, b2b publishing and digital technology. I have been very open in my book about how we oftentimes find ourselves perpetuating language and patterns that limit diversity and openness to change, both as men and women. Today let’s talk about who we listen to and who we ask to speak as experts on topics.
In my book, I talk about a situation that was a final straw for me when working at a company in New York, the lack of diversity on panels. “The panelists?” you ask. Yes the panelists, the keynotes, the people who sit at the front of the seminar or conference and share the wisdom of the industry.
Men outnumbered women 2 to 1 as event speakers over the last five years, a survey by event software company Bizzabo found. Of the 60,000 speakers the company analyzed at mostly private sector events in 23 countries, 69 percent were male.
Manels (all male panels) have reached their limit and audiences no longer tolerate all male, pale and stale. As you know, this is not intended to be an “anti-male speaker” story, but rather an encouragement for speaker diversity. In more than one case, I’ve asked an event scheduler why they considered me as a speaker and the response was, “we needed a woman!” …. They may be joking, but it ain’t funny.
Speakers have the immense privilege to use their words to influence change and belief. If there’s only a specific kind of person who gets this privilege, then we’re only hearing from one corner of the population. Inspiration isn’t one size fits all, so we need to mix it up.So where do we go from here?
I am copying a two part solution from one of the women I like seeing at the front of the room, Jess Ekstrom. Jess is a speaker, someone who empowers other women to speak and founder of Headbands of Hope, a social enterprise that impacts hundreds of thousands of kids with cancer around the world! Here is her advice for stopping the “manel-cycle.”
1- Conferences should try changing up who selects speakers.
Are women involved in the speaker selection process? Does the committee who selects speakers show diversity? Could the future attendees vote on who they want to see on stage?
The people who select the speakers matter. They’re basically the gatekeepers to this entire issue. So instead of continuing to let the same people select speakers, ask other people who they would want to see on that stage.
2- Women need to believe that they can be successful professional speakers…and then apply for speaking engagements.
The issue isn’t just the selection of speakers, it’s the diversity of the applications. I was recently at an event and a woman who selects speakers for a large business conference admitted, “It’s hard to select female speakers because they’re only a small portion of the applications we get to speak. Most applications are from men.” Women need to not just believe they can go up on stage and share their story and make an impact…they need to believe that they can be so good that they can get paid to do it
Like Jess, I want to inspire and empower you to be a keynote type of speaker. If you have questions about how to be recognized as a great speaker and/or how to get on the selection committee’s list for consideration reach out and I will see how I can help you.
And if you want to buy some Headband of Hope items, I carry them at Wystle. They are beautiful and she gives back in BIG ways.