As we enter 2020, gender diversity on stage at conferences and events is still an issue. Nearly two-thirds of all speakers globally are still men.
Why do we care, aside from the inherent fairness of it all and the fact that events are better when they are diverse and inclusive? We care because women and other underrepresented groups need access to the stage to advance their careers and their businesses. When this happens, world economies grow, and we all benefit.
Being a speaker at a major conference can help you advance in your career. Speakers receive more job and board seat offers. They are seen as industry and thought leaders. They are able to share their stories and ideas. They receive more promotions and raises. External visibility can help create internal visibility.
Taking the stage allows you to speak to large numbers of potential partners and customers. And it’s not just the people in the room. Your name and your company name are marketed as the event is marketed. You are featured in thousands of emails, brochures, and social media and website mentions leading up to the event. You become better known in the community at large.
Equality on stage helps us combat unconscious bias by increasing exposure to currently underrepresented groups and countering any stereotypes. Make it normal to see women on stage at conferences and events, and it becomes harder to maintain some of those outdated stereotypes.
But event managers often push back against requests for gender equity on stage. They point to overall industry ratios. Yes, it may be harder to field a balanced panel if your industry segment is only 21% female, but there are strategies you can employ in your quest for diversity and inclusion onstage. Here are a few suggestions:
Create A Pipeline
Keynote speakers don’t just magically appear. People speak for years before they are capable of keynoting. Every conference should be able to offer younger, less experienced speakers the opportunity to practice and grow. Consider different formats (panels, fireside chats, roundtables or side stages) to help build speaker resumes and experiences.
Pay Your Speakers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are more likely to work for smaller companies and more likely to work part-time, making it harder to leave the office behind and speak without pay. Paying speakers can help balance the scales. According to our proprietary research, half of all event managers say they have zero budget for speakers. This keeps the onstage crowd older and more affluent, further limiting diversity.
Partner For Diversity
The reality is that we all spend a lot of time with people who look and think like we do. Look for other organizations to work with to drive diversity and inclusion. Reach out to different organizations in order to expand your reach. Invite them to work with you to deliver a more inclusive view of the world. Ask them to share your calls for speakers and invite their members to apply.
Some event managers say that they invite just as many women as men, but the women say no more often. Women are still more likely to be primary caregivers and responsible for the home, kids and extended family. This means they may need a little more support in order to be able to say yes. Longer lead times on speaker invitations benefit everyone, but women in particular. Ask earlier. You may also see more diverse results if you offer thoughtful amenities like mother’s rooms or day care.
Making the effort to improve the diversity of the speakers at your events not only elevates these speakers’ careers, improving the business landscape for us all, but also makes your event more interesting and valuable to attendees. Use these steps to be intentional about making your events more diverse.