Where are the women speakers?

Where are the women speakers? That was my first reaction on seeing the schedule of speakers at the seminar programme of an industry tradeshow.

business woman

In this specific industry, women make up 70% of the workforce and there are significant numbers of minorities in the industry, yet this wasn’t represented with the speakers’ line up. I was surprised, because I would have thought (well hoped) the organisers would have tried to reflect the industry in the line up, but obviously not.

Please don’t think this is a rant against male speakers: I was genuinely privileged to hear some of the discussions and presentations at the trade show. And some of the men contributing to a panel discussion I attended are heroes of mine. But I was disappointed that there wasn’t more imagination in selecting speakers to provide a more varied line up. Of course there can be any number of reasons for selecting a virtually all male white line up.

  • Laziness on the part of the organisers: it might be easier to ask people they know; people they are mates with, for an easy life.
  • There is a possibility that sponsorship from some organisations meant they had control over panels for discussions, but inevitably it was largely all male panels – and in some cases the same people appearing on consecutive panels…
  • The perception that ‘women speakers don’t attract interest’. For the record there is no valid data to support this myth, and sounds like a pathetic excuse.
  • The perception in the industry that there aren’t any high profile women to speak. In fact the industry has an annual top 100 ‘movers and shakers’ and there are a significant number of awesome women on the list. I would have LOVED to have heard at least one of them contribute to a panel discussion and/or presentation.
  • That women have a tendency to wait to be asked to speak, whereas men have a tendency to put themselves forward. This is true: and it is something that female speakers need to be aware of and step up and ASK.

As we say in this creative industry: do something different. As this is a trade show that is representing a specific industry, this could be the opportunity to do something different and start to engage women and ethnic minorities speakers, to truly reflect the amazing mixture and talent of the event industry. So I hope next year I won’t ask the question: “Where are the women speakers?”

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About the author

Susan Heaton Wright is a former opera singer who works with successful individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence. Using her experience in using the voice and performing on stage, she works with people to improve their performances in a range of business situations; from meeting skills and on the telephone, to public speaking, presentations and appearing on the media.

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