10 ways to ensure a gender balanced conference programme

Why it is important to ensure a gender balanced conference programme

Who appears on our conference programme is important, and often as conference producers, we don’t really think about the wider impact of our conference programme. So I’ve come up with an easy to follow: 10 ways to ensure a gender balanced conference programme.

“Success is really a visability game” says Sarah Kunst, who set up a Female Investor List in order to help tech conferences select more female speakers. Not having a gender balanced programme is favouring men over women. Who we select to speak impacts the perception of the industry we are covering. For these are other reasons, who speaks for us is more important than we think!

Speakers at BDA Live

In a great article in Fortune, about tech conferences, it highlights the two common answers to why there aren’t more gender balanced programmes: 1. I asked women to speak and they said no and 2. I don’t know any relevant woman who could speak. So give me a break! It’s hard doing this is how I would summarise those responses.

So in order to help those who want to have more gender balanced programme, here’s my ten tips to ensuring a gender balance on your conference programme.

10 ways to ensure a gender balanced conference programme

  1. If you have a committee who select speakers ensure there is a woman on the team. Conference Research by American Society of Microbiology found that: “when at least one woman was in the group that invited panelists to appear, there were 72% more female speakers in those sessions and there was a 70% reduction in the likelihood of an all-male panel”
  2. Ensure the whole organisation knows that you are planning to achieve a more gender balanced conference programme. Make sure everyone is aware of your specific objective for this conference. From the events team all the way up through the organisation, make the objective clear.
  3. If you have a call for paper process highlight your objective. “This conference seeks a gender balance on the conference programme
  4. Start your speaker search early, this will avoid any default speakers (who will more than likely be men) appearing on your conference programme. It will take longer to find a gender balanced programme in most industries so allocate the time.
  5. Use Social Media to help you find speakers. This is one area where women and perfectly represented and any conference planner is as likely to come across as great a potential woman speaker as a man when using online resources to find speakers.
  6. Don’t ditch your traditional network. The process you normally use to source your speakers will still work when trying to build a more balanced programme, so don’t abandon that approach. Just tweak it slightly. So email your contacts and mention your desire for a “gender balanced programme” Ditto your speaker agency. Look at more competitor conference programmes than you normally do for ideas.
  7. Avoid “Woman in X Industry” Panels. You will find a fantastic female speaker for every slot you are after so avoid these types of panels; I have to say these very often border on the patronising.
  8. When inviting female speakers highlight your objective for gender balance. Every programme producer / designer knows that it can be hard to persuade busy and successful execs to speak, so point out what makes your event different.
  9. Seriously consider a female chair who will be present in every session. This will go a long way to making a balanced programme.
  10. Don’t just pack panels with woman – that’s the easy way out. Ensuring a gender balance isn’t just about having the same number of men as women: not every voice on the platform is equal. A gender balanced programme has a balance of main and keynote sessions too.

And if all this doesn’t help I suggest you have a look at this brilliant, slightly tongue-in-cheek, website set up for Tech Conference Organisers called “Learn To Search”

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