Photo from Unsplash

While many of my speaking engagements are at women-only events where I talk about how to get more women on stage, this past week I have been spending much of my time speaking to groups of both men and women. It’s during these outings that I met and spoke with three men.

After I finished one presentation, the first man asked, “What can I do? What can I do if I am asked to speak on an all-male panel? Should I decline? Should I sign one of those oaths?”

The second man waited until I was finished and spoke with me privately. “I turned down an all-male panel. Two of them actually.”

The third man waited for me at the door. “It really doesn’t matter, you know. You can have great events with just white men on stage.” (To be fair not his exact words but I was so surprised that I’m sure I’m not capturing it exactly.) He also said I “dissed white guys.”

I did not diss white guys. I said, “Innovation Women is designed to fix the all-male, all-pale and all-stale panels you see so often at industry conferences and events.” (Remember – Bizzaboo says 70 percent of all conference speakers in the last 5 years are men.)

When I use this phrase, it KILLS in a crowd of women (and frequently in mixed audiences too). There’s an immediate shout of laughter as they recognize the reality of this. They have been to industry conferences and events and they have SEEN these panels. (Disclaimer: I live in a pretty pale and male household. I married one white guy and gave birth to two others. I love my white guys. Do I want to listen to them all the time, and only them? Nope.)

Do I want to kick all white guys off panels and out of conferences? Nope.

Do I want men to sign oaths, make promises and turn down their own opportunities? No. The men who do these things are generally the very ones I would be most pleased to share the stage with.

Do I want to hear different voices? Yes.

When I say all-male, all-pale and all-stale, let’s focus on the stale part. I want to hear new voices. I want to hear different stories, different thoughts, different perspectives. Maybe it’s my failing but I get bored hearing the same thing over and over and over again.

I also get bored when a panel goes like this:

Speaker 1 – “Blah, blah, blah.”
Speaker 2 – “Yeah, I agree.”
Speaker 3 – “Yeah, me too.”
Speaker 4 – “Ditto.”

Stale. Same perspective. (And to double-down on being clear – I am not saying “All white guys think alike.”)

Just give me a fighting chance of hearing something new. Of getting a perspective that is different.

Don’t be the third guy.