When you place as many speakers as we do, you spend a lot of time at events.  And after some of those events, you spend time buttonholing the event managers and talking about why they let so many #allmale panels take the stage. There are at least a bingo card full of excuses (tip o’ the hat to the geniuses at Jezebel) on why conferences don’t have equal representation onstage.
According to Gender Avenger, the Female Speaker Bingo card “first appeared in 2012 when Jezebel wrote about Jonathan Eisen‘s quantitative analysis of gender bias in quantitative biology meetings.” Since then, we’ve seen the card show up in dozens of presentations and blog posts. And each time it gets a reaction – a ripple of recognition.
One of our favorite excuses from the card is “Both women we called were booked that weekend.” (Italics our addition.) Maybe there was a reason they were busy. Presenting the new Female Speaker Bingo card – this time we’ve talked to the speakers and they’ve told us about the times they’ve had to say “no.” BINGO - saying noLast year, we published a piece on Why Women Turn Down Speaking Opportunities, focusing on the other obligations women have – these are some very real reasons that some women are more likely to say “no” to speaking invitations.

  • Women are more likely to work with smaller companies which have a harder time affording travel and time out of the office for key employees.
  • Women are more likely to work part-time, again making it harder to afford to be out of the office for an event.
  • Women are still more likely to be the person responsible for home and family. It’s hard to be the keynote for the local business breakfast if you have a school drop-off at 8:00 am.
  • Once a woman gets known for speaking, she often tends to get asked again and again, making scheduling difficult.

But the new card is different.  It provides a snapshot of some of the poorly made, ill-planned and sometimes, downright insulting, speaking invitations we’ve heard about.
Don’t be THAT event manager.  Here are four recommendations on how to achieve diversity onstage.

  1. Plan ahead – give us enough time to book the event, create the presentation and line up coverage both at home and the office. Understand that there are many things we might already have planned for that date and time.
  2. Don’t just reach out blindly for a female speaker, any female speaker. And don’t limit your thinking to just one “token” woman. Go for true gender balance.
  3. What you do at the rest of your conference speaks loudly. Is there a code of conduct? Do we have to worry about heckling or harassment?
  4. Don’t just invite us for the “Women of fill in the blank” – we want to talk about our work, not just what it’s like to be a woman in a particular industry.

#AskHerToSpeak but make it a real invitation.

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