7 ways the speaking industry can promote gender balance

by Jul 16, 2017

 Should the speaking industry actively promote gender balance?

William Buist posted a discussion in his Facebook group asking how the speaking industry could promote gender balance. Buist suggested that as many of the group members speak in and to corporate audiences and have an opportunity to be speaking to and influencing, the companies that employ us to encourage them to make sensible changes.

He asked the following questions:
  • Do you treat, or speak, differently in businesses that are run exclusively by one gender?
  • Are the topics embedding gender differentials by subconsciously using language that is not, of itself, discriminatory, but which supports a culture that is non-diverse?

The group came back with a number of ways the speaking industry can improve because women can’t be what they can’t see and hear.

Read: Why women speakers on stage matters

7 ways the speaking industry can promote gender balance:


 1. Gender balanced and diverse key-note speakers

Many event managers say that they struggle to find women speakers. It is lazy event organisation to not look for them. Men and women alike should insist on gender balance. Event managers are frequently women and they need to get their acts together. They usually look for the low hanging fruit of the same old speakers (male) who are used over and over again.

Annabel Kaye suggests “a temporary and limited positive discrimination in circumstances where 2 equally qualified candidates present themselves. This should not be a permanent state of affairs but we need role models out there. The effect of never seeing a face you can identify with at the top should not be under-estimated.”

2. Men should refuse to participate in “manels.”

Men should refuse to participate in events where there is no gender balance on the state or women are relegated to workshop side roles.

3. Only sponsor gender balanced events

Organisations should only sponsor events with gender balanced key notes and withdraw if there is not. Money talks.

4. Schedule fairly

Some conferences do have token women on stage, but schedule them at off-peak times. Scheduling a female speaker at 15.30 on a Friday isn’t serious.

 5. Use diverse images and visuals

Most corporate culture is male coded.  Of course we behave differently in cultures that are gender coded and riddled with affinity and confirmation bias. It’s important to use a range of images show casing gender balance and diversity – not just white guys.

Judith Germain says: “I’ve been speaking at some women only events and have deliberately sourced women only pictures in the presentation. It was very hard to find strong women depicted.”

6. Use gender neutral metaphors

Language is gender coded and many male speakers use military or sporting metaphors to highlight key points. Simon Sinek famously says “officers eat last”. Dorothy Dalton pointed out “so do mothers.” It’s important to draw from other life experiences for examples which are not male coded.

7. Double up on diversity

Buist suggests: “Every time you (anyone) refers someone you know, ask yourself if you could have referred two people instead, with the same expertise. but who are different genders or ethnicities, and if you couldn’t, then make an effort to find a person who has that specialism and go and see them speak.”

7. Train women

All women should make sure they have presentations skills training. If the organisation won’t pay – they should invest in themselves.

Check out the 3Plus corporate solutions here.

Annabel Kaye proposes: “We need to make sure that women (where they are under-represented) and other groups (where they are) are properly trained, coached and mentored to feel confident they have the right skills and understanding for the top.”

Buist notes  “It’s important that the speaking industry is not part of the problem, but part of the solution.”


Find out what your organisation can do to support gender balance Contact 3Plus Now! 

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
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