How to achieve a gender balanced conference

by Jun 26, 2018

7 tips to achieve a gender balanced conference

Trying to set up a gender balanced conference can be a challenging. It’s sometimes easier to do what we’ve always done which perpetuates stereotypes.

gender balanced conference

Trying to set up a gender balanced conference can be a challenge. I am talking about business topics that should be gender neutral.  Rarely a day goes by when I don’t see a picture on social media of a “manel.” That is an all male conference panel. This is especially galling when they are discussing gender balance or diversity!

Nothing like a non-diverse manel to promote diversity. Whatever the cause or reason, this sends out a gender-coded subliminal message that women have nothing worth contributing to these events. Women cannot be what they can’t see or hear.

What is even more surprising is that many of the organisers, and even participants are women and they don’t give this  a second thought. I have also observed that when the question of gender balance is raised the organisers, and especially if they are women, become defensive. They cite spurious reasons of few or no women in the sector and claim that the men are particularly inspirational.  There are also many inspirational women.

7 Tips to achieve a gender balanced conference


#1 Make gender balance a goal of the conference

Make this a stated objective and clear in every element of your  PR, marketing and internal mission statement and call for speakers.

#2 Include women on your speaker selection committee

Research from the American Society of Microbiology  indicates that with a minimum of one female committee member  the number of female speakers rose to see “72% more female speakers in those sessions and there was a 70% reduction in the likelihood of an all-male panel”

#3 Start your speaker search early

Allocate the time to find a gender balanced speakers program. It does take time to track down women speakers which is why there is a tendency to fall back on the “old boys” network that produces the same “manels”  and set-up over and over again. Men are more used to and more comfortable with pushing themselves forward and tossing ideas around. Women tend to be more reticent and thoughtful. This doesn’t mean they are less interested, but may need some support with confidence boosting.

If women are nervous suggest they get presentation skills training beforehand if needed.

#4 Network creatively

Dive into your network, but with a different theme of gender balance and make sure that is conveyed in the invitations to attract speakers. If you haven’t found women speakers where you normally look…. try other places.

Women are very active on social media and have specialist speaker groups. Try Women who Speak on Facebook. This group has 3500+ members and even if they don’t have the specialist you need, they may be able to point you in the right direction.

#5 Monitor the message of the content

Ask your male speakers to be mindful of the gender coded messages of their content using male metaphors and imagery that female participants struggle to relate to. Make sure they drop sporting and military stories and metaphors and replace with language that everyone can relate to.

#6 Balance keynotes and breakout sessions

Many conference organisers in a way of getting around this situation, put women speakers in small break out sessions and leave the visible, keynote slots to the men. This is not gender balance. It’s allocating women to traditional support roles and giving men the visibility. Unconsciously gender bias is being perpetuated. Women need to be on stage. It’s important for us to have role models.

#7 Follow -up

Make sure women are well represented in all follow-up, whether documentation, quotes, testimonials, interviews, and videos.





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