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Women in Events

Last updated January 10th, 2013

Heard the saying, “It’s a man’s world”? It seems many organisers of key stage events seem to think so. Despite the fact that majority of events management course graduates are women, there’s still a disparity in the number of women being optioned to speak at key events.
Take the recently cancelled BritRuby event for example – scheduled for March 15th and 16th this year, with a programme consisting of 500 developers and 20 speakers, the event was cancelled after its organisers admitted they’d “been battling with issues of race and gender equality” when optioning speakers. Of the intended line-up, all were white males – less “battle”, more landslide “defeat” – and BritRuby organisers decided to pull the plug on the conference, rather than address the imbalance of racial and gender demographics, arguing they were unable to find qualified speakers from outside the realm of the white male.  If nothing else, these events prove how essential it is to consider your audience when optioning speakers for any type of event, but as for the charge that were was a lack of qualified speakers who weren’t white or male, can this really be true?
Speaking about No Show games conference, organiser Courtney Stanton explained her own difficulty in finding female speakers in her guest-post for “When I’d talk to men about the conference and ask if they felt like they had an idea to submit for a talk, they’d always start brainstorming on the spot… And yet, overwhelmingly the women I talked to with the same pitch deferred with a, ‘Well, but I’m not an expert on anything’, or ‘I wouldn’t know what to submit’, or ‘Yes but I’m not a *lead* [title], so you should talk to my boss and see if he’d want to present.’
Stanton ended up actioning a female-strong line up for her conference, but sympathises with event organisers who complain they can’t find female speakers. To quote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her TED Talk, ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders’, “Women systematically underestimate their own abilities” in comparison to their male counterparts. And when faced with speaking at events, women lack is not ideas or opinions, but confidence and support.
Let’s be realistic for a moment: as the Millenial generation, we’re looking at spending the next 50 years of our lives working, meaning that issues relating to the glass ceiling are more pertinent than ever. Pay, or presence, it’s great then to see an increase in female-centric events, such as those organised by TheNextWoman magazine encouraging women entrepreneurs and organisers to band together, pool their resources and support each other in overcoming the sex-divide.
But the next stage of progress – the crucial stage – is upon us. We must now move beyond the safety of female-only environments, and integrate our stages with male speakers. In disciplines like event management, where the majority of event management diploma graduates are female, (meaning we already have a strong female presence), it seems the perfect arena to buck this representative trend. If we want to see a 50:50 split in female speakers, (or leadership, or even male to female pay scales) then as Sandberg says, “We’ve got to get women to sit at the table”.  For event management students and professionals, this means supporting female representation in the industry on stage, and not just behind the scenes.
Article by Betty Wood
Image © Toby Lewis Thomas for TEDxBrighton – an event with 50% female speakers

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