A small win.
Women are different
No surprise there. But if we all agree that women are different then we have to go about including women in a slightly different manner.
I was recently at a conference where I was a panelist in a session after lunch. I arrived in the morning to hear the other panels and make sure that what I said took into account what had been said in the morning sessions. But to my disappointment, the first two panel sessions were entirely older white men. I decided I had to say something.
I went to tell the 3 young women behind the registration desk that I wanted to complain and why. One of the women took me straight to the organizer of the panel. I explained the issue. His response was that he wanted to get more women to attend and to speak, but that women said “no” far more often than men. So he was equally frustrated.
I asked him how he approached asking women to speak and he said “I tell them I have a panel session and ask them if they are able to join.”
I thought about this for a second and a lightbulb went off for me. We’ve all heard about the research that compares women vs men applying for a job. A women will only apply if she ticks the majority of the boxes and a man will apply ticking far less boxes. Or the bonus time gender difference. Men often argue that they are worth more than they are being paid and women are grateful to get anything.
Of course I’m simplifying but the idea is clear and why wouldn’t it apply to speaking at conferences? One can imagine a women not thinking that she has anything valuable to say and a man being happy to give his perspective on the topic.
So I suggested that instead of saying “please join this panel” he tries something along the lines of “I would like you to speak on this panel because I know given your role that you have a lot to offer and your perspective will be interesting to the audience”
Honestly I don’t know if this will make the difference or not, but what I do know is that one of the young women behind the desk who I originally complained to, came and thanked me for saying something. And the organizer reached out and asked to be put in touch with other senior women that might be interested in speaking. From my perspective, these are small wins but I’ll take them.