About the List
I believe connection and community are two of the most important things for human beings to thrive. One of the fundamental ways we develop connection and therefore build community, is through sharing our personal experiences - our stories. From connection and community, is where we gather and pollinate ideas to go out into the world to create and innovate. Conferences and curated gatherings are an essential tool for professionals to come together in this way to learn and grow from one another.
The one thing I hear over and over again from event creators is how "hard" it is to find women that want to speak - let alone a diverse cross-section of women. Women are half the planet, so that's hard to believe, right?
The funny thing is, I've found to fill 1 speaking spot on a panel, it requires asking at least 5 women. That means, to fill a panel of 4 women, it might require having a list of 20 women to ask. Meanwhile, for men, it's more like 1 to 1 ratio.
When I share that - I usually hear people say, "wow - that means we didn't ask ENOUGH women," but, they go on to tell me they can't even find "enough" women to ask to balance things out. How can that be? Mitt Romney even has "Binders full of women!"
I have a few ideas...
- Men say yes more often. Per above, saying "yes," means you get the spot. It's amazing how many women say they want to speak and then say "no" to a perfect opportunity. I will note: It also tends to be the case that women hit a stride in their career around that "prime" time to start families - so some of us do have less time "on the table." Also most speaking events are during a work day, which means being out of the office, or they are at night, which means staying out late on your own time - so you gave to weigh it.
- Women tend to prioritize "others" first. This is not exclusive to women by any means, but many of us find this to be true: women leaders are more likely to give the opportunity to someone else on their team. In many workplaces, there is a big chance that person to the left or right is male, or a woman who also passes (see above).
- Research is hard. On the planning side, it takes a lot of time to look for new speakers (that's why a lot of the same people appear on stage at so many different events). If planners find you, they base their invites off of your bio (which we know are notoriously under-utilized as a self promotion opportunity), or they use a personal referral... And that's if they find you!
On your side, you have to know organizers are even looking for speakers. More often than not, events don't come on the radar until they are open for attendee registration, and then it's typically too late to apply to speak.
Knowing this and wanting to help, I started this open listserv in summer/fall of 2016 to share things that come across my desk. It organically formed through friends and referrals. With the intention of keeping it small and curated - I talk with everyone that joins, because if you took the time to sign-up and share things about yourself, I'd like you to know me too. That way we can help each other. In the first year, over 60 "listers" joined panels, keynotes, and podcasts. That number has continued to boom since.
If you want to speak: Please start/keep saying, "Yes!" Your knowledge and stories are important and there is an audience for what you are trying to give to the world. Join other lists and Facebook groups for women speakers - we list a few in our Resource section.
If you are curating events: Ask for help and be persistent. There are so many people who want you to find talented experts from all different backgrounds to speak at your event. A great place to start, ask your past speakers to nominate someone. But it's up to you to keep looking and to not settle for anything less than equal representation.
If you want to support: So maybe all of this is great, but not in your wheelhouse. No problem. Be a champion of other people in your life by nominating them for things they might want, but need the help to get it and by sharing resources like this. Because that's what community and connection are all about.
Strategy Consultant & Founder of the Insight Collective