How to get an awesome gender diverse speaking lineup for your conference…

Change your approach: avoid having to ‘backfill’ and cold email…

1. Leverage the connections you have and ask for help

2. A diverse speaking lineup starts with a diverse line up of panel moderators

3. Don’t just offer diversity tickets — offer those tickets to various orgs in exchange for assistance to secure diverse, high quality speakers

Make it the kind of event women will pay to attend

  • 100% avoid at all cost wasting a time slot with a generic ‘women in tech’ topic — it’s been done to death and many of the women I know loathe with a passion getting invited to do these. There’s nothing of value we can say on these panels. The more important thing to worry about is; do you include these amazingly talented women on the panels that would give them a chance to talk about technologies they’re really interested in and the stuff they’re experts in? Also, consider if you’re putting all the female speakers on these panels you miss out on their valuable contribution to other topics of interest.
  • I’m not just talking about gender diversity here, why do you need JUST technical experts on these panels? I often see panels full of highly technical engineers, and it can be really boring. Consider, for example, a panel about “User centred design in self-driving skateboards”, and the panel will be four skateboard engineers because the moderator is a skateboard engineer and he has roped in all his engineer friends to do it. Consider how much better it would be if he had one engineer, a cross discipline expert in product design and something else, a marketing expert, and a human factors expert. Plot twist: the skateboard engineer also happens to be a woman. How much better is that as a panel…?

Create a Code of Conduct for your panel moderators and events staff

  • If you have a highly qualified technical woman on your panel, don’t deliberately ask the technical questions of the non-technical men beside her. It would seem that this would go without saying, but I’ve seen this happen. I’m guessing this is more often than not due to a higher degree of familiarity between the moderator and the people he’s enlisted to be on the panel, rather than the women the organisers have asked him to include. At any rate, a good solution for this is to point out to moderators that this is a thing that sometimes occurs, and ask them to be mindful of it.
  • Further to the above, often when the men on the panel were invited by the panel moderator and they’d had the women on the panel ‘foisted’ on them because they didn’t think about diversity, and this comes across overtly. Sometimes, as above, they misdirect questions, other times they send them too much pre-reading assuming that they don’t know what they’re talking about. In general they can sometimes act ‘hard done by’. You can avoid this issue by thinking about all of the above hints and tips when securing panelists and moderators. However, as above, it’s also worth heading this behaviour off at the pass, by making your expectations of your moderators clear.
  • Avoid like the plague questions that ask for her opinion ‘as a woman’.
    Expect that all of the women on your panel are awesome, and don’t be surprised when they say something really interesting or insightful — that’s what they’re there for. Regardless of if they’ve never done a speaking engagement before or if they’ve got 20 years experience in the industry, they’re there because they’ve got something to say. Being surprised that they’re high value is rude.
  • Event organisers often, in their eagerness to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch, will make it unnecessarily time-consuming to be on a panel and will run into the trap of ‘over-briefing’ panel participants. This is an issue for all event participants, regardless of gender. If you have the right people on their panel, high-quality speakers will be generally able to talk at length about topics that they love. If you want super qualified important people on your panel, especially if they’re not people you’re personally acquainted with and are participating in your event because someone else has asked for you, don’t make them regret consenting to it by giving them reams of pre-reading and homework, as it comes across as condescending.
  • Further to the above, avoid eager beaver events management staffers requiring multiple confirmations and logistics clarifications from extremely busy people. Tell them where it is and they’ll figure it out. The more effort and input you require from these people prior to an event the less it becomes worth it for them to participate the likelihood of drop-outs increases exponentially.

Final Notes

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Digital Technology enthusiast and Hackathon Hacker. Based in Melbourne. Special Interest in native mobile development for Android and iOS.

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Bec Martin

Bec Martin

Digital Technology enthusiast and Hackathon Hacker. Based in Melbourne. Special Interest in native mobile development for Android and iOS.

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