Finding Women Speakers
Our latest Aleph.bet workshop had 50% women speakers. How this almost didn’t happen and how it can be easier next time
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (out of four confirmed to the court) once said that “If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers”. Working at Aleph I get to see many invitations to events, whether they be meetups, exclusive conferences, workshops etc. More often than not, the speakers at these events are men. There’s no question that in the past few years the topics of diversity/inclusion/gender-balance have been dominating the news cycle. The thing is, it feels as though there’s so much dialogue, but so much of it is left on the table and not translated into practical and meaningful actions. Saying “let’s get more women out there” is just not cutting it. But maybe this list of women speakers, initiated by Women of Startup Nation, will start building the lever which we now proudly hold. This blog post tells the story of our modest addition to this list.
A few weeks ago, when the time came to put together another Aleph.bet workshop (a flagship event of Aleph), I had a first hand experience of how convenient it is to disregard the ideals and values I heartily believe in, because let’s face it — at the end of the day, you just want to make sure you get the best outcome (in my case, the best speakers). Aleph.bet is a growth workshop where executives of accomplished companies share their experiences with a selected group of entrepreneurs from early stage companies. We’ve held more then 12 since Aleph was founded. Sadly, many of them were comprised of 100% male speakers.
Not to be a hypocrite, I can completely understand how and why this was the reality. A few months ago, when organizing Aleph.bet SaaS, only at the event itself did Avigail and I realized that the amazing lineup we had carefully crafted doesn’t include a single woman. Once again, when I started outlining this Aleph.bet on Startup-Enterprise collaborations, the first speakers who came to mind were all C-level, mostly CEOs, all men.
However, after recognizing this, all it took to get a gender-balanced agenda was the following:
1. Deciding it will happen
That part was fairly simple to do. Moving on to #2.
2. Identifying Guidelines
- One compromise I was not willing to make was the on the level of expertise and the quality of the content. Getting access to practical ‘know-how’ and hands on experience is the core essence of this event and would not be jeopardized.
- The factor I could compromise on, to a degree, was speaking experience. I was not willing to let this platform be the speaker’s first time on stage, but I was willing to have a speaker who had previously presented only 2–5 times vs. dozens of times (as most of our past speakers usually have). The reason I did insist on some public speaking experience is that you need to have spoken publicly, at least once, to know how it feels and what should be improved for next times.
- I was most willing to be flexible on the level of seniority. As long as the presenter was a real expert in the discussion topic, there was no need for the C or VP letters in the title.
- “The Overlooked COO”. While the COO is sometimes mistaken as an ‘operations only’ position, in some companies it is the job leading a large chunk of the business. Women COOs are easier to find than women CEOs. The most famous example is, of course, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Local examples include Naama Ofek Arad, COO of Riskified and Keren Levy, COO of Payoneer.
3. Money time — finding the right speaker
Be it man or woman, how do we find a speaker for a topical event?
- The first step for me was deciding on general subtopics. In this particular event, we wanted to cover sales, partnerships, and enterprise point of view. The last subtopic was flexible — either customer success and upsell or enterprise-facing product. The final topic is defined with the speaker.
- Then, we make a list of the best born-in-Israel companies relevant to the topic (in this case, growth stage enterprise-facing companies). We believe outstanding companies are founded and led by A players, and that A players bring more A players to the team. We are not willing to compromise on the speaker being from anything other than an outstanding company.
- Next, we mapped women holding executive positions in such companies.
- Then we needed to reference them. At Aleph, we have a reference tool, developed by our Ampliphy team mainly for due-diligence purposes. It turned out to be super useful for this purpose as well.
- Generally, the methodology is finding people you trust who worked with the person you are referencing. We reached out to them, bluntly saying “Hi, we are looking for a woman speaker for this event and wondered whether X could be a good fit. Wdyt?”. These reach outs often yield even more recommendations for potential speakers.
- Another useful resource was the above-mentioned list of women speakers initiated by Barr Yaron, founder of Women of Startup Nation, who was a summer associate at Aleph and is now an MBA candidate at Stanford. We found one of the speakers, Julie Deutsch from WalkMe, using Barr’s list, and referenced her as described above.
4. Tackling frustration points — when not to give up
- While all men we reached out to speak immediately agreed, the women were generally more hesitant. If they didn’t feel they could deliver this 110%, some preferred not to participate at all. This aligns with research findings of women not applying for positions if they only partially meet the requirements, vs. men who do. I found myself convincing women they should take part at the event even if they had only a short while to prepare / little public speaking experience / they had other commitments and didn’t think it was the best use of their time. It was easy for me to give them this extra push because after the reference collection I was already convinced that the chances were good that they would be excellent speakers.
- But mostly, this was a long process because it was the first time that we were doing it. The more we repeat it, the easier it will become. This is where you come in.
While this process can’t be copy-pasted, hopefully it can help you to create a similar process of your own. This process was frustrating and extremely time-consuming as it forced us to step out of our immediate network and frankly, our comfort zone. However this was also how we “discovered” women executives who could be potential speakers for future ecosystem events. They are now in this tab of Women of Startup Nation’s great list. These are *not* necessarily women who want to speak at events. These are executives who could be potential speakers based on their experience and expertise, and were recommended to us by people we trust. To make it easier and faster for all of us to find female speakers for future events — join us by adding others who you think would fit the bill.
Thanks to all the wonderful speakers who generously shared their knowledge and expertise at Aleph.Bet B2E — Guy Bloch of Bringg, Amir Haramaty of Sparkbeyond, Noam Inbar of Oracle, Julie Deutsch of WalkMe and Naama Ofek-Arad of Reskified.
*Special thanks to Merav Shoham for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and for the caring touch.