Our ambitions for DPW2021, our annual conference, are set high for greater diversity and inclusion, providing us with an opportunity to reset our goals for this year's event. DPW is committed to leveling the playing field for women and achieving a 50/50 gender ratio across the speaker panel to showcase an equal share of men’s and women’s voices at DPW2021.
But getting women to speak at events isn’t always as simple as it may seem. As someone who puts on a large event, my personal experience is that women decline invitations to speak at a much higher rate than men. At least half the number of women decline the invitation to speak for varying reasons. I once had a female CPO decline because there weren’t more women on the agenda. Either way, I am constantly surprised at how many qualified and totally capable women need persuasion to speak on stage.
Why women say no to public speaking
I wanted to dig more into my personal experience with inviting speakers to talk. Why is it that when asked, most men say yes, but many women say no? Much of it can be chalked up to the fact that a person’s confidence and success is directly connected to the support they receive from others around them. It’s a vicious circle – many women may not put themselves forward because they don’t feel confident speaking on stage while having to deal with the response of the likely male-dominated audience or speaker line-up. So event organisers have trouble identifying potential women speakers.
It also appears that women may be poor self-promoters and don’t proactively promote themselves. Women may have a sensitivity to the appearance of self-promotion as being inappropriately “showy.” Men proactively and energetically go after speaking engagements to become known and become an “in demand” CPO. It seems like men have a better process and a purpose before they even raise their hands.
No amount of finger pointing nor theorizing will solve this dilemma. In my opinion, it’s a situation that requires five things.
5 things all of us can do to bring more women onto the stage at procurement events
1. Conference producers, work harder
Event organisers like myself must roll up their sleeves and work harder to engage women speakers. In a male-dominated industry, we need to do the extra work to actively find great women speakers. It’s not just about finding female experts by title alone. We must source women speakers outside traditional networks and look for differences in experiences and varying points of view. For example, if four female CPO speakers are already scheduled, it could be valuable to bring in someone working on the issue with a different approach, for example a female startup founder.
2. Women, just say yes
Women must summon the courage, make time on their schedules, and make their way to the front of the crowd. If we want women to make up a greater population of speakers and inspire change, then women must make themselves heard, known and distinctive. But speaking at events is not only extremely valuable to elevate the voice of professional women, but also to develop your personal brand. Look for every opportunity to speak.
3. Women speakers, pass the baton
If you frequently get asked to speak and you identify as female, pay it forward by recommending another woman speaker alongside you. If you have to decline, recommend another woman to speak in your place. Pass the baton to other women to widen the network of possibilities, now and in the future. Another way to broaden the playing field would be to negotiate a handful of complimentary conference tickets for women you nominate to attend to high profile conferences, like DPW.
4. Sponsors, co-present with a female customer speaker
If you’re in the position of being able to sponsor an event, you have a platform to create diversity. Use your sponsorship budget and power to create a diverse and inclusive environment by co-presenting with a female customer speaker.
5. Procurement, refuse to attend an event with a homogenous lineup
Vote with your dollars if you can. Where possible, amplify and attend conferences that prioritise speaker diversity. Besides, you wouldn’t want to waste time attending a conference that didn’t offer a wide variety of expertise, views, and experiences.
How DPW2021 will achieve the 50/50 gender ratio target 👇
We have adjusted our call for speakers making clear that we are seeking new perspectives and diverse points of view and reiterating that speaking experience is not a requirement nor an advantage.
- No single gender panels are allowed (note: an all-male panel with a female moderator is still considered a single gender panel).
- We have requested that sponsors put forward diverse speakers and make every effort to ensure their sessions are diverse.
- Sponsorship packages to DPW2022 will be awarded to sponsors that prioritized female speakers for our 2021 conference.
- We offer public speaking training for all the speakers in collaboration with public speaking coaches.
- We are expanding our call for papers to channels that are specifically designed to reach underrepresented groups, e.g. Women In Tech groups and networks on Twitter or LinkedIn.