As a member of the Professional Speaking Association, I love the interaction with fellow speakers that social media offers. Recently there was a great debate on our Facebook group about this article.

So what makes a good male speaker? A great motivational speaker must be confident, empathetic, an authoritative storyteller, be authentic and able to connect with an audience. And a good female speaker? The same! So why the disparity?

The feeling among the contributors to the thread was probably reflective of why women are underrepresented in many senior roles in society in general – some perpetuated by others i.e women don’t have the gravitas of men in front of big audiences and some entrenched views of women about themselves and that generally they have less confidence to put themselves forward in the first place.

As the Bizzabo article illustrates there are industry variations, and some, notably education, where gender parity is more closely matched. However most industries show a bias towards male speakers with tech industries faring the worst. The Consumer Electronics Show, CES, purportedly the world’s most important platform for technology product launches, had their annual show in Las Vegas in January 2018 – with a lineup of all male speakers. They blamed the “limited pool” of prominent women for the male speaker line-up.

It is strange that these events – promoting cutting edge thinking in the industries they represent are so behind in their thinking on gender representation. Maybe that is it though…They just aren’t thinking about it.

Conversely, not many people will want to see a system where the one female event speaker is there as a benign act of tokenism or box ticking. I wouldn’t want to be on stage solely because I was female.

There are many theories on why female speakers don’t get booked for events as frequently as men do and it seems that most are perception: lack of confidence, lack of credibility as a woman (who can forget the advice given to Margaret Thatcher to lower her voice to sound more like a man?). While no one would doubt the richness and variety of great female speakers out there, there seems to be a disparity between that and them getting onto the main stage at big events.

What steps can we take? Event managers: decide you will find more female speakers for your events! Be more creative in your methods of finding speakers for events. Here are some ways you can do that:

1. Ask specifically for introductions to female speakers
Make it clear to your network that you are looking for introductions to female speakers.
When you ask for help, people will help you. In turn, they get to help their friends out with more opportunities.

2. Scout for speakers and large conferences and events
Don’t simply go to conferences to learn something new, go to scout for speakers.
Deliberately go to sessions with speakers that you’ve never heard or seen before, and ask for recommendations from others.Go out of your way to uncover talent at conferences.

3. Be a little more open- minded about the brief
It is entirely possible that you might start out looking for someone to speak on one subject, and then find a female speaker who could talk about a related but more interesting one.

In fact employing a policy like this might generally introduce you to a wider range of speakers – male and female and from different backgrounds – to prevent returning to the same pool of talent as before – which is boring for your audiences anyway.

I understand the dislike of quotas but by determining to widen the search you could bring a refreshing perspective to your event – which will make sure you put on an excellent and engaging event.

The good news is that Generation Z are now coming into the workplace – a group of people who are well used to broadcasting on YouTube and Instagram 24 hours a day – they have a voice and want to be heard, so with renewed determination to showcase the work of female speakers on stage and a group of “newbies” chomping at the bit to be there, we could see an improvement in the dire statistics in the Bizzabo article.
And should anyone need any hints as to where to find female speakers you might like to read this.

Other articles of interest:
And interesting reading – How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking – Viv Groskop