More women on conference agendas makes good business sense.

I attended a conference last year aimed at the legal profession. Of the six speakers throughout the day guess how many women there were? The answer is none. I mentioned it to the conference organiser who agreed that they may need to think about that in the future. At the event an attendee mentioned to me that she’d noticed there were no women speaking. Well if you mention it too I said, maybe they’ll realise they need to change it next time. “Oh no, I wouldn’t want to be seen as a bra burning feminist” was the reply. Apparently even suggesting it would be nice to see a few women on a conference line up would be seen as a controversial move.

Unfortunately, this imbalance is not just limited to conferences and seminars, it’s a reflection of the professional world as a whole. Organisations need to do more to position women as thought leaders with opinions and experiences that matter and not just to female audiences.

Gender equality isn’t about being PC, it makes good business sense. For organisations to thrive they need to attract people from the widest pool of talent possible and connect with their target market, which I imagine includes women.

So, how can organisations begin to tackle this? I see a lot of posts advising women on what they need to do to progress to senior roles. Instead of asking what women need to do to rise to the top why aren’t organisations asking what they need to change that is preventing women reaching their full potential?

It starts with asking why. Why when we organised a conference did we pick only male speakers? Why didn’t any of our female staff put themselves forward for a particular role? Why don’t we have any women on our board? The chances are a lot of the answers are things that can be changed. Maybe it’s time to look a bit harder, ask a few more more woman (or even one woman) to get involved, be more flexible with working hours, hold some events that aren’t based on sports or real ale trails. How about starting by inviting us to speak at events that aren’t just aimed at women?



Kathleen O'Connor

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