How to Beat the Excuses, Updated: Responses to the Top 12 Excuses for a Lack of Women Speakers

“We analyzed event data from thousands of events over the past five years and discovered that events still have a long way to go when it comes to gender diversity.”

— Bizzabo, “Gender Diversity & Inclusion in Events Report” —

It has been three years since we first published a list of excuses we hear for having a lack of women represented at conferences, on lists, etc. and our guide to constructive reactions to them. Sadly, as awareness of the lack of gender diversity in the public dialog has increased, so have the excuses.

Certainly we have seen individual successes as GenderAvengers have highlighted events and organizations that are making gender balance a priority. Those who haven’t have often responded with shame and, most importantly, with commitments to improve. Indeed, some of these commitments have actually come to fruition.

Yet, there is still an awful lot to do – starting with accepting no excuses. Enter this updated list of excuses and our responses. We are persistent and hope you are, too.

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EXCUSE #1

“We know we have no women. We are always looking for ideas. Could you please send some names?”

“This from the organization that has the largest list on the planet of knowledgeable people on your issue?”

Cultural change has to happen within an organization, so it is important to place responsibility where it belongs.

EXCUSE #2

“I tried, but a lot of women were just too busy/unavailable.”

“Try harder. And next time figure out how to make your event more welcoming. Do you have a sexual harassment policy? Might you offer child care on site or list child care options?”

Keep asking. Ask every woman who says no to suggest someone else. Ask the men who say yes to suggest women.

EXCUSE #3

“I can’t believe I didn’t notice. How embarrassing.”

“We can’t believe it either.  Don’t be embarrassed, do better.”

It is hard to imagine that folks still say this but they do. It is okay to tell them that it is good they are embarrassed and then set expectations for the future. And ask for public acknowledgement of the value lost by their “not noticing”.

EXCUSE #4

“You know how good we usually are and how hard we try. Look at last year…”

“That was then; this is now.”

"We were once better" is not an excuse for current failure, especially since what is happening in real time is what matters to onlookers. And, of course, the reaction to “last year we were much better” begs the question “so why not this year?”

EXCUSE #5

“This is just the beginning. Stay tuned.”

“First impressions count. It is really hard to catch up once you have acceptances from a lot of men and few women.”

Initial announcements set the tone and attract or turn off attendees. When initial ads or conference speaker lists include few women, note what it will take to create gender balance by the time of the event, and suggest that, as the gender balance improves, new ads should be created and new speakers announced to show the improvement.

EXCUSE #6

“23% is good, because women make up less than 30% of the workforce” or “Studies show that 30% makes a big difference.”

“All the more reason to feature women to show they are welcome” or “Just think what 40 or 50% would do!”

It is important to aim high. Waiting for the numbers to catch up to industry failures results in all too incremental change. Do not settle for artificial constraints.

EXCUSE #7

“They weren’t on the publicity list but there were a lot of women present.”

“Present is not the same as presenting.”

Women featured onstage is a measure of how much an organization values women’s voices and understands that broadening the perspectives enriches the conversation.

EXCUSE #8

“Our President is a woman and she opened and closed the event.”

“Nice try.”

It is important to communicate the excuse to the woman being used to back it up so she can influence future events.

EXCUSE #9

“Look how many of our moderators are women.”

“Good, now put them on panels, too.”

Adding women moderators is a common response to criticism about the lack of women on actual panels. Moderators are important and can steer the discussion; however, they are not a substitute for the experts assigned panel seats. Power rests with the panel “experts”.

EXCUSE #10

The excuse given comes from a woman who was asked by a male organizer to respond.

“You’re kidding. His response is that you should have to make the excuse?”

This has happened. It is worth noting in your response to the woman. “Thank you for responding, although I do think so-and-so should take some responsibility…” and then go on with your follow up message to the excuse given.

EXCUSE #11

“There just weren’t any women who met our criteria.”

There is something wrong with your criteria.”

When criteria produce the “same old, same old” faces, it leaves out dynamic new and diverse leaders who undoubtedly would inspire (and, yes, might surprise) conference attendees.

EXCUSE #12

“Overall we have lots of special programming for women.”

Well, la-di-dah.”

Putting women on the sidelines or in silos does just that. It assigns their voices to smaller venues and compartmentalizes their issues. Is that how you want your commitment to ensuring women’s voices are heard to be measured?

We know there have to be more. Have you heard an excuse we haven’t listed here? We want to hear it!