Your Job Title Is Not Your Worth: When Will Experience Count?

GenderAvenger is committed to making sure every voice counts. That means it seeks to identify and encourage change from public event organizers across the country towards inclusivity of women’s voices. The effort includes a combination of public and private education. In the end, it is all about education and actionable change.

When you think of a great speaker, what comes to mind? It’s likely someone who is compelling with an interesting story to tell, someone that sparks ideas and conversation.

photo credit:  Nicola Fioravanti , via  Unsplash  (cropped)

photo credit: Nicola Fioravanti, via Unsplash (cropped)

These speaker qualities are all considered during event organizer brainstorming sessions, but, when it comes to conferences aimed at corporate professionals, there are two additional criteria that are often utilized:

  1. Do they have an executive title?
  2. Have they published a book?

Reexamining these two questions, although they sound benign, is an important part of solving gender inequality on stages, and here is why:

We have all seen the studies showing women are outnumbered by men named John (or David or Steve) in the C-suite,because women simply do not progress as quickly as men in the workplace. As Dr. Emerald Archer from the Center for the Advancement of Women at Mount Saint Mary’s University describes it, “where men might climb in a direct fashion, women confront more of a labyrinth.” It actually takes women 30% longer to reach a CEO role,giving them substantial experience but without the titles to show for it.

When it comes to authoring books, writing a book requires a lot of energy and time, which is something most execs have in limited supply, and the “demand” for authors who are also women lags behind. 800-CEO-READ Business Bestsellers for March 2018 features 4 books by women out of 21 titles.

The problem is not a “woman with experience” desert (a common excuse). In fact, there plenty of women with years of experience in most fields of work. The problem is the arbitrary criteria of titles and books published, which are too narrow and do not reflect the reality of the world we live and work in.

The criteria needs to be reset. Here are 5 tools to help event organizers get beyond the gender barrier.

1. Ask better questions.

This is a biggie. How you ask any question will greatly impact the answer you receive.

Unfortunately, according to research, when you post the question “Do you know an executive or expert in x who can speak at our upcoming event?”, you are likely to get a (unconsciously) biased answer. People are so used to making referrals based off of what they think other people’s expectations are and what they themselves, are familiar with, which currently looks like mostly white men on main stages.

It’s important to tell people your expectations when you ask for referrals and to be explicit. Chances are you will get much more interesting referrals when you pose a question like: “We are looking for a woman of color with 10+ years of experience in x, can you refer someone?” If you are reaching out to your community, a particular company, or speaker bureau, ask that they recommend women and people of color to help them think more broadly, too.

2. Look beyond the C-suite for talent.

If women do not ascend the corporate ladder as quickly as men, there simply won’t be as many women at the top. Period. As of June, 2017, a total of 32 women hold a CEO title at fortune 500 companies — that means only 6.4% of these companies have women at the helm — and that’s the highest number in history. Just looking at the C-suite isn’t enough to create diversity on stages.

An alternate criteria is to identify “what” you want the audience to experience, versus “whom.” Alicia Wallace, Senior Advisor of Integration and Planning for Disrupt Aging, an initiative from AARP (a client), says it’s not always best to present a CEO. With her team, who have partnered on events from Afrotech to 4A’s, they start by looking through the lens of the audience:

I always want the audience to be able to relate to what we do, to start with what they need, and then try to knock that out of the park by finding people that will be candid and raw. Higher-level individuals may need to be more scripted based on where they are in their career and company - so looking outside of the higher-levels, to someone experienced, but with a different title, can bring that.

3. Consider other attributions of authorship.

Just because someone isn’t a book author, it doesn’t mean they haven’t put valuable things out into the world like products, services, and big ideas. This is what Archer refers to as “attributing authorship” in the broader sense. Instead of looking for the book, look for what they have created or led.

Shouldn’t that body of work be counted?

4. Listen to the advocates in the room, and make sure the room is diverse too.

Have you heard that saying” most of the decisions about your career are made in rooms you are not in”? Well, that’s often the case. Researching prospects can be fatiguing. This is often because organizations toss a lot of great prospects to the side because of their limited criteria. That means in every room we all need to be responsible advocates and shed light on women with potential. Wallace mentioned the benefit of working with a diverse team. “As a team of all women, who also happen to be women of color, we always look through the lens of how can we make our content inclusive and represent diverse perspectives,” which enhances how they collaborate with partners on the process of speaker selection.

Diversity in the curation and decision making process matters. During brainstorming meetings, I have seen dozens of qualified women passed over for a speaker slot simply because they weren’t a published author. Don’t let them slip through the cracks!

5. Give your team enough time.

There is nothing worse than being crunched for time when curating an event. Give yourself and your team a sold timeframe (at least four months to form your strategy and start outreach). Time allows you to be more creative and do deeper diligence. In your request letters, offer up to a two-week window for prospects to respond. That way you encourage a clear answer right away and aren’t stuck waiting or wondering if they will say “yes.” If it’s been 3-5 days and you haven’t heard anything back, do the follow-up and send a reminder email. This, combined with the suggestions above, will help your team to be more strategic in the search.

Curating for diversity with gender bias in mind will ensure that women of all ages, races, and backgrounds are seen and heard equally on stages.

Brady Hahn

Brady Hahn, Consultant & Founder at Insight Collective, has designed 200 activations for clients as a strategist and curator, reaching over 100k professionals at conferences and events around the world. Her work with the Insight Collective includes The Speaker List, connecting professional women to speaking opportunities and event organizers to a diverse cross-section of women experts from across the country. Follow her on Twitter @bradyhahn.