It’s hard being a event organiser especially one faced with curating a line up of speakers for a conference or exhibition. Finding the right mix of topics and and levels of content can be hard.
The quality of curation of content is what makes the difference between an average and exceptional event.
It’s hard work.
Having said that, it’s the part of putting on conference and exhibitions that I enjoy the most.
One of the responsibilities I have as an event organiser is to make sure that the line-up I put together reflects our audience. Also that it represents society more broadly.
I organise digital marketing events, digital marketing has real equality issues. This is means the balance is particularly important to get right.
A salary survey we conducted of the audience of one of our event we found the average male salary was £39k and for women it was £28k. We didn’t look at any other dimensions where we might expect inequality, but I imagine the results would be similar.
This current inequality puts the pressure on people like myself who organises events. I want the events to challenge inequality not perpetuate that.
This is a complex issue, and often emotionally charged issue. For this article I want to talk about some of the approaches we’ve taken to try and get more female speakers at our events. As we feel this one area where we can do more.
Be acutely aware of your line-up.
I don’t think event organisers should be looking to fill quotas of speakers based upon certain criteria of the speakers. I want my speakers to be there based upon merit. But I do have to be aware many of the factors you may use to select speakers might discriminate against certain groups.
We tend to look to senior heads of department or agency founders to deliver talks at our event. These roles in particular seem to have more inequality than other roles. So we’ve started to take a different approach.
If your selection criteria leads you to a homogeneous group of speakers it’s not a good selection criteria to use. Consider broadening your scope.
Be active in your approach.
There is one common annecdote that seems common when discussing the gender of speakers at digital and tech events.
The decreased tendency for female speakers to put themselves forward to speak. I’ve seen this in my experience.
To combat this we have to be more proactive and approach female speakers to ask them to speak. This doesn’t need much more work, but can deliver results.
Know where your problems might lie.
As a male curator of events I tend to look to my social connections to speak at my events. If I look at the gender of the people I follow on Twitter the gender balance is far more skewed towards men than women than attend my events.
I don’t think this bias is a bad thing. In ‘real life’ I have more male than female friends for example. Yet what is important is I recognise this bias. If I look to my social network to find potential speakers and I tend to follow more men, then of-course I end up with more male speakers.
I have to remind myself to look outside my personal connections speakers.
Take responsibility for developing talent.
It’s easy for inequality in speakers to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I approach speakers who’ve spoken at other events. If they didn’t have a fair mixture of speakers I’m likely to end up with similar.
Before you know it you end up with a small cadre of speakers, often from similar back grounds.
So to break out of this you need to do more to develop talent. Don’t just pick blockbuster speakers. Set up elements of your programme that encourages beginners of all backgrounds. When you find someone with talent nurture them. Recommend them to other event organisers, invite them back to your events and throw a spotlight on their talent.
Kelvin Newman is the founder and managing director of Rough Agenda, a company with the lofty ambition of helping Digital Marketers do their job a little better, the main way we do this is through the free to attend specialist digital marketing events BrightonSEO, Content Marketing Show, MeasureFest and Biddable World.
Written by: Kelvin Newman