Where’s the (woman) expert? Practical suggestions for better media and better events

Why do we still see professional events, academic conferences, media interviews where only men speak as experts? (Pictured below: a panel at an innovation summit last year where all panelists were men and no one had been born after 1965).

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I spoke about this with Sandra Mori, Donatella Sciuto and Paola Caburlotto at a panel I had the opportunity to host at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Because we know the problem well, and we know its soul-crushing impact on what girls and young women believe they can achieve, I would like to focus here on our responsibility as conference organizers, journalists, speakers: because we each have a role to play.

The answer, we agreed, is two-pronged: don’t be lazy and try harder. I was recently asked to help find a woman speaker for a panel on cryptocurrencies at a digital economy conference taking place three weeks later, because throughout the many months it took to plan it no one had thought about asking for help making that panel diverse: within 6 hours I had three names of young women speakers (and one of them got on stage at the event).

Here are some suggestions on how to make our TV interviews, conferences and panels more gender-balanced.

As journalists, TV producers, editors:

  • Think twice. Of course you have a deadline, but… You’re doing a story on white collar crime, and your first instinct when picking up the phone is to call the corporate law professor you interviewed last year. Can you get a new perspective, maybe from a woman law professor this time?
  • Measure gender balance in your publications and programs. What gets measured gets fixed.
  • Get help. Sometimes you will have academic watchdogs and media studies programs measuring things for you: enlist them to help you. You need a vulcanology expert – can they put you in touch with one, preferably not a white man? You would like to interview a woman on cybersecurity – can they suggest one?

As conference organizers:

  • Use lists. You may not be aware of it, but people are volunteering their time and energy to built list of kick-ass women experts. Inspiring Fifty can put you in touch with dozens of inspiring women in digital technology across Europe (with South Africa coming soon). 100 Esperte is a database (in Italian) of women scientists who are leaders in disciplines ranging from astrophysics to nanotechnologies. Women for Media is an Australian database of women leaders in business, finance, government, academia and non profits. Khabirat, a list launched by the MedMedia program, allows you to find women experts in fields from geopolitics to sports in Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia and Morocco. And there will be more.
  • Get yourself an Advisory board. Marketer and curator Gianfranco Chicco, who has organized dozens of conferences with thousands of speakers, told me about a week-long event he led. One of his decisions was to have an Advisory board, three women and two men, with the explicit mandate of finding diverse speakers and young speakers.
  • Adopt these 10 rules proposed by molecular bioscientists Professor Jennifer L. Martin in PLOS: Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance.

As speakers:

  • Be informed and vocal. When contacted by organizers, always inquire about gender balance in the event. If you’re the only woman on stage, consider refusing to speak unless the conference is made more diverse.
  • If the conference is a for-profit event, ask to be paid. You should be paid for your time and effort in money, not in visibility, whenever an organization makes money from your presence. And make sure you’re not paid any less than men. It’s time to end the pay gap for speakers.
  • Enlist men to help. Many men are jetsetting around the world and in high demand as speakers: ask them to take the Panel Pledge. Development economist Owen Barder has a one-line version: “I will not be part of male-only panels.” The Australian group Male Champions of Change has a longer version, here for your reference:

When you are invited to speak at or participate in a professional forum:

Request confirmation of who the other panelists/speakers/ participants are, and how gender balance will be achieved;

Insist that as a condition of acceptance, you expect women to participate in a meaningful way;

Reserve the right to withdraw from the event, even at the last minute, should this not be the case when the speaker list is finalised;

Offer names of women from within your organisation or network and, if helpful, point them to resources for support in finding women.

If you are a woman and you’d like to act, a useful thing you can do is to speak to three men who are in your network over the next week and ask them to commit to this pledge. If you’re a man, commit to it yourself. We can change this, and we will.

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