Isn’t it strange how so many business conferences and professional development seminars – which claim to be forward thinking, visionary, and innovative – are surprisingly BACKWARDS when it comes to the gender diversity of the speakers on stage? Far too many conferences and seminars – which claim to be advancing powerful ideas to benefit all of humanity – only have men speaking on stage. How can we claim to be generating and sharing valid expertise when our “expert panels” and speaker lineups consist solely of men? This is a massive problem in the world of professional speaking, and it’s one that I, as a man who organises conferences and seminars, actively want to help solve.
I have been honoured to share the stage with many talented women who are professional speakers, authors, consultants, coaches and other respected experts. But over the years, I’ve observed a few trends and recurring challenges that seem to be holding women back from getting opportunities as professional speakers. It’s true that there are strong obstacles and gender stereotypes against female speakers at many male-organised seminars, and there are systemic issues of gender inequality that play a crucial role in reducing and denying opportunities for women who are professional speakers. However, there are also a few specific reasons why some men do not hire women to be speakers at their seminars and conferences.
Even while we all work to correct and overcome the systemic biases and stereotypes, there are a few things that women can do to find and create more opportunities for themselves to be speakers.
Here are a few reasons why men don’t hire women to be professional speakers – and how women can overcome these obstacles:
The Inbuilt Strength of a Woman: A public speaker should be able to sell from the stage, maintain a commanding stage presence, hold the attention of the room, and otherwise do whatever needed to maximise their platform. Many men do not rate women as being equally able to do these things because our society often does not respect women as being “authority figures” or having a “strong voice” in the same way that we perceive men to have. Of course, this is a sexist stereotype, and it’s totally unfair! But women who want to be professional speakers should keep in mind that to get booked, look for ways to showcase your true strength – even if it’s not the same style or voice that a male speaker would have.
Emotional Nature of Women: Another gender stereotype that too many men subscribe to in the world of professional speaking is that “women tend to be more emotional than men.” Many men who book speakers for seminars often feel that women cannot sell aggressively as well as men, or that men tend to have a more effective stage presence and style of selling without any bias or sentiment. Many women might feel intimidated to speak assertively or aggressively on stage, in part because of these gender stereotypes that we’ve all been raised with; many women are trained since childhood to “get along” and be compliant and be sensitive to other people’s feelings while often suppressing their own. Again, this is not fair or right, but it’s the reality of what we’ve all been living with. Women who want to speak onstage need to find ways to emphasise their unique emotional courage and speak their truths, unabashedly.
The “Lack(?)” of Good Female Speakers: Women are half the population, but only a small percentage of keynote speakers and expert panel presenters. Many men who organise conferences and seminars believe that there is a shortage of talented female speakers on the circuit. Especially depending on the industry and geographic location, many men who organise professional speaking events believe that there are not many women who are recognised as leaders in their field and who are willing to raise their voice on stage. How to overcome this obstacle? Women speakers – if you’re not already doing this – should get more aggressive about reaching out to event organisers. Is there an event in your industry or city that you would love to speak at? Introduce yourself. Interact with the event planners on social media. Make yourself known to the organisers or to the organisers’ assistants who help to book the speaker lineup. And for men who organise events – and I’m trying to do a better job of this myself – we need to get more proactive about expanding our network of professional contacts and looking beyond the “usual suspects” (who tend to be mostly men) in our industry. There are lots of talented women sharing expertise online and on social media, and there are lots of undiscovered talents who might just need a chance to have their first professional speaking opportunity at your conference or seminar. And another tip for women who want to get into professional speaking – if you keep being unfairly overlooked by the men, why not organise an event of your own? Get some talented friends together and create your own opportunity. Book a venue, build a crowd, and produce your own event – and then you can use this experience as the foundation to get selected for additional speaking opportunities in the future.
Lack of Identity: Many women have not been able to create an effective identity for themselves as professional speakers. A lot of women give themselves a hard time because they are trying to speak “more like a man.” Women tend to believe that being a good speaker involves being a more conventionally “male” style of speaker or adapting their mannerisms and voice to be less “feminine.” But don’t fall for the current advice to “lower your voice to sound more authoritative.” Discovery of self-identity is a major issue that needs to be addressed. If you respect and cultivate your own unique voice, and create your own “brand” as a speaker, you will get more opportunities and earn a wider audience than if you try to sound like someone you’re not.
The Worthiness of a Woman’s Work: Many women do not know their self worth as professional speakers and that is why they are often underpaid in comparison with their male counterparts. Women tend to be underpaid in the overall workforce as well, and this is a massive systemic issue. But women who want to work as professional speakers have an opportunity to create their own lucrative career – just don’t sell yourself short! Don’t ask for too little money, don’t set your speaking rates too low, and don’t neglect a chance to negotiate for more money or better overall compensation. For example, even if an event cannot give you a higher speaking fee, ask about other compensation such as paid travel, accommodation, perks, per diem payments, and more. Don’t undervalue yourself or your work; every hour on stage requires many more hours of preparation and a lifetime of expertise.
Lack of Courage: Many men in the world of professional speaking (wrongly) believe that many women just don’t have the courage to speak on stage. If you look at a platform like TED or many major industry conferences, the speaker lineup is mostly men, and this sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where events are mostly run by men who mostly book other men to speak. There are strong systemic factors and societal biases at work here, of course: our society often tends to value men’s voices more than women’s. But if you’re a woman who wants to work as a professional speaker, it’s high time to show your strength and courage and start seizing opportunities to do so. Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.” That’s exactly what women need to do – despite the obstacles and systemic biases and stereotypes that have kept too many women off the stage, I think you’ll find that the audience is quite receptive to hearing your voice and enjoying your expertise.
We need more talented women to serve as professional speakers. I’m trying to do my part to create more opportunities and share the spotlight with women who are experts in their field; will you join me? I am hosting the launch of my Women in Business Conference in London on September 24th, 2017, and the 2nd event of this series will be on November 26, with more future dates to be announced in 2018 in London, USA, Canada and Australia. I’m excited to create some new opportunities for talented women to speak on stage, and I want to hear from you! I will be providing speaking opportunities for several women to expand their businesses and grow their audiences on social media and in other areas of marketing and business development at this conference and others in the future. I have also signed the Speaker Diversity Pledge, where I have pledged not to appear on any speaker panel that consists solely of men. I want to expand these Women in Business Conference events to create opportunities for women entrepreneurs and professional speakers in the UK and eventually to international markets like the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Dubai. There are so many talented women who are ready to capitalise on opportunities as entrepreneurs and professional speakers – I want to help support them in making it happen!
Contact me today to learn how to book free tickets (worth £97 each) to the Women in Business Conference, where you can learn from a great lineup of expert speakers on topics such as social media, public speaking, webinars, marketing, branding, investing, book publishing and writing, women’s networking groups, Facebook Live, and much more!
SPECIAL OFFER: Are you a woman who runs your own business, or who would like to start your own business and get recognised as an expert speaker? I provide consulting services to create women business experts! I can help you in every aspect of your business, from marketing to strategy to networking to webinars and book publishing, and I can also help you find opportunities for professional speaking. Contact me today for a consultation and a no obligation free gift video course (worth £197) with advice on How to Maximise and Boost Profits In Your Business. Contact me at www.DesOConnors.com or call 01652 641 351.