Diane Carters, client services manager at Broadsword, joined our rising stars panel at the Power 50 female leaders launch event on International Women’s Day to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of future leaders. Here, she discusses why we need more female representation at events, and how she overcame her own fears around public speaking…
“Women challenge the status quo because we are never it” – Cindy Gallop.
This month as we celebrate International Women’s Day, alongside the positivity and encouragement we give to each other, we also look to challenge, analyse and track progress on the long road to gender equality in society and the workplace.
The gender pay gap is one stark reminder of how far we still have to go. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2020 the gender pay gap increased from 14.9% to 15.5%. This is widely attributed to the pandemic, which left women worse off in both their professional and personal lives.
Women are also still under-represented when it comes to speaking at events. This is a wider problem that is well known to conference organisers and is not limited to traditionally male dominated industries such as engineering. The concept of the ‘manel’ was coined to describe all male panels and is unfortunately still prevalent.
But what is the problem exactly and how hard can it be to have a gender balance on a professional panel?
There was a study published recently that suggested women were partly the problem, but also the solution. Analysis of data sourced from a conference held within the medical sector found that women participated less than men, asked fewer questions and were more reluctant to share their opinions. The organisers of the event saw participation improve with the simple addition of more women chairing panels.
The study’s lead author, Dr Victoria Salem was quoted as saying; “There’s inertia in the system … and a part of that is about role models. If we don’t have more women talking and acting as spokespeople and expert voices, then the next generation just doesn’t aspire to that.”
In an article published via New Digital Age magazine, a recent survey found that while men say YES to participating in events 85% of the time, women only say YES 55% of the time. As an online publication, they also receive significantly more pitches for thought leadership pieces from men.
This feels like a great call to action for female professionals in any industry to take the opportunity to speak at events and share their experiences in written or verbal form. There are so many resources now available to help women develop their skills in public speaking and presenting, whether virtually or in person.
So, what exactly is holding us back?
There are many reasons why women’s voices aren’t being heard. Much has been written about ‘imposter syndrome’, the feelings of fear that we might be caught out for overstating our achievements when the reality often couldn’t be further from the truth.
As an events professional, I know myself that I’ve tended to avoid public speaking at industry events for a multitude of reasons that I can summarise as time pressures, childcare commitments and yes, if I’m honest, the fear of being judged not competent enough.
A course I took last year, the excellent ‘Practice Makes Unperfect’ led by Amy Kean made a huge difference to my confidence levels. The course is designed specifically for women who want to develop their presentation skills for speaking, writing and presenting opportunities to help further their professional development.
Over the course of six weeks, our group of amazing women from the creative, digital and advertising industries participated in a live panel discussion, recorded a podcast, published an article and presented a two-minute lightning speech for a virtual audience on a topic of our choice. It was a transformative experience and one of the best courses I’ve ever attended.
Having gained the confidence to be ‘perfectly imperfect’ – (one of the key takeaways from the course is not to strive for perfection – but instead be our authentic selves) I recently took the opportunity to speak on a panel at the micebook Power 50 event and absolutely loved the experience – once the nerves had gone!
We need more female representation at events to inspire and empower the next generation of women. I challenge you to find your voice and be the change you want to see in your industry and inspire other women to do the same.