I’ve attended my fair share of conferences in the past few years, and occasionally there are themed events or talks that are organised to feature an all-female panel.
Aside: Sadly, the all-female panel is often the only time we’ll see women on stage at many conferences. At times, even if you include those panels, the ratio of men to women speakers would still be 5:1, or 3:1 at best.
I’m all for representation, and I love it. Bring on the all-female panels please. But my main gripe with them is this: they always talk about the same things.
If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you’d know that most all-female panels are centered around:
- Sexual discrimination and gender equality
- Career advancement for women and the glass ceiling
- Balancing pregnancy, motherhood and entrepreneurship
- Sexual harassment
Before I go on, let me emphasise that these are real issues, and they should be discussed. But it’s also very disappointing when you gather inspiring female entrepreneurs who are leaders and hustlers in their own right, then confine their topics of discussion to just the same things over and over again—and all centered around gender.
Don’t get me wrong. I do want to hear the perspectives of women in business. But I don’t want to always hear it framed on the same slant.
Let’s put this another way. If I said I was gathering a panel, and it happened to be all men, what would you assume is the topic of discussion?
You wouldn’t know, because they wouldn’t be “limited” to just the same issues.
Just for an illustration, you can check out this Twitter account that just collects photos of all-male panels. The variety of industries and topics alone will tell you that there isn’t a pattern to what male panels are gathered for.
That’s not the case for women. The stories that all-female panels tell are almost always framed from the gender angle.
I’m sick of that.
Give me my female panels where women speak as experts in the industry, not as “women in the industry”.
Better yet, get an equal ratio of male to female speakers at conferences, and by extension, in their respective industries.
What Can We Do Better?
For conference organisers, look at your potential lineup of speakers. Like, really look at it.
How many men are there? What’s the ratio of males to females? Are there any women in the relevant fields that you could bring in for their perspectives instead? Have you really tried asking around and sourcing out a balanced roster of speakers? Or is it deeply skewed, like many conference lineups are?
For everyone else: make some noise about those speaker lineups that have a highly imbalanced ratio. Recommend some female industry leaders that you’d like to hear from. Let it be known that you want to hear from a diverse range of minds on relevant topics.
Maybe one day soon, I won’t look at a female panel listed in a conference timetable, and immediately be able to predict the topics they’re covering.
But for now, we’re stuck, as long as we only look to women exclusively for their gendered experiences, and not their other strengths in their own right.