Why I’m giving Conferenz a C+ effort to fix gender fail
Conferenz promotion image©, Conferenz
I can’t have been the only woman to lose interest in this week’s CEO Summit when the speaker revealed zero women. There are some great guys in the line up – including a personal fave and repeat-client Simon West – and I’d love to hear Jo Brosnahan speak, but she’ll just be chairing the blokes.
So with no women role models, despite all the well documented pros of gender balance in management and governance, I recycled the invite and posted a disgruntled tweet.
To Conferenz’s credit, they replied explaining they had hoped for gender balance and invited a dozen women, all of whom had declined.
Here’s why I score this a C+ effort
As established players, from a pure sales and marketing perspective, Conferenz should know a significant proportion of their target market is female. 41% of small and medium businesses in New Zealand are owned and operated by women. (This compares to the 5% of Top 100 NZX listed companies who have a female CEO.)
While not all women care about the gender balance of speakers, I have no doubt some quality women on the platform would have broadened the appeal of the event. (Let alone some variety in age or ethnicity – but that’s another article!) So by failing to recruit women to be part of their product, Conferenz are losing sales.
They are also damaging their brand. I get the impression that Conferenz recognise this risk but their response to it is purely tactical, not strategic.
Conferenz need to understand why the dozen women they approached declined. My guess is it will be a mix of practical and emotional factors.
- Perhaps the women approached were CEOs of smaller organisations, less able to take time out to prepare and present.
- Or juggling childcare and other family commitments more than their male counterparts.
- Perhaps some of the women declined because when events relentlessly promote the supremacy of male leadership, it can be hard for women to value their contribution.
- Or to feel confident about their public speaking skills.
There might be a host of other reasons, but these are issues I’m aware of from other fields of work.
So what could Conferenz do differently?
- Research if they haven’t. Understand the issues preventing women saying ‘yes’.
- Commit to a ‘no less than’ gender mix as a baseline for every event to ensure diversity. This might mean a conference of nurses would have to include some male speakers, as well as a conference of CEOs having to include some women. Set up reporting around this and plan to succeed by building the pipeline.
- Try harder. Tell women their voices are important and needed. Cast the net wider:
- Use social networks to ask for referrals.
- Ask women who decline to suggest someone else.
- Approach women’s affairs advocacy group such as Women on Boards or the 25 Percent Group or the Ministry of Womens Affairs to recommend speakers.
- Develop strategic initiatives to overcome the barriers identified in research and start to build a growing cohort of women to speak at future events. If it’s about confidence in speaking, sponsor training or offer workshops, for example. An organisation like Conferenz could build a significant brand advantage through genuine Corporate Social Responsibility initiative to champion women in C-Suite and governance roles.
As a major training provider, Conferenz has every opportunity to foster the increased success that follows increased diversity – success for businesses and for their own events. With an event this week where women’s voices won’t be heard, it feels worthwhile to speak out about it.
– Kath Dewar