Gender diversity continues to be top of mind for all industries. While recent initiatives geared toward empowering women in the workforce, such as International Women’s Day, Glassdoor’s Pay Equity Pledge and certifications granted by the National Women Business Owners Corporation have positively increased discussion on gender parity, industries are still struggling to tackle gender imbalances within the workforce.

What’s worse, in addition to the lack of representation of women in leadership positions, the era of “manels” – male-dominated panels at industry conferences – has continued to persist across verticals. In fact, in 2018, men represented 68% of speakers at conferences and other industry events – only a slight improvement from 70% in 2016. So with minor year-over-year improvements, the industry must take action to ensure that the voices of leaders across the industry are equally represented at conferences.

Leaders must join forces

When it comes to the digital marketing industry specifically, female leaders have the opportunity to be catalysts for change for women in the workforce. While the under-representation of women at conferences often reflects larger gender imbalances within fields, this is not the case within the marketing industry. As the ratio of female to male executives is more equal than other sectors, the lack of available diverse speaking talent is not the underlying issue.

The marketing industry is well equipped to break through the status quo and empower our workforce to advocate for the power of diverse perspectives at industry events to initiate change across all industries. But this can’t just rely on one woman; leaders across the industry must join forces to tackle this issue together.

Here are three ways female powerhouses, trailblazers and conference organisers alike can join together and make 2019 the year that female executives are finally encouraged to share their thought leadership on the mainstage.

1. Revamping speaker recruitment and marketing materials

Increasing gender diversity at industry conferences could begin before conference planning even starts. According to a Pluralsight and Women Who Code study, the lack of female role models is one of the largest hurdles women face in career advancement. As I’m sure you can imagine, without the representation of female role models in speaking line-ups and marketing material, this impediment has trickled down into the conference sector.

While I’m pleased to share that the demographics of speakers at performance marketing events can often be more balanced than the “typical” industry conference, it’s important for conference organisers across the board to prioritise diversity and inclusion efforts in order to encourage all women to share their voices. This can begin with setting a 50:50 gender diversity speaker requirement in order to be more strategic about securing speakers and moderators for panels.

While conferences often approach female speakers after securing an initial round of speakers, women speakers can no longer be considered an afterthought. As this initial round of outreach typically results in male-dominated panels, the resulting marketing material representing the conference is also male-dominated.

Without female role models included in these materials, women have often turned away becoming involved. By setting the standard for balanced speaker panels during conference planning, organisers can build female friendly conferences where women feel encouraged to share their voices among their peers.

2. Building inclusive and exclusive places to discuss gender diversity

Bringing women together to discuss their experiences in the industry in both inclusive and exclusive environments can be a key way to help women feel supported during conferences. Conferences could incorporate breakout sessions exclusively for women into their agendas in order to provide a safe place for women to network and share their experiences with others. This can help women learn from each other’s successes and feel supported to share their own experiences with a larger audience.

In addition to creating exclusive places for women, providing inclusion events for both genders is equally as important to balance the playing field. By planning panels focused on diversity in the workforce (beyond just gender diversity), conferences can serve as an educational environment to help men understand women’s position in the workforce and how they can best support our needs.

3. Implementing company- and conference-wide mentoring programs

Mentoring relationships can be critical to encouraging success among women in the workforce. In order to encourage diversity in public speaking, both companies and conferences can develop programs geared toward helping women help other women become more involved.

According to a report by Ensono, a lack of preparation often deters women from speaking at events. By developing mentoring programs within businesses geared toward helping women prepare to speak at meetings and events, companies can encourage their employees to share their thought leadership (and represent the company) on stage.

This not only helps companies create an army of empowered female speakers within businesses but can also serve as a powerful way to show female employees that their company is committed to supporting their needs – a critical support system companies need to encourage women to raise their voices and rise to the top.

Conferences could also consider how they can develop mentoring programs to help previous speakers help future presenters prepare for events. As many of us know, we can often count on industry conferences to occur on a yearly basis. After each conference, imagine if the female speakers involved became mentors for women participating in the conference the following year.

This mentorship program can not only encourage future speakers to join the agenda but also help the organisers build a conference that’s attractive to women. By building this network of female allies, female trailblazers can mentor both their peers and conference organisers, and ultimately, set the agenda for an inclusive and diverse future conference agenda.

This is our time to celebrate

So, fellow female executives, this is our time to celebrate and share our leadership with others. It’s time to show the industry that we are working and living with a purpose and that diverse perspectives are essential to the success of any industry. As we work together to make 2019 the year where female thought leadership is finally represented during industry events, I look forward to joining you on-stage and celebrating this industry accolade with you.      

Did you know that PI LIVE is aiming to be more diverse this year following feedback from exhibitors and attendees last year? Find out more here. Submit your speaker submission by May 1 for your chance to share your insight on stage.