Back in June, Sara Holoubek, the rather awesome CEO of Luminary Labs, put words to the frustration so many women feel about the enduring problem of conferences that forget there are two genders. So often in healthcare, where there are panels there are men and where there are keynotes there are…men. This occurs despite the fact that the paying audience for many of these events include a large number of women who are getting tired of never seeing their female peers get a place at the speaker table.
Sara wrote a post lamenting this which you can find here , and together we (the CSweetener crew) and she made a pact to collaborate to create a healthcare women leaders speaker bureau that our male colleagues can access when they decide they want to reflect the actual population of healthcare purchasers, influencers and leaders in their public events.
The great news about this is that Sara’s entreaty led about 500+ women to request inclusion in the speakers’ bureau and numerous men to recommend many more for inclusion. The other good news is that the drumbeat of people complaining about the lack of gender diversity at conferences is beginning to be heard. I know this because I am personally getting calls asking for female speaker referrals at a rate I have not been asked for in the past and I know some of my comrades in arms (Lisa Serwin, Halle Tecco and others) are hearing the same.
I actually received an email from Jared Jeffrey of KLAS Research that was quite frank about what happens when conferences are conceived and how much he appreciated getting a strong message about how it could be done better. KLAS is a healthcare IT-focused organization that helps buyers to find transparency about products, services and customer experiences. Jared very transparently told me that while he and his event-management colleagues are well-intentioned, it’s always easier to find male speakers because they can draw from people they already know (aka, their friends). Healthcare, he confirmed, is somewhat “male-centric” and healthcare IT is even more so, particularly at the CEO level (and often the CEO is the desired speaker target). Thus, it takes more effort to find women speakers. While he and his colleagues have a desire to create more parity, it hasn’t been a focus. But with an organization like CSweetener available to make it easy to find qualified, excellent speakers, the convenience factor can make a real difference.
Jared also noted that he knows that past KLAS events, among others, have been “notoriously bereft of the female voice,” and he reached out to us to find some women for a recent event. While we didn’t have the speaker’s bureau up and running quite yet, he was able to get 3 female speakers that really delivered to the audience (and audience that is 70% male) and which were incredibly well-received. Jared said, “it was so powerful to get a different experience discussed on a panel,” noting that the speakers brought their own personal stories about breast cancer and other experiences that the men in the audience hadn’t heard before, at least widely. He also said that the women speakers were very compelling to the audience, allaying fears that this may not be the case.
I so appreciated Jared’s transparency and openness to discuss this and his clear willingness to try something different. I sincerely hope his many colleagues across the healthcare conference landscape take heed. From academic events to commercial ones, women are vastly underrepresented as speakers and we can all do much better. And CSweetener is willing to help.
However…..there is a catch.
Women: you also need to do your part. You can’t have it both ways. If you are going to take the time to complain about not getting invited to speak, you need to act, not just keep complaining. Sara got 600 responses to her original request to join a list that features available women speakers. When we followed up on the list and set emails to the over 450 people we could identify, we got only about 100 actual sign ups. Signing up for the CSweetener healthcare women speaker’s bureau is pretty darn easy. It can be done right HERE – indicate your interest and you will receive a list to fill out your profile and voila! you’re in. It takes less than 10 minutes to fill out a profile. If you aren’t in the database, you can’t be found. I’ll say it again, if you aren’t in the database, you can’t be found.
We can’t start actively marketing the speaker’s bureau until it’s big enough to be compelling. We’d like to see around 200 entries in it before it’s really fit for prime time. And not only are numbers important, but so is the mix of expertise. We want women from health IT, life sciences, academia, health services, medtech, you name it. If you are female, have a compelling point of view, are great on a podium and have the will, please sign up today. Please remember that identifying the problem is only the first step – you also have to act to change it.
If you join the CSweetener speakers’ bureau, you will have a speaker page with photo, categories and areas of expertise, experience and accomplishments, and a link to a LinkedIn profile. Speakers will have complete control over the content on their own page once signed in. Conference and event organizers will be able to see profiles and book an introductory session (via phone or video) to meet. CSweetener’s platform will handle all of the scheduling of those calls including a calendar invite, email and text reminders, and the built in ability to reschedule or cancel a meeting. We charge women nothing to put their names on this list. We charge a nominal amount for conference organizers to access and search the list (we are a non-profit after all and keeping the gears turning here takes time and team). We do not take any percentage of your speaker fee, if you charge one – you work that out with the conference organizer on your own.
Our goal here is to move beyond the constant discussion of how women are not treated equally to take action. We started CSweetener to help women rise above their usual station in the workplace through mentoring. We started the speakers’ bureau to give women more visibility on the healthcare stage. We are huge supporters of the new California law that requires more women be represented on public boards and the organizations that are helping foster that beyond the law itself (Board Span, How Women Lead, HIMSS, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, etc). Ladies, put your typing fingers where your mouths are and act by signing up for the CSweetener speaker’s bureau now. Again, you can start with a quick click HERE. As my CSweetener co-founder, Lisa Serwin, and I both say (constantly), “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And if you don’t do something to make a change, you are just complaining, not making a difference and moving the ball forward.
And guys, thanks for your recommendations! We know there are many of you out there that are as supportive of women’s advancement as we are. So a request for you: please keep sending women to us for the speakers’ bureau and for our mentoring programs. Remarkably, we have received more money and referrals from men than we have from women. So ladies, another reminder to support your own.
And to Jared and others who are recognizing the value of a diverse slate of speakers, thank you for your actions. A diverse healthcare world is a better healthcare world.