Every time I turn on the radio, every time I go to a speech or a panel discussion, every time I watch a topical TV debate, it’s dominated by (predominantly white) men.
If the producers have made an effort, there’s one woman. But I can’t shake the feeling that she’s a token, a nod to political correctness, a defense mechanism against claims of sexism.
Sometimes, I imagine the scene at the office of the radio or TV studio, the think tank or the university, a few weeks before the event. I imagine the producer shouting at the researchers: “We need just one woman – find her!”
In fact, I don’t need to imagine it – I’ve been there. I’ve organized numerous panel discussions, speeches and Q&As. All too often I’ve struggled to turn up qualified, expert women, willing to speak on their subject. I’ve persevered, and on all but one occasion I found at least one woman to sit on the panel. But the temptation was to stop at one. The temptation was to breath a sigh of relief, make a cup of tea and move on to the next thing on my ‘To do’ list.
Yesterday, I went to the Lead On conference in Silicon Valley. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the keynote speaker. She sparkled. But she was not alone. In 9 hours I heard from 29 women from diverse industries, with diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences. I heard from an architect, an academic, a figure skater, a lawyer, a fashion designer, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a journalist. I learned so much, I laughed so much and I was inspired to keep doing what I do.
And for every panel discussion I attended there were four others happening in adjacent rooms at the same time. In total there were more than 100 speakers at the conference and they were all STELLAR women.
Achieving gender parity in business, in politics, in research: these are big asks – they’re going to take time. But achieving gender parity on panels, at conferences and in the media is more than POSSIBLE. There are more than enough talented, intelligent, eloquent, articulate women out there from every industry and every walk of life. Sometimes it’s just a little harder to find them.
So how can we #LeadOn? If you organize events, don’t aim for one woman, aim for true gender balance on the panel. If you know a woman who would make an awesome speaker, encourage her to give it a go, or pitch her for an event. And if you listen to, watch media and go to events, ask the organizers: ‘Where are the women?’