8 ways to support gender inclusivity and equality at industry events

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Research shows that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to securing gender diversity in the events industry. One recent worldwide report, for example, showed that an average of 70% of event speakers are male – that’s 64% US and Canada, and 69% in the UK. The same report showed that, soberingly, zero percent of speakers were female in 19 of the 58 countries looked at over a seven year period (2013-2019).

In this article, we’re looking at some essential steps all industry event planners should be taking (if they’re not already) to make sure their operations are fully inclusive and equal. And, importantly, that they’re playing an active role in driving positive change.

  1. Audit your past events for gender disparity

    A first crucial step to take is to look closely at the past events you’ve run – even if it makes for uncomfortable viewing. How many male speakers have you had vs female speakers? What have your event’s audiences looked like in the past? Were there any barriers to attendance for women? What has the male-to-female ratio on panels been?

    It’s important to go through past actions with a fine tooth comb to see where things can be improved. Removing the rose-tinted glasses is going to be key, too – there’s no point sugar-coating things if you want to genuinely affect change.

  2. Treat having a diverse selection of voices as non-negotiable

    It can be easy to fall back on the argument that there are more men in a certain industry as justification for male-dominated speaker line-ups and panels. But it’s crucial to see that this is part of the problem. To redress the balance, it’s important to seek out female talent and to actively open up opportunities for women. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck in the same old stale-mate for decades to come. 

    Just like the comedian-circuit argument of ‘men are just funnier than women’ doesn’t fly anymore, neither should saying it’s harder to find female speakers in a given sector. 

  3. Make sure panelists/speakers have guidance on avoiding generalisations

    If we want to change limited perceptions of women, it’s vital to challenge gender stereotypes. In the business events and conference sector, that means giving all speakers and stakeholders guidance on avoiding gender generalisations in their content. This should include everything from using gender-neutral language (e.g. tradesperson, not tradesman) through to making sure content is applicable to a diverse audience, not one specific persona.

  4. Raise the bar on zero-tolerance policies for abusive behaviour

    Stamping out everyday sexism begins with acknowledging its presence, even when it’s not immediately obvious. It’s easy to assume that toxic sexist behaviour is something that mainly happens in nightclubs and bars, yet one in four women has been sexually harassed at a tech conference

    Outlining and actioning a clear zero-tolerance policy, as well as clearly communicating positive values around this, can be a small but crucial step in helping to shift perceptions around this unacceptable culture. 

  5. Communicate with staff that the event is gender and LGBTQ+ inclusive

    It’s important to make sure everyone who has a hand in your event is on the same page when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. Spending just a bit of time opening up the conversation around this – especially if yours is a typically male-dominated industry – can help make sure your event is authentically inclusive, as opposed to just ‘trying it on for size’.

  6. Choose partners you can learn from 

    Actively seeking out partners that can help to inform, enlighten and educate those involved in your event can be a great way to embrace change – and show that you mean it. 

  7. Dedicate a session to gender in your industry 

    Taking the time to explore the issues around gender inequality, or to celebrate women in your industry, is a great way to help conversations either get started, or keep going. Dedicating a segment of your event to this can help to create a more inclusive atmosphere, and show that you’re committed to the cause. 

  8. Be transparent about gender representation at your event

    One way to continue contributing to the conversation after your event is to produce a report highlighting its levels of gender inclusivity. Even if the results show there’s a way to go, being transparent is a really important part of keeping the momentum going. 

    Looking at stats around gender inequality in the events industry can be overwhelming – but it’s important not to let this get in the way of seeking change. Every step taken towards forging an inclusive and equal world is invaluable – no matter how big or small it feels at the time.