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Addressing the gender issue: A conference manager perspective 


I recently stumbled across an article on (link) Jane Lu’s LinkedIn featuring a survey Are Retail Conferences Women-Friendly? As a female conference manager, this is a topic that falls close to my heart. I enjoy a good opinion piece – so here’s my perspective, from the other side of the fence. 

Surrounding Yourself with a Strong Team of Women

I’ve produced a fair few events over my career to date, not just in the retail space, but across several industries and leaders’ events including HR, CEO, CIO and now retail and supply chain. I constantly got complaints that there weren’t enough women on the programme. I would defend myself – but I’m a female, of course I want to profile successful women! So how did I end up with a panel of four male CEOs? 

This year, I’ve build a strong team of women around me including a conference producer for New Retail ‘19, as well as two content leads. Our producer not only reaches out to more women than men to speak, but reaches out to female associations to raise awareness and connect us with women that we may not already be connected to.  

Getting Women Onboard

Kelly Stickel posted a very relevant comment on Lu’s post highlighting that it is very challenging in fact to get women on board. To achieve a 50:50 split on a conference, it seems you need to split your invitations 75% female and 25% male. Why? Men are just more likely to say yes. Traditionally (and this is the case for most conferences I’ve produced), men have done the speaking and continue to because this is normal. It doesn’t need to be, but it’s going to take time for us to change this thinking. In the meantime – please say yes to us, ladies! I once invited a panel for a CEO conference and probably invited 30 women and 20 men. Guess who said yes? 

An interesting point that my producer makes is that most conference producers and organisations do see this as an important fact (“We’re not blind!” She quips), they are working on it. The unfortunate catch 22, is that the same women, who are approachable, open to speaking sessions and in senior positions are approached all the time – and they are busy people! It’s time to start thinking outside the box. How can we approach them in a way that’s different, more relevant? Or better yet, build on your approach to expand the box of who can speak? 

Engaging Women in Events

Stickel also mentioned that conferences need to attract more women – we’re open to your advice! We have women on our research advisory boards, we are women – so why aren’t we appealing to more females? It could be that we still have too many men, which loops us back to the first issue of women not saying yes. 

Not only do I want women to speak, but I also want to help them grow. Back in New Zealand, I was a Brownie Leader, spoke at a Young Women in Leadership programme and am constantly looking for new ways to connect young women to their future mentors. For New Retail ’19, we are working with Women in Supply Chain (WISC) and Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA). 

We can’t do it alone – women creating conferences, but attracting men shows there is something wrong in the cycle somewhere. If you want to see more women speaking, please help us get you on stage, connect us with the right people to inspire an audience! If you can recommend networks for us to tap into, we’re all ears. The industry needs to change, retail has so many inspiring female leaders, as does supply chain – but where are they?