How to Get More Women to Apply to Speak at a Conference

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I’ll be holding a pre-conference workshop on Augmented and Virtual Realities in ELT this year and the line-up is not gender-balanced (12 presenters and two are women). I decided to apply because I knew that women usually do not present at these edtech workshops. I submitted my proposal, it was accepted, and I’ll be presenting!

I sent a message to EVECalendar (Equal Voices in ELT) on their Facebook page and asked them to help me find ways how to get more women to apply to speak at a conference, especially CALL-related conferences which are mainly male-dominant, as I am in touch with some conference organizers who really want to make their conferences gender balanced. Then, Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau), co-founder of EVECalendar, responded on Twitter, mentioned her colleagues, and we had a chat about this topic:

Here is a summary of the chat.

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Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses_sue)

How about not expecting people to ‘pay to present’? For people who aren’t funded, the cost of attending conferences can be a barrier to participation. Presenting at conferences can add to the cost, both directly and indirectly – particularly for freelancers.

Andy Hockley (@adhockley)

  1. Encourage women directly (when you meet someone doing interesting work, ask them to consider speaking, telling others).
  2. If they are nervous about presenting, give them support, advice. The IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) had a webinar with the FairList on this: 
  3. If there are “cultural barriers” to women travelling to conferences (for example), try and make the conferences go to different places. If they can’t come to conferences, can conferences come to them? 
  4. Don’t be afraid to use affirmative action. If you have to choose between two talks to include on the programme, and there isn’t much between them, choose the one given by a woman.

Sophia Mavridi (@SophiaMav)

There ARE indeed fewer women in tech. It’s usually men who put themselves forward, write books, become “names” and plenary speakers. Two reasons in my opinion:

  1. The “male computer geek” stereotype and unconscious bias. It starts at school and continuous indefinitely. The edtech expert has to prove her “geeky” self all the time.
  2. The fear of being a minority in an environment that is notoriously male-dominated is another serious barrier for many female colleagues. You have to become comfortable with it otherwise you just won’t survive.

As a conference organiser, I have to admit it is not always easy to find edtech women speakers. It takes conscious and ongoing effort but that’s the only way to make things happen. we DO need more women in edtech: Plenary speakers, book writers, app developers, and consultants.

And we do need to spread the word and have more discussions like this one and like the super #EVELT tweetchat organised by EVE (@eve_elt) and IATEFL LT SIG (@iatefl_ltsig). You can find some highlights from #EVELT here.

I think it starts from plenary speakers lineups. They’re usually male dominated (few women experts/ book writers etc in edtech and other reasons I mentioned earlier) so you need to make a conscious effort as an organiser.

If women see that plenary lineups are more balanced and there are more and more women who are acknowledged and appreciated as edtech experts, they are more likely to put themselves forward as speakers.

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I’d like to thank Fiona, Sue, Andy, and Sophia for sharing their thoughts. If you are reading this and have an idea to share about how to have female speakers on conference stages, please leave a comment. Thank you.

Peace

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Here are more comments:

Nicola Prentis (@NicolaPrentis)

If they’re the primary childcarer, ask if you can help with childcare for the day. It might only mean designating one person to stand with a baby at the back of the room for the talk. It might mean a creche. Cover the child’s airfare if needed. Realise this can be a barrier.

TESOL MWIS (@TESOLMWIS)

In general, the process of how one to become plenary or featured speaker is opaque. I know people who just seem to get invited because they are well-known, and others petition for years to be invited to speak at conferences. So maybe speakers can share how they got to be speakers?

Efi Tzouri (@efitzouri)

My personal experience has shown that women’s determination is the greatest source of inspiration!


Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau)

Thinking about it, many of the more prominent women in ELT/EdTech are from or in Greece…. you must be doing something right 🙂 Perhaps it’s a sense of community that helps and encourages?

Here are the answers to Fiona’s question for Greence-based ELT researchers:

Julie Moore (@lexicojules)

I’m speaking at a corpus linguistics conf next month, includes some ELT and I’d def say tech-ish … 2 out of 3 plenaries are female and at a rough glance, probably more female than male speakers overall.

Dimitris Primalis (@dprimalis)

We have a good record in Greece! As Tesol Greece chairman, I invited Eva Buyuksimkesyan to present on LT on TG’s very first webinar in 2013. The tradition continues with many excellent women LT speakers, some of whom often present at big international conferences .

Inviting excellent teachers to share their experience with the rest of the community encourages them to present their work. It usually takes one or two presentations and after that they act autonomously.

ChristinaC (@Kryftina)

We do see many women here giving f2f talks & workshops on tech/elt. I think encouragement starts during training and shapes further during practice. 

Community is certainly very strong here and there is great support, both from associations and individuals 🙂

jenjdobson (@jenjdobson)

There’s quite a lot of healthy debate currently about positive discrimination in ELT. I ‘grew up’ as a young adult in a 1980s London culture when this was the norm in my work circles. Am slightly perplexed why people don’t get it. #elttechwomen

Also use #womenintech just got retweeted by @womentechbot created by @sarahmorris926. Maybe outside of ELT they can give us some insights?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “How to Get More Women to Apply to Speak at a Conference

  1. Just making this a topic is a huge start!

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