#speakerready: closing the gaps in speaker representation
Let’s call it the elephant onstage. Diverse speaker representation is a pervasive issue around the world. Look at the lineup at any conference or event, and you will likely be visually reminded of this lack of speaker diversity. And yet, actual data on the issue is scarce. Harvard Business Review cited research showing that 69% of professional speakers globally are male. But that only accounts for people who make this their profession; what about representation among the more informal speaking engagements that can shape a person’s career? And what about representation across all the other facets of our identity?
There is a strong moral and business imperative for inclusive speaker representation: Diversity of thought leads to richer, more insightful conversations. This, in turn, fosters greater audience participation, especially among traditionally underrepresented groups. We also mustn’t discount how these speaking engagements can have an industry wide impact: Speakers are representatives of their organizations, trusted topic experts and respected leaders within their field. When these visible role models reflect the wider workforce, they normalize diversity in leadership. Speaking engagements also play an important role in building credibility and recognition, which can have long-term effects on a person’s career.
It’s difficult to solve a problem if you don’t know where you stand. That’s why the industry is coming together to make a change. This month, Facebook and The Female Quotient will launch the Speaker Equity Assessor, a tool that drives inclusive speaker representation at events and conferences. In addition, the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and ADCOLOR created the APEX Multicultural Speakers Bureau. It is a trusted source for organizers who want to authentically bring vital voices into the conversation.
To delve deeper into the push for more diverse speaker representation, we spoke with two women behind these initiatives. As VP, EMEA at Facebook, Nicola Mendelsohn is a driving force behind the Speaker Equity Assessor. Tiffany Warren, executive VP and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Sony Music Group, is also the founder and president of ADCOLOR, which created the APEX. Below are highlights from our conversations:
The origins of the Speaker Equity Assessor
Nicola Mendelsohn: Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do at Facebook, and it's critical to our success as a company. Our mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together doesn’t just guide our business strategy, it guides our people strategy, too. To build inclusive products and services that work for everyone, we need diverse teams.
To achieve this, we need to keep pushing for fairer representation across all parts of our industry, including events. But we know that too often it can be difficult to know where to start and how to measure success. This is why, along with The Female Quotient, we want to be a part of the wider solution. The Speaker Equity Assessor helps create more inclusive representation on stage and gives organisations the means to assess this.
Creating solutions for change
Tiffany Warren: Throughout my 25-year career, while attending conferences, webinars and panel discussions, the lack of diverse representation was glaringly obvious. When panels did feature diverse speakers, they typically lent their voices to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) topics. Understanding that our industry’s diverse talent is not monolithic and can speak to a myriad of topics, THE APEX Multicultural Speakers Bureau powered by AAF and ADCOLOR was established last year to provide a hub of experienced, vetted industry professionals who have the ability to provide diversity of thought and perspective to all conversations. THE APEX filed a void of the blatantly obvious missing perspectives of multicultural professionals who work within the industry. It ensures there is a source for those who want to authentically include these vital voices in their thought leadership initiatives.
Diverse voices yield better outcomes
Mendelsohn: Making room for diverse voices is not just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. A recent report by McKinsey found that across the world, diversity correlates with better financial performance.
Different characteristics, backgrounds, styles and perspectives all help solve more complex problems. And as the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Inclusive events help attract the brightest talent into our industry.
When panels and conversations lack diversity, audiences risk being presented with information that is unrepresentative of a wide range of experiences and are deprived of critical insights crucial for better decision making. And there’s a trickle-down effect from there. By providing an experience that is relatable to only one or a few, you lessen your reach and limit the opportunity to connect, build relationships and create meaningful impact.
Addressing an industry need for accountability
Warren: The Speaker Equity Assessor is a tool that so many conference and panel organizers will use and need. It provides access to incredibly talented thought leaders and industry experts, with different dimensions of diversity that are needed for a successful event in 2021.
Choosing speakers for expertise, not appearance
Warren: I look at the beginning of my career and all I was chosen for were breakout-room conversations about DE&I in the creative industries. In fairness, I am a diversity, equity and inclusion professional but I have noticed that nonpractitioners get looped into speaking about DE&I when they have so much more to offer. I can speak about creativity or multicultural marketing at the intersection of DE&I and talent. You have to look at what the speaker fully brings to the table, not just casting for appearance but rather choosing for expertise.
Tips for younger women to prepare for public speaking appearances
Warren: I was painfully shy and nervous when it came to public speaking. To some extent I still work on that every day. What broke me out of the fear was doing small presentations in front of colleagues and interns when I was the manager of diversity programs for the 4A’s. Every week I was able to fine tune and tweak my skills. I viewed each meeting as a chance to improve. Seek out those small but significant opportunities to present.
It’s never too late to be recognized as a speaker in your career
Mendelsohn: I love the advice that Sheryl Sandberg gives: “Don’t let yourself off the hook by deciding that something is out of your reach; instead, ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I weren’t afraid?’”
Everybody is on their own individual journey and some of the greatest creatives, business people and leaders have all achieved greatness later on in life. Vera Wang started her popular fashion label at 40 years old. The music industry has seen stars like Sia and Sheryl Crow rise to fame in their 40s. We’ve seen the most esteemed of business leaders, such as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors and Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, running these major operations later in their careers.
All leaders and visionaries develop at different ages, and we need to embrace that we are all on our individual paths.