conference planning committee

Are Women's Conferences Worth It?

Shawn Achor seems to think so!

(Vested interest: I’m in an airport lounge heading to speak at the Gartner Senior Women in Multinationals Retreat as I write this)

Back to Shawn - he was so challenged by the scepticism displayed by a fellow plane passenger that he conducted some research to test the theory.

In the year after connecting with peers at the Conference for Women -

  • the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled 
  • attendees had triple the likelihood of a 10%+ pay increase 
  • 78% percent of them reported feeling “more optimistic about the future”

Other critical determiners from his own observations of 900 conferences included:

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  • a sense of social connection felt by the attendees
  • engaging sessions
  • leaders who role model & exemplify the qualities that the conference is attempting to instil
  • a memorable moment, and
  • a realistic assessment of the present with an optimistic look to the future.

My take? Put a few conferences designed for women into the mix - men included. Many of the journey stories and case studies are inspiring in their own right, and it might just lead to you winning the raise, promotion or recognition you truly deserve.

 

 

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

The rise of the fempreneur both inside and outside of your organisation

The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you. Be open to opportunity and take risks. In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment that you can find, and then take control.
— Angela Braly, CEO, WellPoint


We live in extremely exciting times with the numbers of women pursuing entrepreneurial ventures on the rise. Did you know that .....    

“Women-owned entities in the formal sector represent approximately 37 percent of enterprises globally — a market worthy of attention by businesses and policy makers alike. While aggregated data is often challenging to find, the recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found 126 million women starting or running businesses, and 98 million operating established (over three and a half years) businesses. That’s 224 million women impacting the global economy — and this survey counts only 67 of the 188 countries recognized by the World Bank.”
Anoop Saxena, Founder & CEO, Womenora


In fact, 35-55-year-old female entrepreneurs are the biggest demographic, according to Drew Hendricks on Inc Magazine.

So what does this have to do with executive women?

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The rise of the female entrepreneur is not limited to small business.  In fact throughout business, government and corporate there is a significant increase in the number of women establishing expert status as both infopreneurs (those who trade in information and ideas) and intrapreneurs (those who innovate, take risks and create new ways of doing things inside corporates). Each of these are aspects of entrepreneurialism, ergo, the feminine entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in many areas of our society.

While creating, innovating and tailoring products and services specifically for women is smart in the entrepreneurial world I wonder if in fact it’s not so smart when it comes to the gender diversity and helping women lead.

When women speak to women’s only audiences, we’re preaching to the converted. We’re also not addressing or shining a light on the issues that frequently hold women back to the people who are best positioned to do anything about it.

One area where we can make a big difference - conference planning

Over the course of my own career, I’ve booked and briefed more speakers than you can poke a stick at. I always made a point to ask speaker bureaus and brokers for female speakers for technical conferences whether they were legal, insurance, policy or consumer affairs conferences or roundtables.

One thing I remember, that despite asking for female speakers on technical topics, I’d be told that audiences preferred male speakers ( ….. yawn .....right ....).

Something else I noticed was that there was definitely a shift in the last 10 or so years, as more female speakers came on board - however they were all speaking on female empowerment topics. (Hand on heart, I fit the bill as well.)


Why are these issues a problem?

The first is that the speaker gatekeeper was perhaps not as aware of gender diversity and inclusion principles as you might expect.  Don't believe the hype. Mixed gender audiences also love female speakers.

In my time, four of the audience favourites included Amanda McKenzie (a member of the youth climate coalition), Major Matina Jewell (on leading in a crisis), Avril Henry (on leadership more broadly) and Jane Caro (on consumer emotion), who each received rave reviews from men and women alike.

Secondly, if women keep preaching to the converted and to those who are already feeling marginalised, others inside organisations and industry, who may in fact hold more power to do something about it, never hear about the issues in the first place.

And finally, we keep perpetuating the cycle that aligns masculine voice with leadership and expert status. When we don't hear women speaking on leadership and expertise more broadly, men AND women don't see it was a viable option.

Reframe for a challenge

This week I was delighted to accept the opportunity to emcee the Project Management Institute Australian Conference in Sydney. Yes, it is a peak body event, showcasing innovative ideas, best practice and establishing benchmarks and standards for industry. Yes, it’s important that women are seen and heard on such conference programs and panels in areas that showcase expertise and leadership. And no, I didn’t insist on hosting the sessions designed to empower women.  

I'm delighted to emcee and create arguments and linkages, that help those women and men in the project management profession to create more effective pathways to leadership.  


Embrace your inner Expert and accept the challenge

It's got me thinking. As a result, I issue a challenge -        

  • To female executives, experts and speakers, whether you're trading in information, business transformation or creating new realities - to step outside of the narrow band of women's only topics and to tailor content for mixed gender audiences.        
  • To speaker brokers, bureaus, conference planners and conference planning committees - to program with gender diversity front of mind, but to look beyond gender. Don't simply program women on female empowerment topics and men for leading in a crisis topics. Consider fempreneurs and experts in the mix for technical and generic leadership topics, and consider male speakers for topics stereo-typically aligned with the feminine such as emotional intelligence and communication.  

Why?  

Because if we are going to move the dial on gender diversity, then we need to create a seat at the leadership table, not just at the table for women.  And until we change the landscape and establish a new normal for expert status, smart and highly visible women still run the risk of remaining in the margins.  And having feminine voice heard and accepted as part of this new normal is not just great for business, but great for men and women as well.

Go on and embrace your inner expert. You know you want to!

Feminine Leadership Super Powers + Fempreneur Expert Status = Priceless


Remember - smart and savvy truly is the name of this game! Vive la révolution!  #ambitionrevolution #feminineambition #executivebrand

Email me if you have a fempreneur expert status success story you want to share with me.

Or get in touch if you need a help with unpacking and selling your expert status brand more skilfully.

 

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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

5 Career Lessons for Women - from the online blogging world OR Linkfluencer Conference Highlights November 2015

Linkfluencer Annual Conference Highlights

Linkfluencer Annual Conference Highlights

In November, I attended the Linkfluencer Annual Conference hosted by Linkfluencer and run by Alex Pirouz.  While some conferences are theoretical and programmed to explore the problem - this one wasn't.  In fact, right from the get go we got onto practical, take home strategies that will help anyone to tap into and harness the power of LinkedIn better - particularly entrepreneurial and info-preneurial ventures.  

As some of you are aware - I've run or attended more conferences than most people have had hot dinners.  So I'm pretty picky when it comes to the program.

 

Thanks to the organisers for pulling together an awesome technical expert presentation team including Jeff Bullas, Robert Coorey and Andrew Wickham.

My one disappointment? No women on stage. I'm pretty sure that women are doing great things on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Would have been nice to see that reflected on the stage too. While I don't want to rain on their parade (because it truly was a value packed event and the lessons absolutely invaluable), given that women are AWESOME at connection, socialising, communicating etc there would appear to be a natural fit with the power of social. Surely there is some woman somewhere in the social media world here in Australia who is doing great things?   Conference organisers need a check list when programming so they don't fall into that trap by accident.  (Note: since first publishing this on my blog organisers have already acknowledged that they are looking at this in preparation for next year.)

So what did I learn that might be relevant to those who work in professional roles?  Heaps!!  Let's extrapolate.

1. Blog before breakfast.
So you don't blog?  Don't worry. Same same, but different. This is not a new idea, but it is a great reminder - even if you don't blog.   The early bird catches the worm.  Many highly successful and powerful people wake early and get started on their work.  And according to Top 10 Career Lessons From Powerful Women on Forbes Magazine:

“Starbucks’ President Michelle Gass wakes up at 4:30 every morning to go running. (Former) Avon chairman Andrea Jung wakes up at 5. LongtimeVogue editor Anna Wintour is on the tennis court by 6 every morning before work. These women have realized that success comes easier when you have a jump on the day.”


So what are you waiting for? Set your alarm. Establish a routine. Beat the commute and get something substantive done and out of the way BEFORE breakfast. You might just surprise yourself at how energetic you actually feel.

2. Systematise, automate and outsource/delegate.
We know that systems and processes help mitigate anxiety and increase productivity. However sometimes human nature gets in the way and we get stuck in the rut of wanting to do it all ourselves. To keep highly productive it's time to regroup and ditch that thinking.

  • What can you eliminate that might be cluttering your thinking?
  • Or perhaps you feel negatively about so its an energy drain slowing you down?  
  • Or what else is simplynot getting done because you don't really know how to tackle it?  

Once again in that great article from Forbes on career advice for women and delegation:

“If you think of your career as a juggling act of various balls, ask yourself which of those balls are made of glass and would shatter if dropped, and which are made of rubber and would bounce back. Give away the rubber balls.”


3. Drop old school thinking about connecting on social media. 
If someone you don't remember invites you to connect, do your due diligence (vet their profile) but keep an open mind. Stay curious and consider how you both might be able to help each other - it's a new hyper connected world where joined up thinking, connection and collaboration are the way of the 21st Century. In the old world we were more likely to operate in silos and structures. Now openness and curiosity are queens. As we lookfor new ways to solve old problems we just might need to think outside the square.  

“Today, the lightning pace of change means you have to be ever-curious, always ready to learn and adapt to the new environment around you. Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, describes herself as “driven by curiosity” because “it gets people excited” and “leads to new ideas, new jobs, new industries.” She says, “The smartest thing you can ever do is to constantly ask questions.” Forbes


4. Done is better than perfect.
Not a new idea by any means but obviously we all need constant reminding.  Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good!  Jeff Bullas showed us his first tweet. OOPS!! Not perfect!  He showed us his first blog. Another big OOPS - and another "not perfect". However these first steps were the beginning of him building an amazing social enterprise.   

So what are you procrastinating on right now because it's not perfectly polished? What projects, what new ideas, what initiatives are on the go slow because you are feeling like it needs more work?  Take a good look and then hit the "play" button.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

5. The sooner you put scalable tools into place, the sooner you will grow. 
So how does this translate in the professional world?  Mentors, champions, coaches, sponsors, cleaners, VA's, outsourcing, systems and processes that free your thinking power up and allow you to keep growing -  and thinking bigger.  It's safe not to scale - but it won't get you very far very fast and in fact will eventually slow you don't.  Change gears and accelerate instead.

“Get comfortable with discomfort! And from there you will be far more effective”


So my question to you is - what can you do right now that will move you forwards?  What can you implement immediately that will help you execute your next bold audacious move?  Or what is the one thing you've been thinking about for weeks, but haven't yet done, that will land you the role of your dreams one day?  

And instead of thinking about it? Just do it.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution


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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Why Conference Planning Committees need to Consider Gender Diversity

In recent weeks I’ve been vaguely horrified by a range of industry conference speaker programs that were so heavily dominated by those of the middle aged masculine persuasion, that the programs could have been something from the 1950’s.  “In this modern era when gender diversity seems to be the flavour of the month?” I hear you ask. Yes, in 2015.  So why should those in the association world care about gender diversity?

Professional associations are often seen as the peak body for industry and are supposed to lead the way when it comes to demonstrating best practice.  While I’m currently not privy to current Australian statistics in the association world in terms of percentages of women in leadership roles, or on association boards, the sector has a reputation for demonstrating better rates of gender diversity than industry and business itself.  However in saying that there is definitely room for improvement as demonstrated by a recent report from the USA on non profits in general:

“ Men still hold 79% of the CEO positions for organizations with $25 million in assets or greater. A 2014 GuideStar report found that a gender pay gap exists in this industry as well. The sector is not perfect, but it is a place where women have a greater opportunity to lead.”
— Why Female CEOs Thrive In Nonprofits, Kim Williams, CEO, Interfaith Housing Coalition, Forbes

How else associations can help

Associations and industry bodies run industry conferences. These events are supposed to present cutting edge ideas, case studies worthy of emulating or avoiding as the case may be, present a pool of credible experts on the speaker program and provide opportunities for members to develop and grow.  Another way that associations can lead the way is by establishing benchmarks or guiding principles for the conference planning committees around gender diversity.

When associations don’t ensure gender balance on conference programs it sends a message to those who work in industry that expert status is reserved for men.  This may be the case in terms of consultants finding it easier (and more beneficial) to create time in their day to speak on conference programs but if recent reports are correct many industries are seeing a steady rise in the number of female industry consultants who could do the job equally as well. And we know from the multiple sources of research into this space that organisations with women in the leadership team perform better on range of measures including profitability, productivity, risk management, staff and customer satisfaction - so surely it's their expertise contributing.

When association and industry conference planners do manage to provide gender balance, they are sending a message to younger generations of professionals that speaking, thought leadership and industry wide expertise are not merely the purview of men but also women – changing the state of play and challenging the status quo at the industry level.

There’s an old saying:

“If we keep on doing what we’ve always done we'll always get what we’ve always got”

By providing opportunity, challenging and encouraging women to step up in this thought leadership arena and expert status, industry is more likely to find new ways to solve old problems that have potentially been dogging it for years.

Introducing the Male Champions of Change

Conference programs that don’t have gender balance are starting to look out of step with the times.  There is growing recognition of this as an issue from large corporates and government departments, whose leaders have signed the Male Champions of Change Pledge. This group have identified that gender bias on conference programs and panel discussions is not appropriate:

“it was simply unacceptable in this day and age that many high profile conferences, events and taskforces lack gender balance, despite there being no shortage of senior, qualified women to participate. Aside from the unhelpful gender norms reinforced by the current practice, the lack of diversity clearly limits the span of conversation. Perspectives considered, insights shared and conclusions drawn will be naturally skewed towards more masculine views and restricted as a direct consequence.”

So why should conference planners and associations care about this pledge?

Signing up to become a Male Champion of Change is not an empty gesture because members of this program have committed to asking organisers whether they have secured women leaders to participate in public forums, panels and conference programs.  If not, then the male leader has also committed to decline to speak until the issue has been rectified or will recommend a senior female leader to speak in his stead.

Many of the male champions may then create organisation wide policies that discourage the rest of the leadership team from participating and prohibit staff from attending events such as panels, forums and conferences where there is an obvious gender bias and lack of diversity.

There is the potential for this to become an issue for conference organisers wishing to both engage high profile speakers from big name organisations for programs and maximise attendance of delegates, unless gender diversity is addressed up front and centre. I'm sure this will soon cascade into the sponsorship dollar and event supporter values as well.  Given that many in the association sector rely heavily on conference and sponsorship revenues, this could represent a problem unless addressed.

It’s not always easy unfortunately

As someone who has programmed more conferences that you can poke the proverbial stick at I’m not saying this is easy. In fact, if you read my “back story” on The Ambition Revolution you will see what I mean and I know that my own track record has not been perfect in the past.

  • For every call for papers nine men would respond and only one woman.
  • I’d tap a woman on the shoulder to ask her to speak (pre identified by a committee as someone doing interesting work in her organisation) and she would handball me to a male colleague, manager or ambitious young male staff member.
  • For every second woman who did say yes, it was as though they needed to be reassured that they were indeed the right person for the opportunity and people would indeed want to hear what she had to say.  

It’s definitely a Catch 22 unfortunately and unless we do something about it soon, we’ll be caught in a loop and won’t be able to escape.

Ideas for the conference team and planning committee

I understand the pressure on conference planning teams to get the program finalised and out to market in time and on budget. Associations are frequently resource poor and also rely heavily on volunteer conference planning committees.  So let’s make it easy for everyone and help educate the conference planning committee along the way by having a few practical strategies in place:

  • Set a 50:50 gender diversity target for your next conference speaker program – particularly relevant if your audience is mixed.
  • Have this target front and centre for your volunteer conference planning committee to talk about and measure themselves against during and after the event, along with evaluations and financial measures.
  • Position it as an exciting challenge (rather than more work) - encourage a problem solving approach.
  • Feature an article in your industry publication or e-newsletter on the importance or benefit of gender diversity to your particular industry.
  • Run programs that support and encourage women to speak throughout the year – not just about how they got to where they are now, but also to share expertise and technical knowledge to mixed gender audiences.
  • And yes, for the first year or so it might take a bit more work, but as the years progress it will become easier, and the norm.

Why diversity matters

The issue is much bigger than simply gender diversity. As a society we benefit from diverse ways of thinking on every issue. So don’t just stop with gender diversity.

  • Ensure you provide opportunities for young professionals – once again bringing fresh ideas, new ways of thinking and communicating as well as reinforcing the notion that fresh perspectives are worth hearing about. It also grows growing their confidence in this arena creating a “talent pipeline” for leadership development down the track helping both yourself for future conferences but also helping industry provide opportunities for young talent to shine and develop.
  • Consider also cultural diversity and opportunities for those with disabilities on conference programs as well.
  • Where are your mental blind spots when it comes to encouraging diversity on your program and how can you remedy this?

In summary

Gender diversity is a huge issue for our society and business world and it’s proving challenging to move forward with any speed. In fact Australian statistics demonstrate that the gender salary gap remains the same after 30 years and a heap of work on the issue.  The topic is heavily laden with bias at best along with sexism and active discrimination at worst.  It’s full of examples where turf protection wars are waged, boys clubs and “this is the way we’ve always done it” type notions abound, along with arguments such as “I only want the best person for the role” (meritocracy). It’s backed up by generations of socialisation that reinforce stereotypical gender roles for both men and women.  Let’s face it, I’m sure there are times when both men and women sometimes struggle to see the woods for the trees because bias (conscious and unconscious) is so insidious and difficult to identify.  While associations in general do a better job than some with their recruitment practices and encouraging female leaders, I think there is definitely room to improve when it comes to planning conferences and demonstrating best practice to industry.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

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  • Amanda Blesing is one of Australia's newest thinkers and speakers on ambition - how to spark it, tackle it, tame it and then channel it into producing a healthier, more inspired leadership talent pipeline.  
  • As the creator of The Ambition Revolution program helping women step up, speak out and take charge, she gets right to the heart of the issue with statistics, stories and insights as to what the problem is and what we can do about it. 
  • For the past 20 years Amanda has walked her own talk as she worked her own way through the ranks of the association world with her last role as Chief Executive Officer of SOCAP Australia (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Australia)
  •  Amanda currently speaks with and mentors ambitious women and helps them make a bigger difference more easily.

 

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months