Remember when we used to say “women doctors” or “women attorneys”? So why do we still say “women speakers”? In looking up male dominated jobs, I found truck drivers, train conductors, airline pilots, and race car drivers. Are you seeing a pattern here? All involve driving large, heavy vehicles. But there’s no reason women can’t do any of those. I work in 3 male dominated industries, manufacturing, inventing, and public speaking. Yes, public speaking is considered a male dominated industry. Yet it involves no large machinery or heavy lifting. So why is it that only 20-30% of paid speaking jobs go to women?

In 2013 at TED Global, Executive producer of TED Media, June Cohen, spoke about why there are so few women speakers at TED. Here’s what she said “Women speakers are harder to find, are more likely to say no, and are more likely to cancel”. She went on to say that the ratio of speaker bureaus are about 80% male speakers and 20% female speakers. I couldn’t get exact statistics, but the numbers are definitely not in women’s favor. I added up the percentage of male to female speakers on Speaker Sponsor. It’s 62% women speakers.

In 2014, the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative Conference had a whopping total of one woman speaker. In 2015, they had none. All men. Conference organizer, Eric Bradlow, said “we absolutely thought about lack of gender and other forms of diversity on speaker lineup, but in the end decided to stick with our original policy of choosing speakers based on merit.” He also said “We’re committed to diversity”. Yep, it sounds like it. So, was he saying that there weren’t any qualified women speakers? Seems hard to believe.

I dug deeper and found other conference organizers who had commented on the reasons for the lack of women speakers. “Not enough qualified women speakers, women only talk about woman stuff, there are no women speakers who are big enough names, and attendees want to hear people who are like themselves.”

I wanted to find out from the people who hire speakers exactly where the breakdown is. Are there really so few women speakers at bureaus? If so, why? Do the bureaus pitch women, but the clients tend to hire men? Do clients specifically ask for a male or female speaker? Here are some of the answers I got:
Brittany Kreutzer of The Speaker Exchange Agency had this to say:

“I think companies jump at the chance to have a female present for their conferences, but at the end of the day it still has to be the right fit. A client will not just book a speaker because they are female. We are slowly seeing an increase in female speakers, but the challenge we find is that a lot of strong females price themselves very high. We still see the need for strong females in the $7,500-$12,500 range. At the end of the day I do see companies wanting more females, but they won’t just book a female to book one, it still has to be the right fit and the speaker must still provide the takeaway value in order to be booked. There is a lot of room for growth in market share for female speakers in the speaking industry, but don’t expect to just get booked because you are a female. If you don’t have the energy, charisma, content and drive you won’t get booked-male or female!”

James Marshall Reilly of The Guild Agency speakers bureau, echoed something I believe to be true, and that’s that there’s still gender bias in general that’s leftover from decades of male dominated thinking. It’s deeply engrained and is slow to change, including women’s pay. According to James, women speakers tend to make less than their male counterparts. 

That’s why The Guild Agency doesn’t post speaker fees, and other things besides money are negotiated. That puts male and female speakers on a more level playing field. He says that speaker bureaus have a lot of power and can submit as many women speakers as they want. Ultimately it’s still up to the client to decide. Says James, “Sometimes they need names to sell tickets, and there tend to be more well known men than women.”

Shirley Hogsett of Destiny Speakers Bureau had this to say:

“I do see more women in male dominated industries stepping up to become speakers. There tend to be fewer female speakers because there are simply fewer women in those fields to begin with. Meeting planners often say that it’s hard to find women speakers in those industries and there’s some truth to that. A lot of women I come in contact with position themselves to speak to only women. Many times people of color also want to speak to audiences of other people of color. So part of the problem is how speakers position themselves. The solution, from a speaker’s point of view, would be to start positioning yourself, not from a gender perspective, but from a knowledge perspective.”

What is your opinion on the topic, as either a meeting planner, speaker bureau or speaker?