Ah, the battle of the sexes. It’s been raging since the dawn of time, and will continue long after we’re all gone from this earth. Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to all the flap. Over the past few weeks, however, there have been a couple of well-researched and well-thought-out posts about why search marketing conferences don’t have more women speakers, and they got my attention.
Today, Hannah Miller from State of Search published a follow-up post on the topic – and the points she made completely changed the way I’d thought about the dearth of female speakers at search marketing conferences.
Women are more compliant than men.
Hannah posits that women get lower speaker ratings because they’re more compliant than men.
Let’s face it – people love a good brawl. Long-time search conference attendees will remember some of the legendary shouting matches and black-hat vs. white-hat panels that never failed to entertain. How many women were on those panels? Very few, and those that dared participate were given labels such as “SEO Bitch.” Nice.
But most of us women won’t stick our necks out like that. We follow the guidelines that are given to us by conference organizers. We stick to the time allotted. We turn in our presentations on time. We don’t pitch from the podium. We give carefully measured answers during the Q&A.
As I think back on all the conferences I’ve attended recently, there were speakers who ran way over their allotted time. There were speakers who were obviously unprepared, or worse, recycled a presentation from another conference, complete with the other conference’s logo! And there were speakers who pitched from the podium and asked for business cards.
Every last one of them was a man.
Women are too hard on themselves.
Because we are compliant, we’re not as “memorable,” maybe. Playing by the rules isn’t interesting. So we don’t get stellar speaker ratings. When we get lower speaker ratings, we tend not to pitch again.
This sure rang true for me. While low ratings haven’t kept me from pitching (because I love speaking too much to quit!), I still get discouraged by them. A few years ago, one of the comments on my session was that I “didn’t seem confident about the topic.” I was speaking about small-budget search, which was the majority of my day-to-day job at the time! I was totally confident about this!
Even in my most recent speaking gig, the ratings I got didn’t match my perception: both in terms of preparation and the vibe in the room. My first panel was one I had pitched and prepared for. I’d practiced my presentation thoroughly. Throughout the presentation, I got head-nods and smiles from the room. People asked good questions. And I got lackluster ratings.
The second presentation was one I hadn’t prepared for at all. I was subbing for a speaker who’d fallen ill at the last minute and couldn’t make it. I was totally going off-the-cuff. And I got 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The point is, we’re our own worst critics anyway. If we get bad ratings, we blame ourselves. If men get bad ratings, they blame the environment.
I’m by no means saying that all women are wimps and all men are self-absorbed jerks. Nor am I saying that conference organizers are totally biased. Most speakers follow the rules, regardless of gender. And we all get bad ratings at times.
What I am saying is that the facts are clear: women are under-represented as speakers at search marketing conferences. And it’s time we changed that.
If you’re a woman in search and have thought about speaking, now is the time! Got any speaking tips, man or woman? Share in the comments!