Event Management keyboard_arrow_right

The Event Industry’s Problem With Speaker Diversity

By Julius Solaris

White male seems to be the trend when it comes to speaker line ups at events. Are you brave enough to change that?

EMB image The Event Industry Problem With Speaker Diversity

A couple of weeks ago the event industry earned its first internet meme, courtesy of Congrats, you have an all male panel! Tumblr.

The clever site asks readers to submit event websites or guides with all male panels and adds a Hasselhoff Thumbs Up sticker, renamed Hoffsome.

See one here:


Can't see? Click here.

This was my reaction:

- first I laughed.
- then I admired the idea of putting together the site.
- I started to feel bad.

My Problem With Diversity

Before I start casting judgements on event professionals (after all, low quality articles will always tell you what to do and why you are not perfect), let me come clean.

As much as I've written on diversity and the role of women in the event industry, I haven't practiced what I preached, on at least two occasions.

- Recently I was in charge of selecting the jury for a startup competition we organised. My choices for the judges were all white males.

I did not think for one minute about choosing a more balanced judging panel. I made a safe bet. I was actually very lazy in making easy selections and not thinking about the wider implications of my choices.

When it comes to event technology it is easy to make mistakes. Tech in general has a problem with women quota. But what about event technology?

Actually, some of the brightest minds in event tech are women and they beat the hell out of me when it gets to explaining event tech to event professionals. Have a read of the latest 10 articles on EventMB and you will notice it is mostly women sharing amazing advice on tech and social.

Silly Julius. There is not much I can do about changing the past, but rest assured there is something I can do about it in the very near future. Tune in soon.

- I realised I mostly sit on panels with all white males. It has happened to me at several events in the last few years. I didn't do anything about changing that.

I didn't even notice I was on all-male panels.

Now what I have done about it is updating my standard speaking contract with the following clause:

Gender Diversity in Panels
Speaker will not speak on all-male panels.

No more all men panels for me.

The Industry Problem with Diversity

The event industry problem with picking diverse speakers is very similar to my problem:

Risk Perception. Being event professionals by definition coincides with being risk averse. Our job revolves about minimising the risks associated with an event, from security to food choices.

You can't risk it when it gets to speaker selection, right? All men is safe, right?

Not really. Most of the time you are not representing your audience. On top of that, you are definitely being standardised and commoditised. You are failing your attendees in their core need of serendipity and inspiration.

Laziness. Why should we change things if they work so well as they are? You are correct, change is not easy. It disrupts. It makes you feel uncomfortable. It adds more work to a quite full plate.

Let me break it down to you, dear reader, this is what you signed up for when you decided to become an event professional. The quest for delighting your attendees does not revolve around making easy choices or working less. The natural energy you have as an event pro should be dedicated to solving this issue.

So What Should You Do?

Start with a question: are you doing everything in your powers to solve this BIG issue?

If the answer is no, well we have work to do.

Continue with this tool -> Conference Diversity Distribution Calculator. Are you representing your audience correctly?

Go beyond representation. Just representation is not enough. Try to be bold, to innovate, to be equal. Change your policy. Do not allow all male panels, put it in writing.

Go beyond speaker selection. Diversity means catering for different gender, choices, religions. Are you marketing your event for all attendees? Are you providing food choices for all attendees? Is your programme/agenda respecting all backgrounds?

Go beyond safety. If you read EventMB, it means you innovate. You won't find self complacent articles on this website. We are the voice of an army of strong, intelligent event professionals who do not accept things as they are. We expect you to embrace change and make it count!

The real risk is not changing.

In Conclusion

Diversity in the event industry is still a major issue. There are things we can do to change how we select speakers and avoid getting Hoffsome badges on our next programs.

I admit I am far from perfect in this sense but I want to begin this overdue change. Are you ready to start?

about the author

Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker, author and consultant.
see all articles