The percentage of senior women in Britain’s boardrooms has risen marginally from 6% to 8% in the past decade, according to a survey of the FTSE top 100 companies.
The 2% increase in the number of women holding influential non-executive positions, such as senior independent director and chairperson, was revealed in the study by Cranfield School of Management. There are only six female CEOs in the FTSE top 100 – down from seven after Moya Greene stood down as the Royal Mail’s chief executive.
Gender diversity study
These figures are reflected in the statistics for the meetings and events industry, which has a long way to go in terms of gender diversity. A study by Bizzabo analysed meetings and conferences in 23 different countries all over the world, looking at more than 60,000 event speakers over a five-year period.
More than two-thirds of the speakers were male, according to the Gender Diversity and Inclusion Report. Breaking down the statistics into countries, Kenya had the best record, with 42% of event speakers being female.
In the United States, only 35% of its speakers were female. The United Kingdom had one of the worst records: 75% of conference speakers were male and only 25% female. The country with the worst gender diversity record was Poland, where 90% of its event speakers were male.
Across different sectors, technology events have an even worse record when it comes to a lack of female speakers. At events focused on IT services, only 20% of speakers were female. The figures were pretty much the same at internet conferences, where 21% of the speakers were women.
The most diverse sector was higher education, where 44% of event speakers were female. The least diverse industry was telecommunications, where a massive 84% of speakers were male.
The findings beg the question as to why women are so under-represented at conferences and meetings. These are places where new and innovative ideas are formed and networking relationships begin – and a vital step on the career ladder.
In the case of tech events, the industry seems to be lagging behind significantly in terms of gender balance. These conferences seem to overlook women in a more significant way than the industry as a whole. As well as lacking female speakers, they sometimes actively alienate women.
Annual trade event the Consumer Electronics Show has continued the practice of “booth babes” for decades. Models are hired by exhibitors simply to stand next to the exhibits, looking attractive and drawing attention to the products. They are often scantily-clad.
Finally, after the 2019 show, a sexism row led the organisers to introduce new rules for future events. They stipulated workers at company booths could no longer wear “sexually revealing” clothing.
Although this is an extreme example, it highlights the fact that women are being largely overlooked in the meetings industry. Now campaigners all over the world are aiming to turn the tide of gender bias.
Biologist Jennifer Martin, of the University of Queensland, in Australia, is one of the leading campaigners. In a media interview, she told reporters, “I don’t want the next generation to live with the stereotypes of the past.”
Around 1,500 campaigners, including leading scientists from around the world, have joined forces to lobby the events industry. One of their first successes was when they signed a petition on Change.org complaining that all 29 speakers and chairs at the International Congress of Quantum Chemistry were men. They called for a boycott of the event. This led to the organisers having a rethink and coming up with a new list of speakers, including women.
According to studies, 55.5% of people with undergraduate degrees in the sciences are women, yet they are largely unrepresented in the conference world.
A joint study by microbiologist Arturo Casadevall, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Jo Handelsman, director of Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, found that on average, only around one-third of those responsible for booking guest speakers were women.
They concluded this had a direct effect on the fact more male speakers were being booked. An all-male panel of organisers was more likely to book a male speaker. The research found having even one woman on the panel led to more women speakers being booked.
Martin says it’s vital that the diversity of society is properly represented in the diversity of meetings. She believes it’s important to highlight the problems and let people know the issue is of great relevance to speakers and attendees.
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