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A Practical Guide to Advancing Gender Equality at Conferences



1. WHEN you or your colleagues are holding an event


  • Agree that the panel should maintain a 50 percent gender balance. Ask yourself: if there is no gender balance, why not?

  • Set speakers early and consider starting by inviting more women than men (you can even invite only women, when they cancel, make sure men will announce their availability much sooner). This will help you at least get the word of a few female panelists early, and give you ample time to change your approach should you find it difficult to achieve gender balance.

  • Build the event around a female keynote speaker.

  • Make sure you don't settle for just hiring a female keynote speaker. Cancellations are possible at any time and actually happen often. Make sure that last-minute changes don't affect your results.

  • Do some research and apply to yourself: women can be found! Search your academic guide ,  Consult the Women's Initiative in Foreign Policy   or_cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf_cc78d5cde-3194b-bb3b-136bad5cf _cc78cde-3194b-brussels-bb3b-136bad5cf-bb3b-136bad5cf _cbc1363051 / or search for speakers from past years on similar topics.

  • Make sure the event's format and speaker criteria are not unintentionally biased. For example: limiting panel participation to CEOs or ministers can sometimes leave you with too few female participants. Note that positions are not the only indicator of influence, expertise, or "reputation" in any given field.

  • Diversify panel topics so that women's voices are heard not only on "soft" issues like development but also on "hard" issues like security (or vice versa).

  • Maintain a gender balance in your activities. Monitor gender balance in your activities. Unfortunate situations happen; therefore, it is important to identify patterns. Statistics and numbers represent the proportions in your organization's management and also help you fine-tune the organization's strategy by showing you the pace of your progress.

2. When you are invited as a SPEAKER to a panel

  • Demand gender equality by asking who the other panelists are and how gender balance will be achieved.

  • Communicate your participation in the panel as a condition of women's participation.

  • If the final speaker list does not comply with these requirements, reserve the right to withdraw participation, even at the last minute.

  • Propose the names of women in your organization or network and refer them to the Women in Foreign Policy Initiative for support in recruiting women.

3. Responses to the main excuses put forward for the lack of female speakers:

  • Excuse: “We don't know any women we can invite. Can you send us some names?
    Answer: “Does this question come from the organization with the largest list in its subject?”

Upload Responsibility.

  • Excuse: “We tried, but many female speakers were not available on that date.”
    Answer: “Try harder and be careful next time the event is more equitable.”

Underline that better panels can be organized with a little more effort and considering participants other than 'traditional' participants.

  • Excuse: “I can't believe I didn't notice. How embarrassed I was.”
    Answer: “Yes, I was very surprised too. I'm glad you realized it, and I believe that with your awareness it will never happen again."

Build Expectation.

  • Excuse: “There were a lot of women in the audience, even though they weren't on the speaker list.”
    Answer: “Being a 'Listener' is not the same as being a 'Speaker'.”

Emphasize that an organization's putting women on the stage is a measure of how much it values women's voices and understands that it broadens their perspective and enriches the conversation.

  • Excuse: “Look, how many of our facilitators are women.”
    Answer: “How cool, now how about adding them to the panels too!

Emphasize that facilitators are important and you know that they can steer the discussion, but they will not have the chance to voice their opinions and make themselves recognized as experts, so mediators cannot replace expert women.


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