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We still need more women on stage

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This year’s IAA Conference was a blast – maybe the biggest conference of the world this year with 4 B2B main stages, 4 small stages in the networking areas, 2 topic stages, 1 B2C dialogue stage and 2 virtual studios for live B2B & B2C programs. Not counting all the other conference formats like World Cycling Forum, Exhibitor Stages, Press Conferences etc, we had about 930 speakers delivering 6 days of content: 80% English language for B2B, 20% German language – mostly for B2C.

Travel restrictions from Asia, America and Israel due to coronavirus didn’t even stop us from a high-level international line up. We talked about nearly everything that has to do with future mobility from Autonoums Driving to Zero Emission and we had more than 25 amazing partners – most of them coming not from industry but from academia, the World Economic Forum & Women in Mobility. And best of all, most of the sessions and stages had more visitors than we expected and hoped for.

So while we as a small conference team could be so proud of this amazing achievement, we quickly realized that we missed one of our most important targets for diversity – maybe the most important one from our long list:

  • Diversity in intercontinental internationality was something we had to put aside because of the obvious reason of coronavirus. Although some did travel, we had about 10-15% video calls integrated into the panels so that was fine too. The European rate was high so in the end it wasn’t a German conference at all.
  • Diversity in topics: we had nearly everything, even a citizen dialogue stage.
  • Diversity in company sizes: we had every type of company there from startups, consultancies and academia to the very big corporate players.
  • Diversity in industry: we had every sector that has to do with mobility and beyond. Maybe some more than others but not one sector fully underrepresented.
  • Human Diversity not only as a topic: what we definitely have to do a bit more is to talk about diversity in mobility – about special needs, about job and mobility environment and chances. We talked about this, but next time a bit more.

This still reads like a big powerful success but as I wrote in my LinkedIn post lately, we missed one target:

The proportion of women on our 4 conference stages was just 27% (out of 430 speakers). Overall (out of 930) even lower. That is significantly less than we planned and there are two main reasons:

1. Significantly more men than women work in the mobility industry – especially in top positions.

2. On average only 1-2 out of 10 women responded to our speaker requests, while it was 7-8 out of 10 men (felt – not documented)

My former boss once said: “That can’t be an excuse! If you want to reach 50%, you keep asking until you’ve reached 50%.” He’s right!

The only question is, is there a limit that prevents the equality and equal treatment of men and women from tipping over to the other side (speaker fee, rejection just because of being a man, limitation of line-up)?

For example, on Tuesday we had Herbert Diess (Volkswagen AG), Francesco Starace (Enel), Oliver Blume (Porsche AG), Mate Rimac (Rimac Automobili d.o.o.), Ola Källenius (Daimler AG), Cartsen Spohr (Lufthansa), Stefan Hartung (Robert Bosch) in 3 sessions behind each other. The first two women that afternoon were Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hildegard Müller (President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry).

The whole day was a success. Great panels, super high-level managers from high-level companies signalling that one of the biggest conferences in the world is worth watching… but most of them were men.

So, what’s the conclusion? Set lower targets next time? Lower the bar for the speaker line-up next time?  Definitely not! We can’t change the world – we just can bring together the world as it is so it can discuss and realize the change. So, for the next conference we’re aiming for 50% women on stage – again!

Thank you for all the answers and ideas shared via LinkedIn and per mail. Most of the answers so far came from women who experienced the same as speakers, visitors or organizers with great ideas how to solve this, such as:

  • Include women right away! Don’t just ask them to speak but let them help you with the curation.
  • Set clear guidelines for partners and sponsors and help them to achieve them.
  • One of our most important partners in this case was Women in Mobility – include more great women networks like WiM.
  • If you are promoting an event, try to put female speakers up front to motivate other women to come as speakers and as visitors – this is also really important.
  • You can also use incentives… but please, only within the framework of what is legally and morally feasible in the sense of equality – don’t lower the value of a male speaker only because of his gender – would be the same mistake 😉
  • Don’t forget that (in Mobility Industries) there are way more men than women in “conferencable” positions (Managers and Experts) so be earlier in the request as the schedule of a women fills a bit faster.
  • Don’t just ask the women who are already visible everywhere – also give other maybe unknown or unexperienced women the chance and the space on stage to share their perspectives.
  • And last but not least: think out of the box

We need more women on stage talking about topics that doesn’t have to do with being a woman – but more with being an expert.

Do you have more ideas about how we can achieve these goals? Drop a comment in the original thread on LinkedIn.

(Cover photo shows Tijen Onaran, Kerstin Andreae and Hildegard Müller)

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