We enjoyed reading Ron Fournier’s recent column in The Atlantic about GenderAvenger, and the need for better representation of women on panels at conferences. It was great to see the work of GenderAvenger highlighted, especially when this is an issue important to us. We’ve held an annual conference the past two years where every speaker—more than 30—is a woman, with not a single man on a dais or at a podium.
GenderAvenger strives to ensure women are always part of the public conversation, whether that’s on a panel at a conference, legislative hearing, an anthology, top ten list…anywhere that women would have something to say as surely as men (I mean, where would that not be?).
GenderAvenger.com was started by Gina Glantz, with Susan Askew, as “an idea born out of frustration and in hope” after Glantz wrote about too few women on panels for Huffington Post and started a Facebook fan page. The GA website has a hall of shame (as well as hall of fame) and also brands tweets with #allmalepanel to call out offenders.
Fournier was the latest to write about GenderAvenger, saying he has taken GA’s pledge to not serve as a panelist at a public conference when there are no women on the panel. But Fournier took the pledge with one caveat: that his job as a journalist requires him to appear on panels on TV shows where he has no control over the panels’ makeup. Even well-intentioned TV bookers can try to have women represented on a panel on their show, but have a guest drop out. Instead, Fournier said he’d write a column about taking the pledge – and disclose his caveat – which is how GenderAvenger came onto our radar.
When we started our annual event, Women Entrepreneurship Week, in 2014, it might have seemed like a no-brainer to have all the speakers be women. But the all-women roster didn’t happen automatically—it took our board of advisors, which is more than 80 percent female, to make us see the light. Our staff presented to the board an agenda for our 2014 WEW Conference, the biggest event of the week, which had one male speaker listed. Immediately, the board—including the one male member—started commenting, “Surely there is a woman who can speak on this topic,” and “Have you tried to identify a woman to present this workshop?” Even though our center has a special mission to nurture and encourage women entrepreneurs, we had done what so many people do while creating a panel: we thought immediately of someone already in our network, and he happened to be male. But it took almost no time to identify a woman to fill the spot. From that conversation, our staff resolved that every speaker during the Women Entrepreneurship Week events at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University would be a woman. We have kept that commitment the past two years, and expect to achieve it again this year for the third annual Women Entrepreneurship Week Oct. 17-22, 2016. In fact, at the Feliciano Center, our challenge isn’t identifying women to be on panels and at the podium, but quite the opposite—winnowing through a list that is pages long of excellent women entrepreneurs who have been suggested to us as speakers and panelists.
In 2015, we made WEW a statewide celebration with 20 universities and nonprofits holding events all over the Garden State. In 2016, we will be making Women Entrepreneurship Week a national and international celebration—we already have commitments from organizations planning to hold WEW events as far away as India, China and Australia. We give each WEW site the flexibility to design its own women entrepreneurship event so we can’t ensure those overseas WEW events will only have women speakers—although we strongly encourage it. But what we can guarantee is that many women entrepreneurs’ voices will be heard, all over the globe, during the week of Oct. 17, 2016.
Bottom line: it should not be difficult to have at least one woman on every panel, and we are glad that GenderAvenger is drawing attention to the importance of having women’s voices heard in all areas of public discourse.