Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beyond #allmalepanels: Moderating a panel that treats gender fairly

On The Elouquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking, the issue of gender balance and panels is a frequent topic. Whether you are organizing or moderating a panel, there are plenty of examples of what not to do out there. But what actions can you take to ensure your panel treats gender in a fair way? Try adding these tactics to your to-do list:
  • Treat women panelists as professionals: Spending time with women professionals on your work-topic panel by asking them about their children and domestic lives is insulting, as Dreamforce found out in this disaster of a panel. Use that great rule of thumb: Would you ask a male executive the same question? 
  • Moderate panels where you understand the main topic: This writer notes that the moderator needs to be comfortable with the topic if she's going to avoid chatting about family topics with female tech experts. At the Fortune Brainstorm conference, a non-tech moderator chose to ask female tech execs about their children, perhaps because tech topics aren't her strong suit. 
  • Make sure you're not a visual token as a moderator: No one's fonder of a moderation role than I am--except when that's the only role that women play at the conference. That tells me the conference wants women in visible, but smaller, speaking roles. It's one of the reasons I advise moderators to turn down requests to moderate panels. Say yes to panels with gender balance among panelists and moderators, across the board.
  • Don't moderate panels of women on women's issues: Again, a better practice is to spread women speakers on panels throughout the conference, rather than ghetto-izing their issues on an all-female panel. Limiting women speakers to all-female panels is just as bad as lots of #allmalepanels. Turn down invitations to moderate these panels, too.
  • Alternate calling on men and women in the audience: Calling on the audience is the other half of the moderator's job, and both men and women tend to call on male questioners more frequently. Alternate whom you choose to ask questions--and if you want to encourage women to speak up, announce that you will alternate calling on men and women, and why you're doing it. Then stick to that plan.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Fortune Brainstorm Tech)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.