Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What panel moderators can do to advance gender equity at conferences

Conference organizers looking to avoid issues related to gender equity at their gatherings need look no further than your best back-pocket tool, the panel moderators.

That's because moderators--deployed as they are across the program and empowered with the mic--have the power to make gender equity a reality in several key ways. Organizers can make this more of a certainty by discussing the following options with all of your moderators, in advance:

  1. Women moderators can refuse to serve as window-dressing for all-male panels, and all moderators, male and female, can turn down moderating all-male panels. Of course, organizers can make this easier by not permitting all-male panels in the first place. But if they do not act, moderators worth their salt should turn down the gig, and make it clear why.
  2. Panel moderators can announce the conference code of conduct at the start of the panel--not just noting that one exists, but what it means for speakers and participants. In addition to making it clear, announcing the code puts participants at ease and violators on notice, making it easier for people to report infractions. (Moderators, ask about codes of conduct when you are called for moderation gigs.)
  3. Alternate calling on men and women during Q&A to counteract the implicit bias, honed in the classroom, of calling on men more than women. Believe me, the women in your audience notice. Bonus points if you announce at the start of the panel or Q&A that you will alternate calling on men and women, to encourage more women to put their hands up.
  4. Make sure you are engaging female panelists equitably and not interrupting them more than you do male panelists. Managing panelists also can fall victim to implicit biases, and research shows that men interrupt women more in mixed-gender conversations. So moderators have a double duty: Don't interrupt the women more frequently when you are in charge, and don't let the men on the panel do so, either.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan)

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.