Can An All-Male Panel of Speakers Really Help Women Make A Difference?

IMG_2583Ok, so let me just preface this following post with the caveat that I know absolutely nothing about the group whose event came to my attention recently. And I am acknowledging up front that there might be a completely plausible explanation for why the organizers chose the speakers they did for their upcoming event. I haven’t spoken with them, so I really don’t know. But what I do know is that it just didn’t sit right with me that a group would create an event focused on women and then invite only men to speak at the event.

I recently came across an announcement for an upcoming event in my city that promised to highlight why Women Make A Difference. As a cofounder of Hautepreneurs, a networking group created to elevate the game of women entrepreneurs in our state, and as the founder of APPCityLife, a mobile development company focusing on the civic space, I was intrigued. I love seeing women support other women, so I thought at first that this might be a group I should connect with and support. It was then that I saw the lineup for their all-day event:

Key Note Speaker: Wayne Story
Presenters: Rob Winestein, David Crum, Mike LeMoine, Ron Patel

Is it just me, or does it seem incongruous that every single presenter and the keynote speaker is male when this is an event organized by women with a theme of Women Make A Difference? I’m not questioning any of the qualifications of the speakers. I am sure they have a lot to share that would be of value to any business owner.

But what doesn’t make sense to me is why the organizers couldn’t find a few woman to address the group as well? I know of several highly qualified women – including both of my Hautepreneurs cofounders – as well as journalists like Megan Kamerick, whose TEDxABQ talk on women went viral, women entrepreneurs like Nerissa Whittington of bigbyte.cc or Kyle Zimmerman of Kyle Zimmerman Photography, women civic leaders like Ann Lerner of the Albuquerque Film Office or Agnes Noonan of WESST – all of whom would have made riveting speakers with plenty to share.

I firmly believe that the only way opportunities, pay, and advancement for women will grow is if the conversation includes men and women. We cannot change perception or build support in a vacuum, and while I have enjoyed many a gripe session with my fellow women entrepreneurs and appreciated the commiseration – and while I certainly don’t think women’s groups need men to participate on panels to validate any of the issues or concepts discussed, I do know that when men are a part of the conversation and sit on panels for women-centric issues, it changes men’s perspectives and often builds consensus and support for changing the opportunities and playing field for women. That is why we worked so hard this past year to make sure the Women In Tech luncheon during ABQ Tech Fiesta Week included several male panelists to balance out perspective and generate a deeper, richer conversation about the challenges and opportunities in front of us.

But here is where the rub lies, at least for me. To host an event by women for women and put together an all male panel? I truly do not understand that. I wish I did. For far too long, women have been kept from the table and not been given a voice in their own destiny. We have made amazing strides in the past few years about changing that conversation and the opportunities for women to not only be heard but hired. This just feels like a step back, and I’m not sure why we’d want to do that. I want to reiterate that I know nothing about the organizers, their group or their backgrounds. I can hardly imagine that their goals are anything less than making a positive footprint in our community. But I feel compelled to express my dismay that in today’s climate, that an event could be organized without balancing the representation of speakers across both genders. I am truly baffled.

I was recently talking with one of my cofounders at APPCityLife about what a good blend it has been to have men and women filling leadership and employee roles within our company. There is a variety of viewpoints and experiences that have not only made our workplace richer but better for the balance. It has been an amazing opportunity to work with strong men and women, and I am constantly amazed at the gender-blindness that there has been within our team. When there is mutual respect for the opinions, talents and unique leadership of men and women – that is when there can be real growth and synergy.

The organizers are right about one thing. Women really can make a difference. But leaving their voice completely out of the room during an event to highlight this mantra – that is hard to understand.

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