Like Vaughan Rowsell, I get asked to facilitate or be on panels and speak at events a fair bit. Actually not quite like Vaughan — he’s incredibly popular, and for good reason.
Vaughan’s publicly announced that he will not accept being on panels with no women. Between us it’s actually a policy that he has privately had for a while.
So have I, although not as strictly as I would have liked.
As a facilitator I, if required, I’ve actively managed panel membership to ensure we have a diverse set of views, thinking about topic, gender and cultural background. Several times I’ve taken the liberty of finding one or two more people to add the the existing panel, with conference organisers always happy to oblige. Sometimes this has even happened on the day, and once, when the sole women panelist was called away 15 minutes before the panel, we found someone just seconds before the event. Step up Alyona Medelyan, who easily proved she was the smartest person in the room (or at least on the panel) at ITx.
It’s harder when you are a just a panelist to influence the membership of the whole panel, but most organisers are happy once you suggest some other people to add. In the web, IT and early stage company sectors this is particularly easy, and Webstock, NetHui, Gather, FooCamp, ITx and pretty much every other conference in our space deserve credit for working hard on diversity. Other industries, such as the finance industry, can be quite a way behind, and this can make for boring conferences. However they are generally very receptive as well.
So I’m delighted that Vaughan has gone public, and am happy to support him with the same policy. Let’s make the diverse panels happen. And like Vaughan, I know plenty of speakers who are not forty-something white males whom I can recommend.