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What it will take to bring more women onto the stage at procurement events

16 March, 2020 | By Matthias Gutzmann

I’ll be honest, DPW2019 received some backlash when it announced the roster of speakers. We were told it was barren of female representation.

There is certainly a fair amount of frustration from not seeing more women on stage sharing their views. Not only do people want to hear a woman’s perspective, but also because the procurement industry seems to be male-dominated.

Getting women to speak at events isn’t always as simple as it may seem. As someone who puts on a large event, my personal experience is that women decline invitations to speak at a much higher rate than men. At least half the number of women decline the invitation to speak for varying reasons. I once had a female CPO decline because there weren’t more women on the agenda. Either way, I am constantly surprised at how many qualified and totally capable women need persuasion to speak on stage. 

The chicken or the egg?

I wanted to dig more into my personal experience with inviting speakers to talk. Why is it that when asked, most men say yes, but many women say no? Much of it can be chalked up to the fact that a person’s confidence and success is directly connected to the support they receive from others around them. It’s a vicious circle – many women may not put themselves forward because they don’t feel confident speaking on stage while having to deal with the response of the likely male-dominated audience or speaker line-up. So event organisers have trouble identifying potential women speakers.

It also appears that women may be poor self-promoters and don’t proactively promote themselves. Women may have a sensitivity to the appearance of self-promotion as being inappropriately “showy.” Men proactively and energetically go after speaking engagements to become known and become an “in demand” CPO. It seems like men have a better process and a purpose before they even raise their hands.

No amount of finger pointing nor theorizing will solve this dilemma. In my opinion, it’s a situation that requires five things.

1. Conference producers, work harder

Event organisers like myself must roll up their sleeves and work harder to engage women speakers. In a male-dominated industry, we need to do the extra work to actively find great women speakers. It’s not just about finding female experts by title alone. We must source women speakers outside traditional networks and look for differences in experiences and varying points of view. For example, if four female CPO speakers are already scheduled, it could be valuable to bring in someone working on the issue with a different approach, for example a female startup founder. For DPW2020, we are aiming for 50% women speakers across the 2020 agenda.

2. Women, just say yes

Women must summon the courage, make time on their schedules, and make their way to the front of the crowd. If we want women to make up a greater population of speakers and inspire change, then women must make themselves heard, known and distinctive. But speaking at events is not only extremely valuable to elevate the voice of professional women, but also to develop your personal brand. Look for every opportunity to speak.

3. Women speakers, pass the baton

If you frequently get asked to speak and you identify as female, pay it forward by recommending another woman speaker alongside you. If you have to decline, recommend another woman to speak in your place. Pass the baton to other women to widen the network of possibilities, now and in the future. Another way to broaden the playing field would be to negotiate a handful of complimentary conference tickets for women you nominate to attend to high profile conferences, like DPW.

4. Sponsors, co-present with a female customer speaker

If you’re in the position of being able to sponsor an event, you have a platform to create diversity. Use your sponsorship budget and power to create a diverse and inclusive environment by co-presenting with a female customer speaker. Sponsorship packages to DPW2021 will be awarded to sponsors that prioritized female speakers for our 2020 conference.

5. Procurement, refuse to attend an event with a homogenous lineup

Vote with your dollars if you can. Where possible, amplify and attend conferences that prioritise speaker diversity. Besides, you wouldn’t want to waste time attending a conference that didn’t offer a wide variety of expertise, views, and experiences.

Diversity and Inclusion at Digital Procurement World

The procurement industry needs more diverse perspectives and women’s voices to drive innovation and improve the bottom line. At DPW, our goal is to be the most inclusive and representative event in procurement. We have a long way to go, but are working relentlessly to achieve specific objectives. Learn more about Diversity & Inclusion at DPW.

Reach out to me directly at matthias@dpwconf.com, if you are a woman and would like to speak at Digital Procurement World 2020. We have a multitude of exciting speaking formats available from standalone presentations, to panel debates, to moderator roles.

Matthias Gutzmann is the founder of Digital Procurement World

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