Want to be a speaker? Women with a message please stand up!

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As a consultant and professional speaker about company culture, the future of work and entrepreneurship I am often invited to be interviewed by media as a subject expert. I was invited for an interview on ABC radio recently on a different topic – to discuss the professional speaking industry and the imbalance of male/female gender representation.

The interview came about as a result of five professional male speakers from around Australia, boycotting panels that don’t include women, criticising organisers for taking the lazy way out by opting for “dude fests”. 

International payments company PayPal was attacked for organising an all-male panel to discuss “gender equality and inclusion in the workplace” with no woman in sight.

Finally someone saw the imbalance and took a stand to force the issue and create change – thanks to Dr Jason Fox, Dr Dan Gregory, Dr Adam Fraser, Matt Church and Darren Hill for taking the #panelpledge.

Read more: 

The opportunity to be part of the discussion with interviewer Paul Bevan on ABC was a welcome one as never before, as a society, have we faced such times of rapid change, generational, cultural and religious diversity.

Never before have we experienced such times of working together, automation, co-working, collaboration and the competition for talent.

Futurists suggest that by 2030 the most commonly spoken languages in the world will be Chinese and Spanish and that 50 per cent of the jobs today will have been replaced by machines or artificial intelligence.

So we definitely do need more debate and discussion on the topic if we are to see this boycott have any real long term future impact.

Speaking is one of the most profitable professions in the world. It’s been a highly male dominated since the famous four ancient Greek males dominated the scene in the classical period in history – Miletus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

So just what is it preventing more women with a message from stepping up?

Globally women are basically half the population, but a tiny percentage of keynote speakers are female. Recently after attending a mathematics conference featuring 19 male speakers and one woman, mathematics professor Greg Martin did the math and found out it wasn’t due to the odds that there wasn’t a greater representation of women – it was because of bias.

So we need to take stock and stop this, we need to achieve gender diversity on the podium as much as in the boardroom and on executive teams but what is holding back women from standing on the stage as well.

For one thing the fees commanded by top ranked keynote speakers is often met with contempt, surprise or disbelief. How could someone earn $40,000 in an hour? Or more in the case of top headliners such as Simon Sinek, former President Clinton and a few other in-demand speakers.

Yes the fees can be high. Of course, those who are amazed or outraged at the hourly rate don’t think about the years of preparation, or the amount of effort required to get to that level of performance like an elite athlete.

Indeed the speaking fees are often a small percentage of the total budget for a large conference where the aim is to get bums on seats who are happy with the event and likely to support one in the future.

Which is why they often resort to booking the same male speakers – tried and tested star power speakers can pull a crowd – and if you get an extra 100 attendees at a $2000 conference due to the keynote speaker, the promoter is very happy with their increased profit.

So we seem to have been caught in a catch 22 bias. Few women making it to the stage means fewer can become standout brands, which means even fewer will get hired to speak.

So we need a double edged approach – we need more conference organisers and corporates to hire more female speakers and we need more women to step up into the spotlight and become stars.

Which comes back to the age old program of confidence and courage. Women need to be prepared to back themselves to believe they have something of value to say and to get out and make their presence known.

Perception is reality and awareness is key. So if you’re a sista and you’ve got a message to share – you’ve got to start somewhere.

Start speaking for free at networking groups, business chambers and smaller events, start collecting video, photo and testimonials as social proof of your status as a speaker and change your LinkedIn profile or bio to say you are a speaker. Get coaching or training on how to speak, hone your craft, polish your storytelling skills and still be your unique self.

For example during this month of May I have offered 20 free speeches – or $100,000 worth of talks for free to the market (read more or book me here I have 1 spot left!). The purpose of me doing this was two-fold:

  1. My chosen keyword for 2016 is “generosity” so it is one of the ways I am giving of my services generously . 
  2. Because you will never get more bookings if you are a secret, each time I speak I am seen, heard and felt and more likely to get booked again in future.

Well what are you waiting for? Is it time you invested in yourself, your profile and your success and helped put women on the world stage alongside our male counterparts? I hope so – see you at the next conference.

With Love,

Heidi Alexandra Pollard Xx


Heidi Alexandra Pollard

As a workplace futurist and company culture hacker, Heidi Alexandra and her team are the secret super power for Australia’s most innovative cultures and brands. Heidi Alexandra created a simple model, called The UQ Powerhouse, that codifies what makes healthy, happy and productive workplaces for the future. She believes it is possible for businesses to balance people, planet and purpose with profit and that together we can end workplace bullying, depression, anxiety and suffering. Find out more at

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