I’m part of a growing network of people who would like to make it easier for conference and workshop organisers to have a wider variety of speakers at their events and to help those who are less confident speakers gain the confidence to represent different points of view at events. It’s win-win!
Although I work alongside a lot of different people, I don’t often see them represented as speakers at events and recently I have been the only female on panels, speaker lineups and leading workshops. On one hand it can make me feel like the token but I have to remember that what I have to say is indeed valuable so token or not, I’ll own it anyway.
My pal Lauren Currie came up with the idea of #upfront. It’s a new approach to bring people together and to kick off a community for speaker curation that will bring different ideas, perspectives and conversations to events. Where people feel they would like to hone their speaking skills, #upfront is there for them too.
This isn’t some nutty fourth wave feminism stunt, it’s a slight dig at conference organisers who mainly feature homogenous panels, it’s not PC gone mad and it’s not lowering the bar. It’s an opportunity to open up discussion and facilitate strong links between people with different backgrounds.
Why mixing it up is important
Research here there and everywhere demonstrates the benefit of working and thinking in groups with mixed backgrounds. From this Scientific American article: ‘Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogenous groups. This is not simply because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.’
Because it’s right
I hope I don’t surprise anyone too much but the general population isn’t largely made up of cisgender white men. A lack of wider representation on a speaker lineup at events is alienating for a lot of people (including me) and, frankly, it’s getting boring. I challenge you to not do well to predict what will be said at the next all white man panel event you attend in your field or industry. It means we’re not really learning anymore.
Because it challenges status quo
I’ve had people tell me that all white man panels reflect the current state of management and leadership in most industries and sectors and that’s that. Unfortunately that may well be the case but who set the rule that the guy with the loftiest title is the most informed or most capable? From James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds: ‘Heretical or not, it’s the truth: the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated….the fundamental truth about expertise is that it is spectacularly narrow. However well informed and sophisticated an expert is, his advice and predictions should be pooled with those of others to get the most out of him.’ (pp 32-34)
Being an #upfront ally means recognizing privilege and handing the mic over to those who don’t really have a voice on the speaking circuit at the moment. Maybe that is the young person just entering the workforce (like Leila Willingham who spoke at Lauren’s latest upfront session) or maybe it is the non-white woman executive, the admin assistant, the local small business owner…you get the idea.
Being #upfront means you can help weave the rich stories and provide more insightful learning and knowledge to the people you speak to at larger events.
Call to action
If you would like to be upfront and don’t know where to start…
If you are a conference organiser and you want to be part of upfront…
…do one or more of these things
Tweet Lauren @redjotter
Tweet Leah @LockhartL
Share this message using #upfront
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