Aspiring to speak at conferences and to share knowledge with others seems like a reasonable thing for a professional to do. So, it was quite odd to me to find that there were so few women going out and speaking at conferences from Thoughtworks India, as compared to men.
Is it possible that women were just less keen on speaking? Or was there something else stopping women from speaking?
A group of us decided to find out and hopefully change this outcome.
First we facilitated a discussion with women in different roles (technical/ non-technical) within Thoughtworks to talk about why more women aren't speaking at conferences.
We found that lack of confidence, fear of speaking, finding topics to speak about and lack of experience came out as the largest themes that prevented women from taking an initiative on this front.
We decided that having a support group, that provided a safe platform to practice the skills, might be a good way to address this.
Thus "InnerVoice" was created. It is a forum for aspiring female speakers to meet and hone their speaking and presentation skills. We meet as a group for half an hour every other week. InnerVoice has an active volunteer group who reach out to female Thoughtworkers and in many cases convince the ones who are not confident of their abilities to come and speak!
Here are 4 steps you should consider if you wish to set up your own "Inner Voice" program.
Provide a Feedback Slot - Formalize open feedback after each talk so that the speakers gain valuable insights into their presentation skills.
Invite Experienced Guest Speakers - Guests are able to guide us on how to improve our presentation skills.
Create a List of Topics - Create a backlog a list of technical topics to choose from so that the lack of topics doesn't prevent women from speaking. Many aspiring speakers were concerned that what they had to share was somehow not interesting enough. Having a list of topics helped them decide on a topic or at least benchmark against what might be topics worth speaking about.
Offer Different Formats - Try different formats - for example, games, fishbowls, extempores to let women find the best format that works for them.
When we saw there was a good potential for so many women to speak, albeit with a little support, we followed up with the marketing team to keep us informed of speaking opportunities. Our core team also reached out to the prominent speakers (men and women) and asked them if they could help aspiring women by pairing with them so they would get first-hand experience in a safe and nurturing way.
InnerVoice has been active for more than eight months now and 15 women have spoken in that time frame. Some of these women are now speaking at other forums within Thoughtworks, and in some cases at external conferences.
Positive action to help women gain confidence has indeed helped us as an organization. We continue to explore other activities and channels to effectively support and groom more women to go out and let their voice be heard.
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Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.