The clues usually arise in the request:
- It’s at an event for women.
- They want me to talk about being a woman (often combined with being an event for women).
- The lineup was announced already… and it’s a bunch of (white) dudes.
- There is a section in the email that essentially says “if not you please help us find another woman” (optional extra: I am in no way qualified to speak on that topic).
- They actually say, “I need to find a woman speaker” (optional extra: “because other speakers or sponsors are complaining”).
I give a lot of talks. I work incredibly hard at preparing them. I co-run a newsletter on public speaking in tech. The invitations I get that reflect those qualifications are much easier to accept.
I used to get offended by the request to come and be a token. But I’ve decided to reframe it.
First, I feel no obligation to say yes to these invitations. I will do it if it suits me, and I won’t if it doesn’t. If I have some goodwill towards the organiser, I may help them find someone else, or I may not.
Second, I use it as an opportunity to practise negotiation. Instead of saying “no”, I say “I only speak at events where my travel costs are covered, and depending on the event I also ask for a speaker fee. Let me know what you are open to and we will go from there.”
Third, if I do agree to do it, I remind myself that the audience has no idea I was invited because I’m a woman. As far as they are concerned, I’m qualified. So if I rock it, that will be the end of my tokenisation.
I’ve not been giving many token women talks lately, which I attribute mostly to the second strategy. It is frankly amazing how many organisers think I will be willing to come and be a token women at their event for the sake of “exposure”. It is appalling how many of them think that I will cover my own travel costs to do so. It is particularly jarring when these organisers are large, profitable, tech companies.
Women events, talks about being a women in tech, and thinly-disguised recruiting events, are particularly annoying. There’s plenty to be said on fixing the problem of poor representation of women in tech, but there is one thing I am relatively certain will not fix anything, and that is asking women to do extra unpaid work. So when I am asked to do extra, unpaid work, for the sake of “women in tech” or “the community” (is this the community that harasses and doxxes my friends?) I say no.
Finally, when asked to help find other women to help with things like this, or diversity consulting etc, I ask if they will be paid, and if not, I say that I will not help. If you did the same, together we might make a difference. After-all, the data shows women get less flack for asking for others, than we do asking for ourselves.
Of course, I have been guilty of many of these things too. But now, when I look back at my time in Corporate Feminism what I feel proud of are those times when I was able to get other women recognised or rewarded.
Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!