Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Would conference child care help more women speak and attend?

If you're at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, with a mission to convene conferences that bring together European and U.S. leaders, a dearth of women speakers and participants is a problem. "From the very beginning, we have been concerned with having a balanced room in terms of gender, age, and background to ensure a vibrant conversation that pushes past tired policy tropes," writes the Fund's communications director, Will Bohlen. "Our diversity has improved (20 percent women at the 2008 Brussels Forum, 26 percent last year), but only with great effort." The Fund does a great job documenting its conferences, and you can read about this year's just-completed Brussels Forum here.)

In Why do so few women attend prestigious international conferences?, Bohlen walks through the Fund's decision to try a novel approach: Offering child care at one of its Brussels-based meetings:
This year, one of our early skull sessions generated an idea we hadn’t heard before: offer free on-site, licensed childcare throughout the weekend. Our targets are the mid-career professionals who are beginning to take on important jobs in the transatlantic community. The goal is to neutralize the complexity of attending a weekend conference for working parents, women or men. Despite our high hopes, only three parents have signed up. We do not consider the effort a failure, but it also is not the silver bullet we had hoped for....
Bohlen notes that there are hopeful signs for the future:
There is at least one promising sign that our diversity efforts will take root in the near future. On the sideline of our conference is a smaller effort to develop new leaders on both sides of the Atlantic—a young professional’s summit for those under 30. We expect these rising policy stars to take higher-level jobs in the future and become part of the main Brussels Forum conference. When that happens, the group will help our gender balance as well. This year, the young professionals are 44 percent female.
What about you? Would a high-level weekend conference offering child care change your view about whether to speak or attend? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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