The first suggestion is to find the missing women! If women are under-represented, then be proactive in looking for gifted women when you need someone to speak, train, lead, write about, write for you, use as an illustration, preach about and so on, instead of immediately opting for the more obvious male candidates.
Over the last year, I have challenged a number of event organisers, editors and resource producers where they have included few or no women. Invariably the response is, ‘We’d like to include more women, but we don’t know any!’ I hope the Sophia Network can begin to address that problem through the women that we profile in interviews on this blog, and also because we’re a network, creating opportunities for all our members to find out who’s doing what around the country and then speaking up for each other. We’re looking at setting up a directory of women’s speakers but want to do this in partnership with other organisations so it can be really useful, and helps more inexperienced women speakers to develop through training, feedback and creating opportunities. But I’d also like to encourage those gatekeepers who can provide opportunities for women to speak, write and lead to take some risks and not just go for the safe pair of hands.
And there’s a need to be aware of barriers that can stop women applying for positions or putting themselves forward. The Appointments Commission, an organisation responsible for finding non-executive directors, found a marked decrease in the number of women applying for these over the last few years and an increase in the number of women resigning from posts. Their publication, Women on board, gives results of their research into why this was, and is useful reading for anyone looking to increase the number of women in their organisation at any level.
At the same time, we need to work to avoid any kind of tokenism or setting people up to fail. There’s an element of truth in the adage that a woman has to do twice as well to get half the recognition, and a feeling that women will be judged harshly for not making the grade. Let’s make sure women are well equipped and well supported when they move into new areas.