A behind the scenes look at choosing speakers for the Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research, by Susan Abbott #MRX #Diversity


Hi readers,

This is a guest post from my colleague Susan Abbot who was on the speaker selection committee for the Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research. After reading an earlier blog post of mine about diversity of speakers, Susan decided to run the numbers on the conference and see how the conference did. These numbers can be seen in context with others on my conference comparison post.  I would be thrilled if other conferences followed suit because this type of transparency is how we can really determine where any problems may lie.


Overall

We received multiple proposals from the same speakers, in varying combinations. Any given name was only counted once, and counted in the place first recorded, which would have been in the order received.

Some proposals had more than one speaker. We counted only primary and secondary speakers.

Our keynote speaker is female. We did a search, and invited this individual to speak, we did not solicit proposals. Factors considered: wanted an expert on futures, wanted an expert based in Europe, wanted someone who would connect with our audience, wanted to be within our budget. We looked at three speakers from one organization as finalists, two males and a female, and felt the woman would connect better because she had some qualitative research background. She is not included in the numbers shown below.

 

Proposals received from:

Primary speaker gender Secondary speaker gender Totals  
Total count female 33 12 45 57%
Total count male 26 8 34 43%
Totals 59 20 79 100%

 

Program

The final program line-up is as follows.

I would note here that some people who were offered a speaking slot (including both males and females) declined the offer, for a variety of reasons.

As well, I believe one male secondary speaker was added after the session was accepted, and I didn’t try to take that into account.

Primary speaker gender Secondary speaker gender Totals  
Final Program Female 19 6 25 58%
Final Program Male 13 5 18 42%
Totals 32 11 43 100%

 

Process

We have a speaker committee of three people who have done a lot of conference planning work over the years.

In addition, I was involved in the initial discussions with the committee, and Kendall Nash, my co-chair, also participated in some of the final selections.

A consideration in forming the committee was to have at least one European (which we did, from the UK).

We did actively solicit speaker proposals through social media, through e-mail announcements with partner organizations, and so forth. The committee also invited noteworthy individuals to submit, and we made announcements at other industry events. Basically, looking for the best and brightest.

The initial review of proposals was blinded as to name and organization. It is difficult to do that entirely, because you see trademark phrases and styles in the proposal content that make it easy to guess, however I would say we worked hard NOT to guess.  Where people recognized the content, or had close friends or associates with a proposal, they disclosed this and/or recused themselves from discussions.

I have to say that we didn’t really give gender a lot of consideration in discussions.

After an initial independent rating of each proposal by the committee members, any session rated below a cut-off was not given significant further consideration.

We DID give region/country quite a bit of consideration, as we wanted to have a truly global program, which we do. Since we had many more proposals of merit than we had speaking slots, we did not have to sacrifice anything to get this global mix.

In our final deliberations, we considered our collective knowledge of the individual’s skills at presenting, as well as how often we had seen them on a conference platform recently. We also tried to ensure that the same people are not on the podium every year, even if they are really good speakers, because they already get a lot of air time for their ideas.

So, I am pretty thrilled to see that gender does not appear to have been a factor in our deliberations.

Gender is clearly a factor in how people choose to engage with QRCA – our volunteers tend to skew female, and I think that chapter meeting attendance also skews female. I’m not sure about overall membership, and there is really no way to know about participation in the workforce, as there are a lot of people who do qualitative and other marketing research that are not members of any organization. My hypothesis is that conference speaking is a more appealing way for males to participate in the industry than volunteering is.

 

Susan Abbott

Insight and Innovation

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