For winter quarter, we’ve been discussing practical advice, sharing the wealth of knowledge of our community. For this meeting, Emily Delaney and Kristin Lee led a discussion on what we should be thinking about when preparing for conferences, and the mechanics of actually presenting.
Conferences are a great opportunity to increase the visibility and exposure of your work, a chance to network and collaborate, and in particular, symposia at conferences bring together leaders and rising stars interested in similar topics. But we want to be aware of the biases that can lead to who is speaking. Emily shared research that shows there are differences in the gender ratio of speakers, even at gender-balanced conferences. Women are underrepresented as speakers – even though only 9-23% of symposia talk invites went to women in data compiled from a decade of meetings of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology, gender bias was exacerbated because 50% of women declined their invitation, but only 26% of men did. We identified that this may be because the same women are being invited to speak at lots of places, or have responsibilities caring for family and young children, and childcare offered by conferences is of differing quality (if it’s even offered!). Also, imposter syndrome can make individuals less likely to accept an invitation, or consider their invitation simply as a token.
To increase parity in the gender ratios of speakers, societies can act top-down to encourage diversity within their symposia, and we as participants can act to empower our diversity. Including a statement in the instructions for organizing symposia that 50/50 gender balance in speakers is expected, and requiring an additional declaration defending why it could not be achieved is one example. Encouraging the use of self-nomination lists like Diversify EEB, Diversify EEB Grads, AcademiaNet, EMBO Women in Life Sciences can help identify relevant speakers. As participants, we can use our voice to call out offenders (see allmalepanels.tumblr.com for a humorous approach), and in more extreme forms, boycott meetings. Other ideas include when declining an invitation, making suggestions of another person to take your place. It certainly helps with imposter syndrome if the organizer is able to invite with language like “your colleague recommended you.” Overall, we are encouraged that awareness is important in making change – after a paper showing that a major contributor to the amount of female speakers in symposia at the 2014 General Meeting of the American Society of Microbiology was whether the symposium had a female convener, the following year’s meeting did better.
We closed out the session with Kristin’s presentation of ways in which verbal and nonverbal communication can be interpreted by others. I have a hard time recognizing the vocal patterns, but these include uptalk (phrases and sentences ending with a rising sound as if a question) and vocal fry (scratchy low Ira Glass or Noam Chomsky voice). If you’re not sure what these sound like, there are great audio file examples in the supplement here. While these vocal patterns are used by both genders, there are pieces all over the internet that complain about women’s voices as perceived by men.
Our general opinion was concern over yet another thing to worry about – the sound of your voice – but others raised the point that whenever you’re giving a presentation you’re putting on a show. Thinking about the way in which you speak is not that different from considering how you’re dressing or what your slides look like. All are personal choices, and while it really shouldn’t matter, perception by others is a tricky thing and difficult to control. While we didn’t reach a consensus as to whether the impetus should be on the speaker or the listener to change, it is clear that awareness is important. We can police negative comments about speaking styles, even when they’re masked as compliments. Telling a presenter that she has poise and confidence in speaking is insulting when you’re not commending her really amazing research. Instead of worrying about what people sound like, we can try to focus on the content of the words they’re speaking.
Thanks to Emily and Kristin for organizing!