Increasing the number of women speaking at educational conferences is low lying fruit for addressing some of the gender gap in emergency medicine. Here are some concrete tips to get us started.
Close your eyes and channel your mind to the last big CME event that you attended. You’ve braved the crowded coffee lines and the awkward waves to old colleagues whose names you’ve forgotten, and now you’re sitting in a blue lecture hall listening to a presenter. Got an image? Now, is the speaker in your image a man or a woman? Be honest.
It’s 2016 and the “Mad Men” days of overt gender discrimination are mostly a memory. What we are left with is a bias that is much more elusive. I bet if you were to ask most working women today if they had ever personally experienced a situation in which they were not given a professional opportunity simply because of their gender they would likely say “no.” Similarly, I’d wager that most men (and the occasional woman) who are making hiring and advancement decisions are not purposefully trying to screw over women and truly believe their decisions are gender blinded. The resounding gestalt is “yeah, there may still be a problem, but it’s not with us.”
That’s exactly where popular critical care podcaster Scott Weingart found himself earlier this winter. Weingart, who commands a sizeable social media presence with almost 25,000 Twitter followers, was called out for the lack of women presenters at his popular NYC Resuscitation conference. In response, rather than running from the hot seat Weingart partnered up with UK EM researcher Simon Carley and Dara Kass, co-founder of Feminem.org, to participate in a moderated online discussion about the dearth of national EM female speakers.
The conversation – which can be viewed on FemInEM – was candid, educational and thought provoking. For instance, according to Carley, only about 25% of speakers at the big emergency medicine conferences are women, despite the fact that at least 38% of emergency physicians are women (according to a 2014 study published in Journal of the American College of Surgeons).
Now gender gaps in public speaking may seem relatively inconsequential considering there are still much bigger fish to fry in areas like compensation and advancement. For example, a 2011 Health Affairs Study which factored in specialty, practice type and predicted hours showed an almost 17,000 dollar unexplained difference in the starting salaries of more than 8000 male and female graduating NY state resident physicians (the difference in EM was about 12,500). And a 2014 AAMC report showed that the vast majority (85%) of professors in EM are still men. Really fixing these bigger issues, however, is incredibly complicated and will require a dedicated long term multi-faceted approach. In comparison, achieving gender balance in public speaking is relatively low lying fruit and as a specialty we can facilitate change right now.
So why is targeting CME lecturing actually important? Well, for several reasons. Public speaking comes with a few obvious tangible financial perks such as travel reimbursement, waived conference fees and a possible stipend. But the real advantages arise from the intangible perks. Speakers often have unique access to networking with other well known EM experts and this can lead to future collaborations, increased citations of their work (as name recognition increases) and additional speaking opportunities. All of these things can help a speaker springboard their career and advance professionally.
As members of the EM community, we can easily increase the number of women speaking in high profile EM events. Here are 15 concrete suggestions to start moving the needle.
Strategies for women who want to become public speakers:
- Demystify the qualities that it takes to be a speaker. Tony Robbins and Oprah were not born at the podium. Like putting in a central line, high quality public speaking is an obtainable skill through intentional practice. If you want to become a better speaker, own the process and get started reminding yourself that the goal is continued improvement not initial perfection.
- Pick your passion. Become an expert in an area in which you want to be a life long learner. It is much easier to lecture when you are confident that you know more about your topic than 90% of the room. If skeptical listen to Amal Mattu’s interview on Rob Orman’s podcast (blog.ercast.org) in which he talks about how his interest in EKGs segued into national speaking.
- Study the art of public speaking. Read, listen, analyze and then copy. A good place to start is a Science Of People study that analyzed why some Ted Talks went viral while others fell flat.
- Practice and seek out feedback. Ask effective speakers who’s style you would like to emulate, for coaching tips. Of note, recognize that actively seeking feedback from a legitimate source is slightly different than overanalyzing unsolicited comments about a given talk. As Simon Carley brought up in the FemInEM discussion, if you want to be a high profile female speaker, expect that as a woman you are more likely to receive superficial or inappropriate critiques about your appearance or possibly even your educational content than your male peers. Although this is unfortunate (it can suck) understand that at least for now this is part of the territory. Scan for comments on how to be more effective in future presentations, and then consciously move on.
- Stretch your networks. Traditionally women tend to have very small and intimate networks compared to men whose networks are broad and diverse. If you want to get to the national speaking circuit you will likely need to move beyond your natural comfort zone. Get to know your regional educational didactic coordinators and residency directors, go to national meetings and join committees that focus on your area of interest. Let people know that you are interested in public speaking.
- Invest in social media. Use social media to educate and connect with your audience and as a vehicle to network with other source experts.
For residency program directors:
- Reinforce that public speaking is an attainable skill that is not gender specific.
- Provide formalized feedback. Give residents structured evaluations of their required educational talks. As physicians, most of us are occasionally asked to give some type of presentation, teaching residents the basics of how to give an effective presentation and how to use background material appropriately is an important skill regardless of whether they give 10 or 100 lectures post residency.
- Facilitate additional opportunities. When a resident has identified that they want to become a better speaker help them gain access to additional coaching and speaking opportunities.
- Support diverse grand rounds speakers. Whether it’s gender or race, residents need living, breathing access to successful people who look like themselves so that they can subtly reframe abstract possibilities into realistic aspirations.
For CME program directors:
- Examine your current track record. Sometimes the simple process of consciously recognizing patterns can in itself facilitate real change. If historically the vast majority of your conference speakers have been men, decide to include gender diversity as a variable in your next planning session.
- Include women in your planning committee. From research in other science and technology fields we know planning committees that include both men and women (versus all men) are more likely to produce programs with higher numbers of female presenters.
- Evaluate your speaker selection process. During the Feminem discussion, Kass was clear that planners need not “dumb” down their standards or jeopardize the quality of a conference by including a speaker who may not be ready for prime time, just because they are female. Rather, she asks that planners consciously expand the current pool from which they solicit speakers, so that it includes additional qualified candidates who just happen to be female. The poster child of an EM program that has done this successfully is the international acclaimed Social Media and Critical Care (SMACC) conference. Their planning committee made speaker diversity a priority and developed innovative techniques to expand their selection process and consequently identify new speakers.
For senior male and female speakers:
- Be mindful of coaching opportunities. If you are a big name in emergency medicine you also have a bigger responsibility because you likely have the ability to catapult the careers of individuals behind you. Use this power thoughtfully, consciously identify motivated women to coach, mentor and sponsor.
- Have a handy list of qualified female speakers. When invited to speak, ask the program committee if they still need additional speakers and if declining an invitation yourself, share contact information for a qualified woman as an alternative.
Thanks Scott, Simon, Dara (and moderator Jenny Beck-Esmay) for starting this discussion.