Healthcare conferences still a sad place for diversity

A snapshot of the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Summit, October 29th, 2014, where only 20% of speakers were female

Last year, Rock Health took the first look  at gender diversity on the stages of a dozen high-profile healthcare conferences. We knew from experience that women were largely confined to the attendee list at these events, and we were appalled when our research confirmed that only a quarter of speakers in 2013 were women.

We launched the XX Speaker Project as part of our larger XX in Health initiative to promote and support female leaders in healthcare. Opening up a dialogue about this imbalance, our goal was to make tangible changes and improve the numbers in 2014.

First, we called it out. Making these numbers transparent helps conference organizers, attendees, and the public at large realize there’s a problem. (You can view the data here).

Second, we made it really easy for conference organizers to learn about and connect with amazing women in healthcare by creating this database of female speakers.

Third, we began hosting workshops on public speaking. Nassim Assefi, TEDMED’s Director of Stage Content, recently shared that men are 5-7 times more likely to be nominated to speak at the prestigious conference—even by women. “Men are more likely to believe they’d be a good fit with our stage,” Assefi shared in a blog, “whereas women sometimes undermine themselves and their abilities.”

We knew a huge step toward equality on stage was to instill the confidence in women to nominate themselves and each other. The workshops we hosted in San Francisco and New York City were just the beginning of our attempts at getting more women comfortable with public speaking.

Of course, we practice what we preach. At Rock Health’s largest annual event, Health Innovation Summit, we committed to having a balanced speaker ratio for 2014.  As we built the agenda and confirmed speakers, the gender ratio was always top of mind. At the end, we had 18 female and 16 male speakers (a big improvement from last year).

Things are heading in the right direction. We looked at 15 major healthcare conferences last year, where women represented just 26% of speakers. This year, at the 32 conferences we tracked, women made up 32% of speakers. We have a long way to go, and we invite conference organizers to join us in turning things around.

Rock Health is producing its second report on The State of Women in Healthcare and ladies, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experiences with us by taking this quick survey.