GDS approaches gender parity in conference speakers

Written by Rebecca Hill on 10 March 2017 in News
News

In the past year, the Government Digital Service has boosted the proportion of women speaking at external events from 25% to 41.7%.

The Government Digital Service has pledged to send more women to speak at events - Photo credit: Fotolia

On 8 March 2016 – international women’s day – GDS pledged that no one from the service would speak at an event unless its organisers were “working hard to address gender diversity on stage”.

This included declining panel discussions of two or more people unless there was at least one other woman on the panel, and a commitment to sending women to speak at events as often as men. The service also offers training for women who are invited to speak at events if they have not done so before.

In a blogpost published this week, Zara Farrar, who leads the GDS women’s group, said that since that pledge, 151 people form GDS had spoken at 143 external events.

Of these people, 58.3% (88) were men and 41.7% (63) were women. This is up from 75% men and 25% women in the year before.

“So, although we’re not quite at 50/50 equality a year later, we’re much closer to it,” Farrar said.


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Farrar also looked at some of the internal events the GDS team spoke at this year: Civil Service Live 2016, the six design community meet-ups and two content design events.

She found that, at Civil Service Live there were 51 speakers, of which 29 were men and 22 women (56.9% to 43.1%), while there was a ratio of 59 men to 38 women (60.8% to 39.2%) at the design community meet-ups over the course of the year.

The content design events, meanwhile, had more women than men, with 28 female speakers compared with 24 male.

“The figures show a definite improvement, and we believe that it’s largely a result of that public pledge,” Farrar said. “Having it online as a shareable post has made it easier for us to explain our diversity values to event organisers.”

She said that the majority of organisers were “eager to learn how they can improve diversity at their events”, and that GDS had provided lists of civil servants who are experts in their field.

However, Farrar also shared two of the worst responses to GDS’s concerns: one said they “invite only the best people to speak at events, it just happens that they are male”.

Another said: “Women are not suited to a career in business, we will not invite them to speak simply to suit your agenda when we do not see that there is a problem.”

Farrar concluded: “We didn’t speak at those.”

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Graham Reid (not verified)

Submitted on 10 March, 2017 - 13:02
I noticed that GDS sent 2 speakers to the Public Sector ICT conference, yet there was only 4 women out of 17 speakers. That one must have slipped through the net!

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