In 7th grade, I was at a school dance. Everyone was dressed in their best; boys and girls stood, clustered together, on opposite sides of a vacant dance floor.
I loved to dance, and at the age of 12, this wasted opportunity was a tragedy. “Why isn’t anyone dancing?”
“None of the boys have asked us.”
I recall this conversation like it was yesterday. I remember the look on my friend’s face as the words came out of her mouth. Even as a young girl, she nearly choked on them as she realized what she was saying. Almost as quickly as they passed her lips, she grabbed my hand, and marched across the gymnasium floor to the boys and commanded, “Let’s go! We are dancing!”
I couldn’t help but recall this story as I listened to the #feminEM hangout addressing the need for more female conference speakers.
From this, and the conversations I have had in person and viewed in the Twittersphere, it seems that women are waiting for an invitation to be heard. Women: smart, powerful, articulate professionals are WAITING for someone to invite them to the stage and then become frustrated when no one does! Wouldn’t that energy be better spent in active pursuit of that opportunity?
Public speaking can be terrifying and becoming a great public speaker doesn’t just happen organically. It takes work, a massive amounts of time and practice. Ask women like Natalie May, Liz Crowe and Victoria Brazil. All brilliant speakers, whose craft has been honed over countless hours of commitment to the design and choreography of great lectures. This is not said to deter anyone, but rather to provide an appreciation of the effort involved. Submitting ideas, preparing for and giving lectures is a job in and of itself. Great speakers don’t just appear, they build a name for themselves, they work “the circuit”. They give lectures on a small scale, at grand rounds, and at regional conferences until they establish a reputation that propels them to the national level.
With this in mind, have you submitted proposals to speak? Granted not all conferences call for speakers, but most do. When is the last time you submitted a lecture idea or topic? If you have not, the better question to ask is why not?
There was mention on the Hangout about feeling “legitimately qualified”, speculating that women are less likely to give lectures than their male colleagues of the same experience level because they didn’t feel qualified. Do you think that Scott Weingart is the authority on resuscitation? Some do, others don’t. Does he? Not likely, but he is confident enough in his idea to deliver a powerful educational experience. In fact, if you talk with any great speaker, I doubt you will find any that think that they are THE authority on any topic. They research and prepare and practice content and seek feedback. Perhaps we should consider redefining “legitimately qualified”.
I believe that this fear of legitimacy is truly imposter syndrome. The term, coined by two psychologists before I was born, is used to describe people, who despite intelligence and achievements, live in fear that they are a fraud and that this will be discovered. Natalie May wrote a beautiful article describing this phenomenon and her experience on stage at #smaccGOLD. I, too, once suffered from this self-imposed syndrome but was fortunate to be rescued from this ego-crushing monster by superhero women. Women that I consider mentors, colleagues and friends. Women who have made it their mission to build one another up, to encourage, to give constructive feedback and to listen. These kind of women are the answer.
Putting a woman on a stage to obtain a percentage of women is not the solution. Tasking conference leaders with searching the globe for worthy female speakers is not the solution. Waiting for in invitation is not the solution.
Be the solution.
Do the research, prepare and submit proposals. Find a network of women who inspire, encourage and mentor you. Build your experience in smaller venues and make a name for yourself. If the conference stage is what you want, stop making excuses and waiting for your invitation.
Be the girl woman who marches across the gymnasium floor and demands to dance. Be brave, be fantastic.
 Pauline Clance, Susan Imes, ‘The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention’, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, Vol 15(3), 1978, 241-247. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0086006