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business tips for culture makers 527 pledge

Business Tip for Culture Makers #527: Pledge to Only Speak at Events/Podcasts that are SUBSTANTIALLY Inclusive

This Culture-Making Marketing Tool is primarily for white women but can also be modified and used by women with other dominant identities — cis, straight, able-bodied, thin, etc — willing to leverage their privilege, power and platforms to make inclusion our new cultural norm

Take the pledge: “I will ONLY speak at conferences and podcasts when the event is substantially inclusive. I will NOT speak at events/podcast where the speakers are disproportionately white”

“If your leadership doesn’t include women of color and protects rights of trans & WOC, you aren’t doing women’s work”

Cherno Biko #StateOfWomen

Maybe you’ve been noticing that conferences about women’s empowerment seem to be choosing speakers from one group of women – mostly white women.

It’s so bad – and so consistent – that every time a new women’s conference lands in my feed, I can predict that the line-up will be one kind of woman – the female version of what Audre Lorde called ‘the mythic norm’ – even though the community supporting the event is not. 

Some of us have been pushing back on that, asking conference organizers why that is and to please do better. We’ve even been offering to help them improve the selection process (and we’ve been doing that for free!).

That’s not necessarily going so well. 

We ask one conference to course-correct and then the next week another launches with the same kind of oblivious, privileged line-up. 

It’s an inequity whack-a-mole!

So let’s intervene at the root. 

“Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root'”

Angela Davis

The people asked to speak — YOU — have influence

You are the product they’re selling. There’s no conference or event without you.

If you’re getting asked to speak, you have power and you can be an ally.

So if and when someone approaches *you* to speak at an event, ask about the speaker line-up. Ask who’s speaking. Ask how inclusive their organization and the event is. Ask what measures they’re taking to ensure that the speaker line-up reflects their audience and our communities.

And if turns out the other speakers are just a slew of women who embody “the mythic norm”, then ask the organizers to remedy that or decline the invitation.

That’s what this pledge is about: changing conference line-ups before they are announced. 

The conference organizers are showing themselves to be reluctant to do this work, but the speakers have power. There’s no event without you.

So let’s make diverse speaker line-ups the new norm in our empowerment communities. 

Let’s pledge to only speak when the line-up is as diverse as our communities.

Take the pledge, here.


UPDATE 1: I apply this commitment to ALL appearances, including interviews, radio appearances and podcasts at which I’m invited to be a guest

UPDATE 2: Google “inclusion riders” for how to leverage your appearances/employment to create more opportunities for your colleagues, peers and community members

UPDATE 3: You can use your social media profile to raise awareness of the problem (and the solution) and make this practice a new norm

Screenshot of Kelly Diels' Twitter profile

More Resources and Context





I originally published this on Facebook on May 27, 2016

“I am happy to tell you about a simple step you can take to help change this: Refuse to speak on all male-panels. Just say no.

I am borrowing this idea from the Jewish non-profit world, where an organization known as Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community has created a pledge that asks men to forswear all-male panels. As sociologist Shaul Kelner explains:

“Since accepting AWP’s challenge and making a pledge two years ago not to participate in all-male panels, I have had the opportunity to invoke the pledge in a number of professional and communal settings. (Not too many, thankfully. That is a good sign.)

I cannot speak for the dozens of other Jewish male leaders, scholars and activists who also made the pledge, but in my case, push has never actually come to shove. 

My convictions have not yet been tested. I never had to refuse participation because, so far, not once have the conveners failed to “find” a woman who can participate. Generally, the conversations have gone something like this:

“Prof. Kelner, will you teach at our all-night Shavuot study session?”

“Sure. I’d be happy to. Who else is on the program?”

“Abe, Isaac and Jake”

“You couldn’t find any women to teach? Look, I’d love to join the program, but I’ve made a pledge not to participate in all-male panels. And anyway, do you really want to send the message that there are no qualified women?”

“Wow! You’re right. Thank you. We’re going to fix this.”

“Do that, and I’ll be happy to participate.”

By presenting it as a pledge, Kelner says, it comes across with greater force than as just a personal choice or principle.”

-Rebecca J. Rosen in The Atlantic, 2013

This is what some men have started doing to ensure women get invited to speak and that speaking line-ups are no longer wholly or disproportionately male.

This is what white women like moi who get invited to speak on panels, conferences and podcasts can do, too.

(I’ve never been invited to speak at a conference or panel but humor me.)

White women invitees can *pledge* not to speak unless the line-up is truly diverse. If it’s all or predominantly white: nope, not going to speak.

White women: LET’S DO THIS.


Kelly Diels teaches culture-making entrepreneurs & creators how to develop a substantial body of work that changes EVERYTHING -- your life, your industry, our world. (AKA Thought leadership for people who cringe at the phrase "thought leader".)  Her Sunday Love Letter can help you surface *your* unique method, step by step, week after week. www.kellydiels.com/subscribe

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