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How the Speaker Equity Assessor Tool Aims to Diversify Conferences and Panels

Shelley Zalis, founder and CEO of The Female Quotient, and Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president for EMEA at Facebook, came together to develop a first-of-its-kind tool that aims to increase diversity on panels and at conferences. Through providing organizations the means to assess onstage representation, the Speaker Equity Assessor tool provides event organizers with access to a comprehensive view, across a variety of intersectional demographic speaker data, of representation makeup. The tool translates provided data into visual insights, allowing users to make crucial connections, prioritize diversifying panels and focus on inclusivity.

We spoke with Shelley, Nicola and Ronda Carnegie, TFQ’s chief innovation officer, about how they brought the tool to life, how it has been received, and the lessons they’ve learned for the path forward.

Sarah Cummings: Shelley, what was the inspiration behind the creation of the Speaker Equity Assessor?

Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient: When visible role models and spokespeople are predominantly male, the absence of diversity in leadership becomes normalized. Fewer women and people of color choose to speak, and it limits the quality and range of vital discussions. The Speaker Equity Assessor provides metrics that create accountability, changing the faces we will see both in person and on virtual stages.

SC: When thinking about the functionality of the tool, what was the top of mind for you?

SZ: To help conference organizers set benchmarks and easily identify gaps that might have previously been blind spots. The Speaker Equity Assessor tool has the ability to analyze and calculate an event's raw data. More specifically, it produces a quarterly insights tool based on data anonymization, and this is essential in monitoring progress in the commitments made to elevating diverse voices.

SC: Ronda, how did your past professional experience influence the creation of this tool?

Ronda Carnegie, Chief Innovation Officer, The Female Quotient: My background with TED Talks meant that I understand the process of searching for speakers with innovative ideas, cutting-edge research and fresh approaches to challenging problems. I know what it means to be intentional about finding speakers that lead with expertise—and not necessarily by title, gender or race. Up until now, the process of speaker curation has been a manual process, and providing a tech tool solution will bring important insights around speaker representation to close the gaps.

SC: What did you find most challenging about creating the Speaker Equity Assessor?

RC: The conversation around speaker representation is similar to that of representation overall. The intersectional analysis provides a nuanced understanding of the influence different types of shared identities may have when building a speaker program. Sharing both gender and ethnic-racial identities at the intersection of expertise will provide consistently highest levels of representation.

SC: What major learnings did you uncover during the development process?

Five key learnings have been uncovered thus far—and the more users we have for the tool, the more we can uncover and adapt to the needs of the marketplace.

1. There is no universal benchmarking in the area of speaker representation and yet there is a huge appetite for this tool and for doing the work.

2. Those in leadership positions in marketing, events and DEI leadership positions have been among the first to raise their hands to use the tool.

3. Companies have shared that they think the tool will be helpful to compare progress year-over-year as well as among various department events of an organization such as marketing, sales, finance and other functions.

4. There is interest in the development of a speaker directory as a follow-up to this tool.

5. And finally, while we use the term "event" in the tool, an event signals any form of content a subject matter expert appears on, such as a podcast or other content series.

SC: Nicola, what advice do you have for companies and organizations that are beginning to look towards using the tool to foster more diverse and inclusive panels and workspaces?

Nicola Mendelsohn, VP, EMEA at Facebook: It can be difficult to know where to start when you’re looking to build fairer representation in any part of your business. One of the best ways to measure success, however, is through metrics. For example, currently, only 15% of businesses have D&I metrics in place and we need to make them an industry standard. It also makes good business sense. Different perspectives can help solve more complex problems. And inclusive events help attract the brightest talent into our industry.

SC: What changes, with the implementation of this tool, do you hope to see in the coming years as diversity, equity and inclusions continues to be of paramount importance for companies?

NM: I would like to see companies look beyond the title when it comes to speakers. We have to make room for diverse voices from different backgrounds, styles, and perspectives. There are so many speakers out there who can bring interesting insights to the table, but too often we default those with the most senior titles. There’s a great opportunity here to widen the range of voices we hear from, and we hope the Speaker Equity Assessor will help make that happen.