Why is ‘The Fair List’ important?
Many teachers of EFL/TESOL in the UK are women. It is only fair then that there be many women senior academic staff, owners and principals of language schools, and presenters and plenary speakers at UK ELT events.
Women have talents and ideas aplenty so, if we are not hearing their voices during plenary talks at conferences, we are all missing out on varied, interesting ideas.
Presenting work at plenary level at a conference is a great spur to creativity and thinking, as well as to career movement, publication in conference proceedings, promotion etc. If women don’t get or take these chances, they miss out.
Some men who find themselves the only gender represented in a list of plenary speakers or on a speaker panel and then talking to large numbers of women participants, find this an odd experience. (See Jeremy Harmer’s piece under ‘Reactions’.)
There are plenty of women participants at UK ELT events. If they do not feel represented in the balance of speakers in front of them, this may feel demeaning to them and lower their self-confidence.
If it is usual to see lots of men presenters at events, this imbalance will start to feel ‘normal’. As a result, having more than one woman speaker may, strangely, start to feel ‘abnormal.’
If the same gender and the same ‘names’ come up all the time as plenary speakers, these oft-mentioned people are seen as more important than others. The pool of those up for invitation gets smaller and shallower. It gets harder for organizers to remember other speakers’ names. (‘People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory.’ Kahneman, 2011 page 8 – see Resources page.)
If there is only one woman on a speaker panel, it becomes easier for her voice to be ignored, or for her to be talked over amongst the, understandable, male camaraderie. More women on the panel and the dynamic changes. They may feel more comfortable too.
The more women accept invitations to give plenary talks, the more practice they get, and the better they will get at it. You have to do it, to get better at doing it.