The Second One:
Seeing The Fair List nominated for an award at the British Council ELTons on the evening of May 22nd 2014, reminded me of the influence that this project has had on me as a conference organiser.
I am Shaun Wilden and am the one who is responsible for putting together the programme for the International House World Director of Studies Conference held every January in London. It’s not a huge conference in terms of numbers but one that has always aimed to offer the participants a set of thought-provoking plenaries.
In January 2013, we invited Tessa Woodward to give a plenary talk. She may not remember but before starting her talk she commented on the lack of other female speakers. This was a point that hit home later in the day when we convened a panel discussion of the all the main speakers and there sat Tessa as the lone female.
To be honest, prior to this, I had not given much thought to gender balance when attending or putting together conferences. On a personal level I’ve never been a fan of positive discrimination and I have always looked for speakers who have something relevant and challenging to say to the gathered academic managers, regardless of gender. However Tessa’s words did make me think. Looking back over previous years’ programmes there was definitely a trend of having predominant numbers of male plenary speakers.
Though the 2013 conference was before The Fair List had started, her comment hit home with me and the organising team. We considered how our speakers are chosen. Is it easier to approach the same group of people year on year? If we want to get a different set of speakers, where do we start? How do we find new speakers that will live up to the calibre we want? Asking around for suggestions provided plenty of male names but few female.
When we started planning for the 2014 event it became almost a personal challenge to try to achieve a 50-50 split among our plenary speakers. To be honest, it did make the planning process a lot longer but I am happy to say we did it and for the first time our plenary day had three female speakers. Not only that though, having The Fair List ideals as a reminder meant we put together a very diverse programme and the overall feedback on the day was better than ever.
Wearing the many different hats I do in the ELT world, it seems to me that The Fair List is beginning to have an impact and this year, when considering speakers for events I am involved in, on many occasions, organisers have stopped to think about the gender balance.
As for the 2015 Director of Studies conference, the planning is just getting underway. Though I felt sheepish at Tessa’ words in 2013, in the longer term they have given us renewed impetus. I can feel the presence of Tessa and The Fair List just over my shoulder reminding me that taking the time to find a gender balance will lead us to put together a dynamic event.