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Naispuhujat

The Rise of Female Speakers

The Nordic Business Forum, SLUSH and the Olympics get a female boost

Of the many areas where gender equality is still lagging behind, professional public speaking is one of them. According to Bloomberg, male speakers still outnumber female speakers by a 2 to 1 ratio at business conferences. Even in more gender equal Finland, the imbalance between male and female speakers at many business seminars is clear. This is especially true in the areas such as IT and finance where all-male panels are the norm and over 80 percent of keynote speakers are men. Because of this, the number of men winning awards given for public speaking in Finland outnumbers women by a factor of over 4 to 1.

Leading the change 

The good news is that this is changing. This year at the Nordic Business Forum, one of the world’s premier business events, three women were ranked as the best speakers of this prestigious event. Wall-Street influencer Carla Harris, billionaire Sarah Blakely and leadership guru Brené Brown took the three top positions in the event’s rankings just above their fantastic male peers Steve Wozniak, Daniel Pink and George Clooney. Even the event moderation was gender equal this year with the talented Tamer Broadbent joining the veteran Pep Rosenfeld to entertain and inspire the Forum’s over 7 500 attendees.  Carla Harris with her magic voice, strong presence and exceptional leadership story brought the audience to their feet and captured the third highest ranking in the event’s history. In the 10 years of the event, no woman has ever made it to the very top of the rankings.  Some early editions of the event had only one or two women speakers out the dozen speakers of each event. The rise of female speakers at this forum has been significant.

I was also happy to see the young Anssi Rantanen, an exceptionally charismatic speaker, come in as the highest-ranking male speaker of the event. Diversity also means including the young. It was great to coach Anssi this year. With this success under his belt, this newcomer will now start hitting international stages with confidence.

Equal SLUSH

Even at this year’s SLUSH event, a globally significant start-up conference, a record of 39% of the event speakers were women. The CEO of SLUSH, Andreas Saari, publicly announced that he would refuse to participate in any all-male panels. The programme also included topics that were of particular interest to female entrepreneurs and investors. This is a refreshing change from most technology events held around the world.

Tech women rising

One of the most influential business events promoting women this autumn was the Women in Tech Conference held in Helsinki. The brainchild of two great women Marjo Miettinen and Anne Stenros six years ago, the 1200 seats for this year’s event were sold out is less than 12 minutes! I was involved as a volunteer moderator for this event since its first edition. I was happy to be joined this year by the very talented Päivi Järvenpää who not only made our moderation gender equal, but also made the smooth and wonderfully entertaining running of the program equal to none.  The event was charged with fantastic female and male speakers. The final keynote was given by one of the most iconic women in the technology world, Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Mayer.

My proudest moment this year was organising the super finals of the Women in Tech speaking competition sponsored by Ensto, the Technology Industries of Finland and MySpeaker. Nine wonderful female speakers participated in these memorable finals. The event was closed with the emotional speech of this year’s winner Galith Nadbornik. This wonderfully geeky French immigrant to Finland is now the CIO at Lindström, a 170 year-old Finnish company. She is now one of the many great speakers on offer on the MySpeaker roster.

Levelling the Olympic playing field

Even the Olympic Movement has taken the gender challenge very seriously over the last few years. At the New Leaders Forum in Helsinki this autumn, the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach insisted on never remaining complacent on the issue of gender equality. Though the Olympics can now be said to be gender equal on the field of play, the leadership of the movement has still a long way to go before it attains equal gender representation. It was great to see veteran leader and Women in Sport Trophy Winner Birgitta Kervinen and President Tarja Halonen inject this event and its young female and male leaders with a good dose of gender equality inspiration.

Leaders and speakers with the right pitch

These positive developments for female speakers are encouraging. One of the area specific reasons for the slow historical progress of women in public speaking has been a physical one. Voice and social scientists have attributed the slow progress of women in public speaking to the features of their voice. In a good summary of the research on this topic, National Public Radio published an insightful documentary called “Speaking While Female”.  The main take-away from this is that both in volume and in pitch, female speakers are at an initial disadvantage to make a strong impression on their audiences. A low pitch, it seems, is a physiological and psychological driver of trustworthiness. This also applies to men. Of most presidential elections held in the United States over the past thirty years, the candidate with the lowest pitch won.

The famous case of the voice grooming of Margaret Thatcher to win her elections is one concrete example of this reality. However, the rise in popularity and success of women speakers today tells us that this is in no way a decisive factor. Of the host of features that make a great speaker, pitch and volume are only a small part of the total equation. Actually, in the Rheto-Rich© Model of MySpeaker developed using the latest data in voice and neuro-science finds that pitch is only one of over a dozen speech impact drivers. Speech relevance, intimacy and legacy are more critical sources of speech impact than the pitch of one’s voice. As women find their place at the top of the business, political, sport and cultural spheres of the world, they are also finding their natural place at the top of the global speaking circuit.

The Equal Way Forward

Women still face a great number of equality challenges around the world. This is not the way things should be. The moral and business case for diversity at all levels of society could not be more solid. We know this is the best way forward for humanity. I feel that putting more talented women on stage at business events is one way to contribute to what this world should one day become. A place where all women and men live and lead together as equals.

Finland is a true forerunner in the field of gender equality. Finnish women were the first in the world to get universal voting rights over 100 years ago. Today, the young Sanna Marin, the new Finnish Prime Minister, leads a coalition of four parties all led by women. This is yet another step on our global march towards a more equal and prosperous future.

André Noël Chaker

Chairman, MySpeaker,

About André Noël Chaker

Canadian born André Noël Chaker is one of the leading business speakers and moderators in Finland. Surrounded by women as a child, he has been a particularly active in promoting women as a lawyer, writer, speaker and entrepreneur.  He has performed at over 700 events nationally and internationally over the past eight years. A winner a many public speaking awards, he is now working on his next book: “Speak or Die: How to Speak with Impact beyond the Information Age.”   

About MySpeaker

MySpeaker is the fastest growing speaking agency in the Nordics. The agency focuses on the quality of its speakers and consultants. It is already representing a network of over 300 of the Nordics’ and the world’s top business speakers.