Female speakers scarce at healthcare conferences

Already underrepresented among hospital CEOs, women also make up only about a quarter of speakers at healthcare conferences, according to a MedCity News article by Rock Health Managing Director Halle Tecco.

Rock Health's XX in Health initiative, which aims to connect and empower female leaders in healthcare, found that women represented just 26 percent of overall speakers at 15 major healthcare conferences in 2013. It tracked 32 conferences in 2014, finding a slight improvement--women made up 32 percent of those on stage.

Healthcare conferences aren't the only part of the industry in which gender equality falls short. Research has pointed to a widening pay gap between male and female physicians, as well as salary disparities for physician researchers and for women in academic medicine, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Further, clinical studies' tendency to overlook gender differences puts women at a disadvantage and can even endanger their health.

For Tecco, the call to action to push for gender diversity came after she spoke at 22 conferences in 2013 and "couldn't help but notice the uncomfortable dearth of women on stage," she wrote in a post on Rock Health's website. Her company's own conference, the Health Innovation Summit, consisted of only 36 percent female speakers in 2013, leading Tecco to vow: "We have to do better than this."

Rock Health did--Tecco wrote in MedCity News that the 2014 Health Innovation Summit featured 18 female speakers and 16 male speakers. And it wasn't the only conference that aimed to increase gender diversity, according to an interview with TEDMED Director of Stage Content Nassim Assefi featured in a blog post from speaker coach Denise Graveline.

Simply put, "a diverse cast of characters means a more varied set of ideas," Assefi said in the interview. But recruiting more women to speak wasn't without its challenges for TEDMED. Men are around five to seven times more likely to be nominated to speak, even by women themselves, according to Assefi.

"Men are more likely to believe they'd be a good fit with our stage, whereas women sometimes undermine themselves and their abilities," she said, adding, "Women are also more likely to drop out."

Tecco reports a similar experience in her post on Rock Health, writing that men were 20 percent more likely to accept invitations to the 2013 Health Innovation Summit than women, and no women contacted the company asking to speak at the conference, compared to about a dozen requests to speak from men.

In its efforts to even the playing field, the XX in Health Initiative created a database of female speakers to connect conferences with top talent in the field, Tecco wrote.

For her part, Assefi has one main piece of advice for conference organizers: "Whenever there is a white man nominated for the speaking position, ask yourself: is there a woman or minority of his caliber who could equally do the job?"

To learn more:
- read the MedCity News article
- see Tecco's post
- read the interview