Want your conference to be a hit? Just get some female speakers. Women speakers are quite a hot commodity on the conference circuit. According to a new study by Weber Shandwick, top women business leaders spoke at 218 unique events in 2011. “Women executives are establishing their rightful place at the table, gaining greater stature and notoriety in the business world. As such, they are becoming vital members on the conference circuit, increasing participation and prominence in this powerful venue,” said Micho Spring, chair of Weber Shandwick’s Global Corporate practice.The firm examined the speaking engagements of the world’s top women business leaders, based on Fortune’s 2011 Most Powerful Women (MPW) list (50 women executives who are U.S.-based and 50 women who are not U.S.-based). The majority of women (69%) on the list spoke at one or more conferences in 2011. On average, these top-ranking women spoke at 2.7 conferences over the course of 12 months. U.S.- and non-U.S. based women were nearly just as likely to speak, confirming that women all over the globe recognize the value of conference visibility.
The leading speaking forums in 2011 for these top women executives included Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, The World Economic Forum/Davos, India-US CEO Forum, Women Corporate Director’s Global Institute, the Paley Center for Media International Council Summit and the APEC Women and the Economy Summit. ”Executives not only personify the company but are the company’s most influential storytellers. Weber Shandwick’s new Top Executive Conferences study helps define the context in which senior women business leaders are seen and heard. The strategic use of the conference landscape to promote a company’s story is a powerful tool that when fully leveraged can move the business forward,” said Carol Ballock, executive vice president at Weber Shandwick.
Though Davos was listed as one of the events for top women executives to speak at, reading media reports about the lack of women at the event in general, including speakers, would lead you to think differently. Just 17% of those gathered from the world’s business and political elites were women at the conference this year. This is the highest number in the event’s 40 year history, up from 16% in 2011 – and just 9% in 2002, but it is still low. “We have made a really strong push to make sure there are more women in speaking roles,” said Saadia Zahidi, senior director and head of constituents at the WEF. “There is still a long way to go. We are working on it.” About 20% of the panel speakers this year are women, up from 17% last year, she said. “The question should be, is the forum doing enough to promote talent?” asked John Veihmeyer, chief executive for the Americas at KPMG, the global accounting and professional services firm. “The answer is probably yes. We’ve seen a shift in focus from that on financial capital to recognizing the importance of human capital and a greater emphasis on that.”
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