How many women are speakers at ag events?

Actually – that’s not the right question to ask.

Instead, ask:

  • How many women speaking at ag events have been given equal billing to the men listed on the programme?
  • Are there women speaking who have travelled similar distances?
  • Are the women recompensed at the same level?

Via my secondary Twitter account, @Agri_Events, I’ve been learning a great deal about agricultural events across the world. Though I haven’t made a formal study of it, patterns have become unmistakable.

Here’s my observations regarding agricultural events – over different industries & different countries:

  • There are still some ag events that only have men speaking – but there’s not a lot of them, these days. Enjoy the good news, because that’s really all there is.
  • The vast majority of ag events in particular fields – ag tech being top of the list – will include a female speaker. Yes ‘a’ female speaker – because often there’s just the one token woman.
  • It’s still common for all the keynote speakers (heavily promoted, addressing the whole conference) to be men.
  • It’s still common for the vast majority of the solo speakers to be men.
  • When women are given the opportunity to speak at ag events they’re far more likely to be on a panel – accompanied by other women and/or men – than be speaking on their own. And it’s not because they’re new to conference speaking.
  • Speakers who have travelled long distances to attend – from other states or countries – are usually men.  The women who are speaking are more likely to be relatively local (few women are considered interesting enough to go to a lot of trouble to engage?)
  • Women are more likely to be talking on days/times when audience numbers are dropping off – such as the last session on the last day; or when there’s a particularly strong session being run by someone else at the same time.
  • Here in Australia, there’s less diversity amongst the women who are asked to speak – there’s a fairly small number who are getting repeat gigs.
  • What’s the difference in speaker costs covered and payment for their time? Who knows, as this isn’t publicly available information. But it’s safe to presume the difference between what male and female conference speakers are paid is even wider than in industries where the pay rates are actually public (such as sport).


  1. There’s more ways than one of skinning a cat. An event could trumpet equal numbers of male/female speakers but closer inspection usually reveals the playing field is not level.
  2. No it isn’t feasible to expect a precise 50/50 split across all fields. Eg if there’s 25%/75% women/men working in the ag tech industry, then it’s reasonable to expect 25% of the conference speakers at an equal billing, to be women (whereas usually it’s only 10% or less).

So why are there much few women speaking at ag  events?

  • Women wait a lot longer – until they feel they know their topic inside out & upside down – before applying to become a speaker.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the drone space at present. The vast majority of speakers on the topic of drones are blokes, and most of them are flat out knowing 50% of what they should know.  It’s a brand new industry and they’ve jumped on the bandwagon without hesitation. How do I know? Because I’ve sat & listened to a lot of misinformation. I waited a whole 12 months after the point at which I knew I knew more, before taking on speaking roles in this field.
  • Far fewer women are applying for speaking roles (I’ve been told this by event organisers who’ve been actively seeking more female speakers).
  • If women are knocked back, they’re far more likely to give up rather than keep applying for speaking roles (the same thing happens in the publishing industry. Statistically, female authors are far less likely to persist in the face of publisher knock-backs.)
  • Women tend to be less confident and less comfortable with selling their ability.  Even spelling out just the facts can feel like stepping over the line of acceptable self promotion and women can judge other women harshly in this department (far more harshly than men do). I listed some facts about what I had accomplished at an interview earlier this year, and the feedback I received – from a woman – was that I was ‘good at self promotion’.  (Exasperating, when I’d merely listed a few facts regarding what I’d done, in order to show that I was capable of accomplishing the fairly ambitious plan I was proposing.  Some women think other women should still ‘hide their light under a bushel’; but thankfully this attitude is diminishing.)
  • In case anyone has the wrong end of the stick – the low numbers of women speaking at agricultural conferences is not because there aren’t enough women who could give a useful presentation.  They’re around – often there’s a number of them in the audience.

Why does the lack of women speaking at agricultural events matter?

  • Diversity.  Age diversity is important as well as gender diversity.  As an attendee, I want to hear from as wide a range of speakers as possible – apart from anything else, it’s far more interesting to listen to!
  • Research confirms that the greater the diversity amongst business decision makers, the healthier the business is likely to be. IE hearing diverse points of view also has a financial value.
  • Public speaking builds confidence and speeds networking ahead – both vital for taking the path to formal leadership positions. It can also bring job offers.
  • Role models. Women need to see other women on stage. Not just sitting in the audience.  Right now we have a chicken-egg situation. More women on stage will encourage more to apply.
  • For things to properly change – men need to get used to women speaking at events. Really, this is an issue? Really. The publishing industry has known for centuries that women will read a book written by anyone, whereas most men want to read books they think were written by men. That’s why so many female authors writing in particular genres use nom de plumes, or just their initials (including JK Rowling. We’re not talking ancient history.)  It’s reasonable to guess that there would be a number of men who’d prefer listening to a male speaker. (A recent media storm re the UK’s female World Cup commentator brought this issue up.)  This is unlikely to change until a healthily diverse range of female speakers is usual.
  • Justice. If you care about everyone getting a fair go, you’ll care about the fact that the women who are stepping up to speak at ag events aren’t getting an equal deal, and that women – who make up half the population – are having to tolerate mostly listening to blokes ‘being the experts’, rather than the variety that truly represents our society.  Imagine how it would be received if at every agricultural event that men attended, they were listening to 70-80% female speakers.

How can we get more rural women speaking at agricultural events?

  • Clear pathways leading up the event speaking ‘foodchain’. The best starting-out public speaking opportunities for Australian rural women are the annual conferences run by rural women’s organisations. Workshop audiences are supportive, friendly and usually not dauntingly huge.
  • Payment – at least cover the full cost of attendance for female speakers. On average women earn a lot less than men yet they live longer and have less superannuation. So there’s financial reasons why they’re less able to cover their own costs of attendance; not to mention payment for their time.  QRRRWN’s (Queensland Rural, Regional & Remote Women’s Network) annual conference covers the main costs of attendance for every single speaker (airfares or vehicle travel costs, plus accommodation shared with another speaker; and no conference fee is charged).  QRRRWN sets the gold standard for every rural women’s conference in Australia, in this regard.  Payment of at least costs also ensures maximum diversity of speakers. Too many Australian ag events have speakers who are fully paid by employers (IE they’re in the public service or big business) or they’re selling something.  This has greatly narrowed the range of speakers and led to a lot of repetition.
  • Fewer women apply off their own bat – so ASK women to speak at the event you’re running. If you don’t know who to invite, then do some research – and don’t just ask the usual suspects (eg ag industry bodies), as you’ll just get more of the same.  There are a lot of very capable rural women around, but they won’t necessarily be noisily self promoting.
  • Provide more comfortable ways for inexperienced speakers to get started. Panels are good starting points, or short speaking opportunities – EG 10 minutes, rather than the more common 45-60 minute presentation.
  • Mentor women you know who have a fund of knowledge that would be of interest to others. Encourage them to apply, explain what’s involved, and make suggestions regarding events that would be a good fit.
  • Blokes can help by checking male/female speaker ratios at events they’re asked to speak at, and asking organisers to address imbalances before agreeing to attend.

What rural women need:

  • Encouragement to apply, and help to build confidence. An understanding that they don’t have to wait until their 90 to qualify for being interesting enough to speak
  • Attendance costs covered (if not time paid for as well)

What prospective speakers need to know:

  • Everybody has to learn how to run a good presentation. Nobody is born with instant experience.
  • It’s normal to be nervous. It helps to project confidence. ‘Fake it until you make it’ really helps (and can go on, long term!)
  • Stick to what you know and what you care about.
  • Focus on providing useful information, and add entertaining anecdotes if you have them. Remember that the audience aren’t there to admire your shoes, they want useful info, to be inspired and/or entertained.  Everyone who has been around for a while has something interesting they can pass on to others.
  • Prepare thoroughly, well in advance; and add up-to-the-minute news, if applicable.
  • Tailor each presentation to the specific audience you’re addressing. Ask the organisers exactly who will be attending.
  • Start at low-profile, local events and work up to more daunting.
  • Find your own style – what suits you. Attend a diversity of other events to see how others do it.
  • If you don’t want to put yourself forward as a speaker for your own sake, do it to be a role model – for other women, sisters, daughters and friends – and even better, for your sons, spouse and other men. And – for the good of your agricultural industry or region.