6 March 2017

Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure: How Speaking Engagements Lead to Entrepreneurial Success for Women

This article from Innovation Women is the fourth piece in the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) Women in Science, Technology and Innovation series that analyses the gender dimension of Sustainable Development Goal #9: Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation. Leading women inventors of the 21st century were asked to avail themselves for interviews and submit articles highlighting the gender dimension of their work, research or inventions as they relate to SDG #9 and outlining their implications in helping to realize that goal. Please note that the interviews and articles are for discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that ALL people enjoy peace and prosperity. SDG #9 addresses industry, innovation and infrastructure, which are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. SDG #9 urges communities to:

  • Build resilient infrastructures
  • Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization
  • Foster innovation

Innovation-driven economies, like the global technology market, need some help recognizing the benefits of inclusion and diversity. For example, companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. According to several studies and analyses, companies in the top 25% in terms of diversity, are more likely to have financial returns above the medians of their industries. In other words, diversity fosters competitive advantage. So, how do we drive diversity?

At Innovation Women, we decided to focus on visibility as the primary driver of diversity. Our mandate is based on the idea, impact the optics impact the outcome. Drawing from that, public speaking is an empowering tool, especially for populations which have been traditionally silenced. The technology industry hosts thousands of events and conferences, large and small. These events stimulate important conversations but are they conversations with all the possible constituents? Particularly in the field of science, technology and innovation, we've all sat through events where the speakers are predominantly if not all, male. In such contexts, I often asked myself questions like: Why are the speakers all male and pale? Where's the diversity? Where are the women who can also address this topic and bring a different perspective to the discussion? But more importantly, are the women themselves wondering why they can't get themselves on that stage where they can connect with opportunity?

Why Speak?

Speaking engagements offer entrepreneurs a raft of benefits. Every time a speaker gets on stage they have the ability to tell their story, to change minds, to advocate for their position. They also connect with what we call the five Cs:

  • Customers
  • Community
  • Career Opportunities
  • Cash
  • Credibility

Speaking engagements equal networking at a high level, telling your story to prospective and potential partners. Professional women could be speaking to an audience that has potential employers, board committee members or investors.  Every time an individual gets on stage, they are adding to their credibility the perception of their expert status, acumen and prowess. And, in our social media pervaded era, every time one gets on stage, the person is speaking to more than just the people in the room. A single well-placed Tweet can go out to thousands of potential customers. A strategic Facebook post, blog or LinkedIn mention can connect anyone to an investor or partner, a reporter or industry analyst.

Innovation Women is designed to promote female speakers and drive downstream economic opportunity for female entrepreneurs, executives and up-and-comers.

InnovationWomen is an online database that assists event managers to find women speakers so they can balance out the gender dynamics of their panels and speaking slates. It's also a way for entrepreneurial, technical and innovative women to get more visibility for themselves, their careers and their companies.

There are plenty of smart, capable women who can hold their own on a panel, give a technical talk at a conference or build high-growth companies (and talk about what it takes to do this). Unfortunately, most of these capable women find themselves in the audience instead of at the front of the room sharing their knowledge. This is often the case simply because event organizers do not know who these women are and where to find them! Exploratory conversations with event and conference organizers confirmed the experience of the Innovation Women founding team. Event organizers generally pull speakers from their own contact lists and from seeing speakers at other events, perpetuating the same stories. They rarely have the time to hunt down speakers outside their network.

Fostering Innovation: What's funding got to do with it?

The statistics around funding for women entrepreneurs are abysmal. Access to funding, whether seed funding to get started, or growth-oriented capital, is a key measure of success and a path to accelerated growth, especially for innovative companies, but often women-led companies do not have access to initial capital or growth funds.

  • According to the Diana Project, between 2011 and 2014, 85 percent of all venture funded companies had no women on the senior team.
  • Bloomberg collected information on U.S. companies founded between 2009 and 2015 that received $20 million or more in venture capital and other equity funding. ''The vast majority of venture capital goes to companies founded by men. Just 7% of the 2,005 founders on (the) list are women.''
  • According to Bloomberg, companies founded by women also got less money an average of $77 million compared with $100 million for male-led startups.

Building the right infrastructure

It is not just big industry conferences that can deliver valuable speaking engagements, small local events, Meetups and other community events can help drive visibility too. Meetup.com hosts more than half a million events globally every month.  Eventbrite sold tickets to more than two million events last year. And let us not forget the 92,000 professional organizations. Many of these organizations host regular events and are looking for speakers regularly.

We created Innovation Women, an online visibility bureau designed to help entrepreneurial, technical and innovative women everywhere connect with speaking opportunities to drive their businesses and careers, but also to support and sustain public conversations held between diverse participants. It is our belief that every time a woman is on stage, she is an example and an inspiration to others and if she happens to be on stage talking about how she grew her company, she can motivate others to do the same.

Overall, the United Nations, and particularly through SDG #5 on gender equality, encourages the protection of human rights and the empowerment of women, minorities and the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Through the use of technology, we can encourage gender-balance and diversity, a key component in offering economic opportunity for everyone and giving ourselves access to the best possibility of success on global problem solving in every industry. We should never limit ourselves to seeking answers from a subset of the population.

About the Author

Bobbie Carlton is the founder of Innovation Women, Innovation Nights and Carlton PR & Marketing.  Her focus is on helping members of under-served communities to gain visibility to drive business and career success.