Where Are the Women of HR Speakers?

Have you been to a Human Resources conference, lately?

Chances are you’ve heard from business leaders and executives who want to help you to overcome adversity, reach for your dreams, or follow your passion. These speakers offer amazing advice, share anecdotes from the workplace, and leave you feeling renewed & refreshed after a healthy dose of common sense advice.

Unfortunately, most of the keynoters are men. And this is our fault, ladies. As event planners across the country will tell you, there are never enough women to keynote a Human Resources conference — or any conference.

Listen, I know that speaking at a conference is complicated.

  • Exhaustion is the status quo. Although you have something interesting to say, you are too exhausted after working a 9-5 job to come home and create a PowerPoint presentation full of new & clever ideas about Human Resources.
  • It’s tough to ‘practice’ speaking. Improving your skills means volunteering to speak for free at local HR events, chamber of commerce meetings, and religious organization in order to improve your content, your message, and your delivery. Free doesn’t pay the bills.
  • It’s all about who you know. Like anything in life, you need to network the heck out of your universe to speak at HR events. It feels unrealistic to visit  conferences as a paid attendee, make connections with event planners, and volunteer to lead concurrent sessions (for free) in order to secure a more lucrative and visible speaking slot in the future.

Who has time for that kind of nonsense?

Well, plenty of men do it. Constantly. They take a day off work and leave their families behind. They travel to places like St. Cloud or Cuyahoga Falls and they rock a concurrent session on ’emerging trends in FMLA compliance’. They make mistakes. They learn from their flubs. And then they get on a plane and come home.

These men understand that the more they speak, the better they get. They have personal development plans. Speaking is an investment in the future. And while they travel quite a bit, it is no big deal. Their wives, partners, and children understand the sacrifice.

So the next time you hear a speaker at a conference and think that you could do a better job, go for it. Get on the conference’s website and find the event planner’s name. Meet her. (It’s most likely a woman who is dying for female speakers, by the way.) Then get to work on creating your slide deck, asking your colleagues for advice, and practicing your presentation to the local Rotary Club so you can solicit feedback on your delivery.

If you don’t submit a proposal, some other dude will.

It’s time for a change.

About the Author

Laurie Ruettimann


The Week Ahead — The Cynical Girl

[…] me to speak even though I’m local ["Don't you know who I am? I am LFR."]. Furthermore, they had very few women on their agenda. Hm. I hope this is addressed in 2012. Lots of great women who are more than qualified to speak to […]

China Gorman

Laurie: great post! I’ve been concerned about this for a long time. The state SHRM conferences and local SHRM, ASTD, NAAAHR, etc. chapter meetings are great places to start your speaking career! I’ve mentored several women who are now speaking in front of larger and larger groups because they started local, and grew from there. Once you speak in front of 200-300 people, 2,000-3,000 is a snap. But it’s like the old joke: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” And lots of organizations need free speakers. Supply, meet demand!


Great call to action!

I love speaking, sometimes more so when I need to better understand a topic before I do so.

John Jorgensen

As someone who has reviewed keynote speaker proposals for the last few years for the Illinois State SHRM Conference, I agree with you that most of the people applying to speak as keynoters are men. So are people applying to speak as concurrent speakers. Luckily, ILSHRM has been “lucky” to get great keynote speakers who happen to be women. All three of our keynotes at last years’ conference were fantastic speakers who were women, who were chosen for content and not gender. This year we are lucky to have a tremendous closing keynote speaker who happens to be a female, China Gorman.

I agree with you that more women need to step up and begin the process to reach the keynote level and get more in the concurrent level. Great post.


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