Why Don’t We See More Women Speaking at EV Industry Events?

Erika Myers Speaking at DistribuTech Image Credit: Sharon Allan

While I was preparing to speak at the 2020 Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy’s (WRISE) Leadership Forum about EV rate design, the opportunity got me thinking about gender diversity on stage in the EV industry. 

2019 was an incredibly busy year for me. I was invited to speak at 31 different events and/or sessions about my EV research. It was a great personal achievement, but from a gender diversity perspective, it revealed some significant issues in our industry. For example:

  • I was the only female speaker in over half of the sessions where there were multiple panelists (out of 22 panels). 
  • I participated in at least two events where I was the ONLY female speaker on the program for the entire day.
  • At those same two events, I only counted a handful of women in the audience (one was about 50 attendees and the other was about 150). In many of the smaller events, I was the only woman. 

I know for a fact there are many qualified women in this industry who should be getting similar exposure for their work. In an era where more people are speaking out against ‘manels’ (male only panels), I feel like there is an opportunity for women to get the recognition they deserve.

In addition to receiving invitations to speak at conferences, I also organize sessions, webinars, and guest presentations for SEPA programming. After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” I have observed many similarities highlighted in her research, including:

  1. Men are more aggressive about getting speaking invitations. I only remember a handful of occasions where a woman asked me to speak on a SEPA-organized session, and it was always by a woman I knew well. However, I am constantly asked by men. In fact, recently one male peer went so far as to invite me to a work dinner before asking if he could be included in an upcoming EV session. Similarly, when reviewing abstracts, there are exponentially more abstracts submitted by men. In my experience, most women wait to be asked, rather than actively pursuing speaking opportunities. 
  1. When speaking opportunities are extended to women, they punt them to their male colleagues. I do my best to ensure gender diversity at sessions I organize. I also recommend other women to speak in sessions I can’t attend. Unfortunately, I’ve lost count of the number of times a woman declines the role and recommends a male colleague in her place. I realize that not everyone likes to speak in public or may have a genuine conflict, but for those that pass on the opportunity because they don’t think they are a “good fit” — I wouldn’t have invited or recommended that person if I didn’t think they were an expert on the topic. The same would go for anyone else that extends an invitation. You are the expert. Take the spot!! If you genuinely can’t participate, please recommend another female colleague or peer instead. 
  1. On stage, women wait to be asked a question. On conference panels, it can be tough to get a word in because there is usually a very limited amount of time and too many speakers. It is the role of the moderator to make sure that no one is dominating the conversation and usually, that means making sure everyone has the same number of questions and keep their answers brief. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen and many times I’ve seen the woman/women have less total speaking time. We all need to resist the temptation to be polite and make sure we get our points across. Sometimes this will mean you have to interrupt someone who is dominating the conversation or disagree with the other panelists on stage – and that is okay! People are coming to your session to hear your opinions. If you withhold them, then no one benefits. 

I’m really excited to tap into the Women of Electric Vehicles (WEV) speaker’s bureau. I would encourage any woman in the EV industry to join this group (it is free!!) and include your name on this list. For conference organizers, I encourage you to leverage this list filled with qualified female speakers. 

For all the women reading this post, I encourage you to think about advocating for yourself, or for the other women on your team or your peers, to speak at events. If you accept an invitation, do not be shy about making your points. More than anything, don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there and contributing your thoughts and ideas to the world!

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