BOX 4-1Speaker Representation at Scientific and Professional Society Meetings


The invitation to speak at a professional or academic society conference is one of the key benchmarks of a successful academic career. To ensure the proper recognition and advancement of women scholars in science and engineering, it is essential that the process for inviting conference speakers be absent of gender bias. Invited and distinguished conference speakers are usually selected by program committees and the speaker nomination process often fails to ensure adequate gender representation. Program committees lacking gender diversity tend to result in a lack of diversity among invited speakers.a The common practice of program committee members nominating themselves as invited speakers augments this effect.b

Table B4-1 presents data on the percentage of invited speakers to speak at prestigious symposiac at professional and scientific society conferences who were women in a number of disciplines. It has proven challenging to ensure that speakers at society-sponsored events reflect the diverse membership of the society with respect to appropriate representation by gender.

TABLE B4-1Speakers at 2004-2005 Scientific and Professional Society Meetings, by Sex

Conference (2004-2005) d % of Invited Speakers Who Were Women Total Number of Invited Speakers
American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)1712
American Chemical Society (ACS)18174
American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB)3622
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)e 617
International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniquesf 1778
Oceanic Engineering Society Meetingg 472
Federation of Clinical Immunological Societies (FOCIS)h 22480
Society for Neuroscience (SFN)911

Some societies have implemented speaker selection criteria to mandate that those who propose symposia specifically consider diversity of suggested speakers. At the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) 45th Annual Meeting, 36% of the invited speakers were women, which is an appropriate reflection of the nearly 40% of women professors in biological sciences. ASCB employs the following speaker selection guidelines:i

  • Invite co-organizers who look different than you do.
  • Actively seek suggestions for speakers.
  • Scan programs of past meetings in different, but related, fields.
  • Avoid the usual suspects (avoid the cadre of major figures who speak multiple times and “[fly] in just for the talk”).
  • Adjust your tentative program to ensure diversity.

The Federation of Clinical Immunological Societies (FOCIS) has gone one step further and reformed the way in which invited speakers are selected. For minisymposium speakers at their 12th annual International Congress of Immunology (participants were from 86 countries, and about half were women), FOCIS instituted an abstract review process that was blinded as to author and institution. This resulted in 48% of 976 oral presenters being women. For speakers and chairs, the program committee used research excellence and publication impact criteria for speaker selection. Twenty-two percent of the 480 invited speakers were women, a substantial increase from the previous year, when only 10% of the invited speakers were women.j

Other organizations that sponsor and organize scientific conferences instruct and encourage conference planners to include appropriate gender representation among invited speakers and planning committees. The NIH encourages a “concerted effort to achieve appropriate representation of women” as conference organizers, speakers, and attendees for all meetings it sponsors.k Gordon Research Conferences and Keystone Symposia sponsor topically focused interdisciplinary research symposia with a small number of participants to foster discussion and collaboration. Both organizations instruct conference organizers to represent the gender diversity of the discipline when inviting conference speakers.l


S Forsburg (2004). Ensuring diversity at the podium. The ASCB Newletter 27(2):13-14.


A Lagendijk (2005). Pushing for power. Nature 438:429.


Prestigious symposia include plenary sessions, keynote addresses, panels, named lectures, and award symposia.


All conferences except FOCIS were held in 2005.


Data from 2005 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exhibition.


Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference of 2005 with highest attendance (~29,000).


Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference of 2005 with highest attendance (~50,000).


Data from 12th International Congress of Immunology.


MM Newkirk, E Richie, and JK Lunney (2005). Advancing women scientists: The immunology experience. Nature Immunology 6(9):855.


From: 4, Success and Its Evaluation in Science and Engineering

Cover of Beyond Bias and Barriers
Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.
National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007.
Copyright © 2007, National Academy of Sciences.

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