Lift Each Other Up: Women in the Industry

Maile Ohye, Purna Virji, Kelsey Jones, and Jennifer Slegg
Maile Ohye, Purna Virji, Kelsey Jones, and Jennifer Slegg bring the insight.

Diversity is a subject of much discussion. Some of those discussions are tricky. But that in no way means they’re not worth having — even if it gets a little rough around the edges.

So State of Search decided to make a space for one of those conversations, specifically about how to increase the number of women speaking at industry conferences. The first Elevation Breakfast tackled some big ideas, adeptly moderated by the exquisitely-shod Jennifer Slegg who came ready with a list of questions designed to elicit details of how the successful women on the panel have advanced their careers. And the reviews were legit.

Panelists Maile Ohye, Purna Virji, and Kelsey Jones have all taken different approaches to getting where they are, which touches on one of the central issues raised by this breakfast conversation — women are not a monolith. As with any other group, individual women will have individual responses to individual situations.

How to pitch like a pro

While Maile found herself on stage nearly by accident, Purna pitched to start small and locally, and Kelsey wrote and edited before she ever tackled the stage, all of them emphasized that practice and preparation got them repeat speaking gigs at conferences. Several of them mentioned using smaller opportunities, like Meetups and local events, to get your feet wet and polish your speaking skills. And if you’re a newcomer without a lot of experience to point at? Jennifer suggested including a short video in your pitch so conference organizers know they’re not taking a risk.

Purna also pointed out that researching a conference is a great way to determine what sort of pitches get accepted. #protip

How to get more ladies on stage

If your pitch is polished, that’s greatness. But how can we encourage more women to pitch in the first place? Kelsey likes to push people, pointing out to them when they’re being awesome and encouraging them to share that awesomeness with the world. Purna pointed out the importance of finding someone to give you honest feedback — and that watching great speakers on YouTube or elsewhere can help you hone your chops. Maile likes to shout out other women who are doing good stuff.

Packed house for the Elevation Breakfast at State of Search
The packed house for the Elevation Breakfast shows the interest in this topic.

How to become known in the industry

So you’re polished. And you’ve pitched. And you’re ready to rock. But maybe folks don’t know who you are. So how are you going to pack your session?

  • Write! Blog, guest blog, submit to industry journals, and get your name out there.
  • Network! Hit events, ask genuine questions, tweet-chat, and get your out there.
  • Pay it forward! Support other ladies and (you guessed it) get your name out there.

The question of confidence

Imposter Syndrome is the fear that, at any moment, you’ll be found out as being unworthy. It isn’t always rational, and it isn’t always present, but it can rear up at any moment. To combat the lack of women pitching and getting their voices heard — in order to, as Maile pointed out, make a conference stronger due to a variety of viewpoints — confidence has to be encouraged. How can woman be, well, elevated in that regard?

Conferences can do more, like have explicit harassment policies that aren’t buried in the depths of their website. Women and men, both, can mentor women and provide the sort of insights and invitations that result in connection. And men can really, truly listen.

Maile shared a story — that had a lot woman in the audience nodding in recognition — about being in work settings with men and being talked over, ignored, or even blatantly stolen from. How many women have had the experience of offering an idea, only to have it be restated by a man in the room and suddenly hailed as worth consideration? “If a woman says it, it’s common sense,” she said to applause. “If a man says it, it’s visionary.”

(No, #notallmen do this.)

Women can also take a deep breath and be direct. Brand your ideas so they’re harder to recycle. Own your email communications without adding emojis or huge helpings of praise that shouldn’t be necessary to accomplish quick tasks. And when pitching, don’t apologize for doing so! You have every right to the conference planning board’s time and attention, just like anyone else who’s submitting for consideration. Passive voice doesn’t always serve you or your career.

The difficult work of these conversations will continue. There will be times when tempers fray and emotions run hot, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop trying to make things better. After all, isn’t the goal to make it so we don’t have to have these conversations any more?


Stephanie_StuderStephanie Studer is a writer, editor, cook, and massive nerd who calls Dallas home. A social and content marketer, she’s deeply in love with all that language can do. She tweets at @Editrix_Steph and posts entirely too many pictures of dishes she’s made on Instagram. Don’t ask her about ukuleles or comic books unless you have nothing to do for the next several hours.