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Women: Speak Up, Please 

By Nancy Hill, President-CEO, 4A's


When I got to the 4A's, I thought I would have no problem changing the ratios of gender, age, skin color, etc. being represented on conference stages. I know lots of people who break the traditional molds so, I thought, "piece of cake."

Wrong. Sigh. Start over.

You come up with a list. You're pretty happy with it: interesting speakers, topics, thought leadership. And, a great balance of gender, race, age and other demographics. One by one the phone calls are made, e-mails are sent. You wait. Sometimes you get an answer, most times you have to follow up. Again, and again.

At the end of it all, the list has changed. The men accepted. The women who did accept changed jobs, now have a new business pitch or a client in crisis. The women who didn't respond, you try again or, get someone else to try on your behalf. Now, it's getting late and schedules are booked. You ask and ask and ask. You have to start promoting the conference. The list is skewed white male, but you have no choice. The barrage starts. "Where are the women?Why is the list so male? Where are the people of color? Why, Why, Why?"

Shrug your shoulders, another big sigh. I honestly don't understand. It shouldn't be this difficult. You would think that women would jump at the chance just like men do. Is it because we feel the need to focus on our current jobs, our own companies? Our families? Is it because there are so few senior females that they get recruited so much more frequently than men?

We put women on the board. They get poached out of the agency world. We put women as the heads of committees, they start their own agency and don't have time anymore. We put women on the list to speak, they don't respond or they pull out at the last minute. This is not meant as a condemnation of my own gender, it's just the facts as they have played out. I take my role as the head of the 4A's seriously. We represent an industry. I represent an opportunity and, I know it.

My best of all possible worlds? Pushing an agenda that represents the industry as a whole, not just half by gender. Not just half by race. Not just half by age or any other demographic. And, certainly not half by any business model you can name. That means we need to have just as many women, blacks, hispanics, asians, youngsters, oldsters, technologists and strategists saying yes, recommending others and helping to program. I know I get many many requests to speak. All over the world. I can't possibly say yes to everything, but I do respond. And, most times if I say no, I'll at least suggest another woman. We're a small organization representing a huge industry. 72 staff, 100,000+ people--you see the ratio. We need everyone's help. It is very easy to sit on the outside and say what you would do differently. I know I did. I was very vocal about what I thought the 4A's needed to do. Put your money where your mouth is. I did. It's why I took this job.

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