Women missing from podium

29 November 2013

greenbelt/drew mclellan

Onstage: the Revd Barbara Brown Taylor at this year's Greenbelt Festival

Onstage: the Revd Barbara Brown Taylor at this year's Greenbelt Festival

JUST one in four speakers at Christian conferences in the UK are women, a new survey has revealed. The research, published by Natalie Collins on her blog suggested that out of 25 conferences in the past year, 26.3 per cent of speakers were women.

The blog post has sparked a debate between bloggers and conference organisers about whether to aim for half of all speakers to be women, and, if so, how this could be achieved. Mrs Collins said this week that she was inspired to research the issue after hearing of a similar survey in the United States.

"At a big leadership conference in the US, there were four women speakers and 110 men," she said. "After that, an American blogger wrote about the statistics for Christian US conferences, and then a friend said: 'We need to know what the situation is in the UK.'"

Mrs Collins said that she trawled through recordings and lists of speakers for events in 2013, and prospective 2014 conferences, to come up with the final list. "The pattern here is better than in the US, which is 19 per cent. A lot of these organisers are very pro-women in their rhetoric, but are not doing it in practice."

Included in the list were popular conferences such as Greenbelt - which had 39 per cent women speakers; Spring Harvest - 31 per cent; New Wine - 32 per cent; and Soul Survivor - 30 per cent. A handful of events had at least 50 per cent women speakers, including the Youthwork Summit, and the Church and Media conference.

The organiser of the Youthwork Summit, Martin Saunders, said that he had deliberately aimed for half of his speakers to be women. "We want to help new voices emerge who aren't polished platform voices, and we also had a commitment to work really hard to make sure we had 50 per cent female speakers."

The creative director at Greenbelt, Paul Northup, said: "It was really good to be challenged, but it shouldn't be just tokenistic. It is a really simplistic thing to say just because you have a 50/50 split, you have got it sorted. I think there are bigger, more holistic questions for organisations. But [having 50 per cent women speakers] is a good ambition, because our programme needs to reflect the work we do."

In a statement, the director of New Wine, John Coles, said: "At our New Wine summer conferences, we have been steadily changing the ratio of male to female speakers over the past few years, and will continue to do so."

Mrs Collins said that, as a result of the debate sparked by her blog: "I'm creating a website of women speakers so something positive can come out of these statistics."

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