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How to find the perfect mentor (clue: it’s not a more experienced version of you)

September 20, 2019

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Last month, at the Ad Tech Inclusion Summit in London, Dora Michail, MD Digital at the Telegraph opened the event saying, “Azadeh Akbari, [the organiser of the event] asked me to chair today’s event, and my first response was, ‘no way!’”.  Fortunately for everyone who attended, Michail thought more about the content of the event, and realised she felt it was too important to not accept the invitation.  And despite her initial misgivings, she did an excellent job chairing the day. 


This is not an uncommon problem.  In our research for WomenPresent, we discovered that event organisers really struggle with women declining an invitation to speak.  On average, just 2 out of 10 women asked to speak will agree.  Anecdotally, 10 out of 10 men who are asked will accept - if they can make the date.  Most women’s first response to an invitation to speak at an event is negative. Rachel Smith, COO Exchangewire highlights that they need encouraging to step up, the confidence to know that if they’re asked to speak, they have valuable information to share, and finally that speaking is important. Smith is excited about the launch of the WomenPresent platform saying, “Being able to recommend speakers, and highlight them for specific skills and experience, will be a great way to encourage more women to get involved in opportunities that they might otherwise forsake in favour of other responsibilities.”


So why should we follow Michail’s lead, and say yes to an invitation to speak - whether that’s chairing an event, joining a panel or giving a keynote?


Firstly, event organisers such as Smith don’t ask just anyone to present.  They spend time researching companies they are keen to have on stage, they take recommendations from their editors and advisory committees and people within those companies who have expertise in the relevant area.  It’s a great opportunity for you to share the areas that your company excels at, and how your company stands out from the competition.  Not only that, but by having a female speaker represent your company on stage, your company is immediately associated with better diversity and inclusion, making it a more attractive employer to great talent.  With female spending power set to exceed men’s by £400 million per week*….. it’s important that companies demonstrate their gender balance.  


Secondly, “You’ve got to see it, to be it.” Just by being present, you help the next generation of women coming into the world of work to see that they can get to where you are - CEOs, Directors, company leaders, are not all male.  


There are also huge personal benefits for women who speak at events.  You increase your personal brand, building industry-level recognition of your areas of expertise.  This can be crucial when you’re looking for your next role - whether that’s making it onto the board at your current company, or founding a new business.  It’s also empowering to know that you can do it - you know your stuff and can hold the attention of the room, by sharing your insights. 


Finally, hearing from people that represent the 50:50 male:female ratio of real life makes for more interesting content, something that everyone attending the event benefits from.  Michail says, “The more diverse our stages are, the richer the conversation and the brighter the ideas.” 


At WomenPresent, we’re working to make it easier for event organisers to achieve a 50:50 gender ratio on stage.  We’re building the WomenPresent platform to provide women with exposure to a comprehensive set of available speaking engagements. Likewise, event coordinators can use the platform to publish available events and discover potential speakers by area of expertise.  


If you’d like to learn more about WomenPresent, visit If the idea of an equal gender ratio on stage speaks to you, please help us launch by contributing to its funding campaign at JustGiving.



WomenPresent was founded in 2017 by a trio of industry veterans with over 30 years of experience in ad tech, both on and off the stage. The team is led by Cadi Jones, Tom Jenen, and Susan Pierce.


*McKinsey & Company. (2013). Women Matter: Moving Corporate Culture, Moving Boundaries.