Questions at conferences

1 minute read


Questions at conferences

Asking a question in a conference can be daunting. Perhaps even more so if subconscious gender interplay gets in the way. In response to a couple of interesting social science studies, I did my own mini-survey during one day of a conference a few weeks ago. The previous studies had suggested that women were much more likely to ask a question if the first question came from a woman.

The conference I attended had a roughly 50/50 split in the audience, and the organisers seem to have made a real effort to alternate the gender of the speakers. As such it was interesting to still see that in the 23 talks, twice as many questions were by men. This dropped to a roughly equal number from men and women if the first question came from a woman but jumped to 3.6 times as many question from men if the first question came from a man. The gender of the speaker had no impact.

Interestingly, at a conference later in the same week, many more of the questions came from women (was this an LSHTM or TB effect?). Despite this gender “support”, I managed to bodge a question by rushing into it. At the next conference I attend, I aim to ask a question but to make sure I’ve phrased it concisely first, and to ask it when the first question comes from a man (shouldn’t be too hard!).