Tabby Biddle with Catherine Gray

Catherine Gray of Live Love Thrive with Tabby Biddle. Photo courtesy of Tabby Biddle.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Tabby Biddle.  Tabby is a celebrated women’s leadership coach, journalist, bestselling author, TEDx speaker, and Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead. She has supported thousands of women on their path into leadership.

As a professional woman who does quite a bit of public speaking myself, I’ve always been curious as to why more female speakers were not out there at conferences and on panels. Tabby seemed like the perfect person to ask “why.”  This is Tabby’s passion and area of expertise, so I’ll let her insightful answers speak for themselves.    

Olga Mizrahi: What are the current statistics on female speakers?

Tabby: I can only speak to TED and TEDx events.  TED executive producer June Cohen gave a talk in 2013 titled “Where Are All the Women Speakers?” in which she stated that only about 20 percent of the short-listed TEDx talks that came to her (for consideration on were by women, and only 15 percent of the recommendations that came in for the main stage TED were women.  People think that women are out there speaking a great deal but, when you look at the numbers, it’s only 20 percent…or fewer.  There’s actually an assumption that when women speak [at all], that they’re speaking all the time.  Even in the second presidential debate, people said that Hillary had most of the talk time when, in fact, she didn’t.  When I personally spoke at TEDx last year, there were only three women out of 11 total speakers.  Women are always in the minority when you look at panels.

Why is that?

Producer June Cohen said that women speakers are harder to find.  I find that difficult to believe.  We’re out there in the world!  We are half of the workplace.  So, the excuse may be a flimsy one, but it is one that is used a lot.  I think there are other factors at play.  One is unconscious bias.  Another is that organizers simply forget to invite women to come speak.  

How can we address that going forward?

Women are starting to recommend each other [as speakers].  That’s an area for growth.  Women should be recommending each other—and applying for themselves—more often.

What about the age-old fear of rejection?

Women don’t just need to apply to speak; they need to persevere, as well.  If you don’t hear back [from an organizer] or get a “no,” don’t take that personally at all.  Keep on going with the next event organizer or conference.  There have been studies that show that when men apply for a job and don’t get it, they blame it on the process, whereas women blame it on themselves.  

What else holds women back?

Women don’t value their voices enough—and they’ve been taught that by society.  Women, for the ages, have been persecuted for speaking their truth and this is held in their psyches. We often consider our ideas second rate to men’s ideas.  Fortunately, this is changing with great feminist thought and conversation.  But it goes so deep into our consciousness.  Men are the assumed leaders and the ones assumed to have the superior ideas.  I know this sounds archaic—and it should be—but it’s still very present.  There’s an undervaluing, not just by men but by women themselves.

I think we’re missing a key point.  When it comes to standing out and speaking up, many women are afraid of being judged by their appearance.

I haven’t focused as much on that, but it’s obviously very important.  Women feel that they’re putting themselves in a position where they feel they’ll be judged by the way they look [instead of what they say].  They think: “How will I be judged by what I choose to wear today?”  So, in order to protect themselves from humiliation and pain, they avoid it altogether.

Why is it important for more women to become speakers (even anecdotally)?  

It’s important because we need the feminine perspective, lens, and experience in the cultural conversation.  Right now, public policy and workplace policy is in service to the life of a man.  Many workplaces have not adapted to the reality of women’s lives today.  As a result, women end up suffering financially, emotionally, and spiritually.  They have chronic fatigue and adrenal burnout and the types of things that leave women in pain.  Without women being equally on stage with men, we will never really achieve an environment for women to thrive in.

As far as change for women goes, what have you noticed during your time in this space?  

Women are starting to value their voices more.  A lot of women are rising, particularly as writers.  Women have access to blogging — there’s no gatekeeper.  The truth of women’s lives is out there much more in the public conversation.  Because of that, other women are coming forward to share their voice and feeling more emboldened to come forward and be a speaker

What about change for men?

Men have become aware that they need to be including more women speakers and more non-white male speakers.  Thus, a diversity of race and gender is growing.  There’s awareness there, whether or not people are following through all the way.  It’s about a dialogue and creating an intention.  I don’t want to discount those that are bringing forth the conversation, but the next step is the action step.

Where have you seen this at play?

I recently heard the First Lady of Los Angeles County, Amy Elaine Wakeland, [Mayor Eric Garcetti’s wife], speak.  In 2015, Los Angeles City Hall set gender parity goalsand achieved them.  If government can do this in appointed positions—within a one-year period—then any organization can do this.  As far as action is concerned, organizations need to set goals for gender parity and then move toward them.  Organizations love having goals!  So, why not have a goal of meeting gender parity?  This can be true for event organizers, as well.

What forces the issue?  Does it have to come from the bottom-up, in the form of a revolution?  And, why isn’t there a revolution, after so many years?

I think what’s happening is that there are pieces of the uprising taking place.  Consider avenues like the Women’s Media Center and She Source.  It’s happening in segmented pieces.  One reason why it hasn’t happened yet in a unified form is that there are still a lot of women working from the lens of patriarchy.  There is a fear that if they do branch out from the social norm, that they may be repercussions.  Even so, we’ve seen so many women stepping forward through the #ItsNotOkay movement.  I do think it’s happening.

How can men get more involved?

I think men are interested but they don’t know what to do.  We need to converse with the men in our lives—whether it’s spouses or colleague—not in a heated and angry way, but to have a conversation and a dialogue.  My experience is that men are interested and they’re shifting consciousness, too.  Men are starting to value the feminine within themselves.  The valuing and honoring of women will happen once the feminine is out in all of us.

Agreed.  This is the first generation where men are more involved with their daughters and they are thinking about the legacy for the young women in their lives.  They finally have a vested interest.

That’s so true.  After giving my TEDx talk, I had a number of dads come up to me afterward and thank me for giving them ideas of how to nurture young female voices.  Dads see what’s happening in society and want to help their daughters become empowered and have a voice that others will listen to.

What piece of advice would you give to women who want to achieve more visibility?

First, get in touch with what you really want to say.  What are the injustices that you see in the world that could—and should—be different?  Get clear and see what you want to be visible with.  Then, become visible so that you can create some type of positive change.  That is the energy that will enable you to get out of your own fear-zone way.  Luckily, there are so many ways to be visible: blogging, article writing, video interviews, public speaking, entrepreneurship, senior leadership, and more.  Ultimately, you will be able to achieve the biggest success when you’re driven by a greater purpose.

To jump up on my own soapbox for a moment, if you’re a Los Angeles-based conference or panel organizer, off the top of my head, I wholeheartedly recommend all of the following women as dynamic speakers:

Tabby: Likewise, I would recommend the following group of women:


If you’re interested in checking out a couple of local Long Beach events with powerful women speakers, you’re in luck!

“Multi-Generational Leadership”
Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
Women’s Business Council
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
7:30AM – 9:30AM
Long Beach Airport Marriott

“Entrepreneur 360 Conference”
Entrepreneur Magazine
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
8:00AM – 6:00PM
Long Beach Convention Center


Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed, is a writer, speaker and women’s leadership coach, specializing in helping women find their voice and take their fair and equal share of leadership across all sectors by 2025. Through her speaking appearances, group classes, and private coaching practice, Tabby has supported thousands of women on their path into leadership – from business leaders, to media personalities, to celebrity activists, to artists, to students, to entrepreneurs. She is the bestselling author of Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action, and a celebrated TEDx speaker for her unique approach to activating women’s leadership. A two-time United Nations Foundation press fellow writing on women and girls, Tabby has been featured by prominent national and international media, including The Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, UN Dispatch, Current TV and NPR. Tabby earned her Masters in Education from Bank Street College of Education and her undergraduate degree in politics from Colby College. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and young son. Learn more at Tabby also spoke at “Live, Love, Thrive” this past month.