Bobbie Carlton spent years filling up panels at corporate events with speakers. Eventually she grew tired of seeing the, “same four old white guys” speaking at every ‘manel’ she seemed to attend (an all male panel if you will). Carlton decided to do something about, and thus Innovation Women was born. Today the Lexington, Massachusetts-based entrepreneur is dedicated to connecting speakers with event opportunities, and vice versa. The roster of women featured on her site are female, diverse and committed to bringing new and fresh perspectives to each stage they speak on.
Carlton’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
With a long career in PR and Marketing, part of my job was always helping to get executives on stage at conferences and events, almost always men. Meanwhile, as I was attending many events, I saw too many “manels” (all-male, all-pale and all-stale) of the same four old white guys. We needed to get more women on stage. It makes a difference in everything from pay equity to startup funding, board seats to job offers. More women on stage means more women seen as leaders.
How do you define success?
My success for Innovation Women will be changing the gender balance onstage – right now two out of three of all speakers are men. This leaves women out of so many opportunities. Achieving gender balance onstage should help set the stage for a better, more equitable future.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Every speaker we help is a success. Every time we encourage a woman to stand up and ask a question from the audience, it is a success. Every time a first-time speaker applies for a call to be a speakers. Every time an event manager makes a special effort to diversify a panel and ensure gender parity, we win. It’s those little steps that add up to a big win.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Discrimination. One of the largest players in the online speaker world decided it was “OK” to steal content from our website. They systematically copied speaker profiles by the hundreds to their site. (With a usual speaker bureau, if you place a speaker you get a portion of the speaker fee. Innovation Women does not take a speaker fee – we’re focused on getting the speakers placed for our social goals.) When we hired a lawyer to issue DMCA takedowns, I received a truly condescending call from the other site’s CMO who variously blamed the issue on minimum wage employees, their process and other things. Evidently other speaker bureaus get the courtesy of a “partner” call before they rip them off. Women-owned websites? Not so much.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
In June 2020, I tore my left rotator cuff. The constant pain for more than 18 months slowed me down more than I like to admit. I didn’t sleep well, every movement would set my arm on fire. I’m thankful I don’t have a physically demanding job but I think we underestimate how much an injury can slow us down and distract us from completing our mission.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Understand that there is no magic solution. Don’t worry about not knowing the magic. Keep your ears open and you will learn enough.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
Talking to my team
Who is your most important role model?
I wish I had one role model – I have hundreds. Every speaker on our platform is a role model to someone. ◼
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