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  • Writer's pictureaxisaberdeen

Creating More Diverse Conference Panels: A Case Study For Inclusion

In our Offshore Europe Reflections article last year, we spoke about the importance of panel organisers having a diversity lens when planning. One successful example of that was at the Society for Underwater Technology’s 9th International Conference in London organised by Toby Powell from Subsea7.

“Last year I chaired the Society for Underwater Technology’s 9th International Conference in London. This three-day event was five years in the planning and brought together the global offshore Geoscience & Geotechnical Engineering communities. The conference comprised of twenty-two technical sessions that were co-chaired by a team of forty-four individuals combining youth and experience, as well as being split equally by gender.


I think inclusive panels based on merit are incredibly important to provide development and opportunity for as wide a group as possible. Ours is a relatively small international community given the comparative magnitude of the energy transition and climate change challenges that we face, so making geoscientists and engineers feel welcome, included and valued, is vital to retaining individuals in our industry as well as providing role models for younger recruits to aspire to.


I approached building an inclusive panel by simply reaching out to male and female contacts in industry, including those who would benefit from the opportunity to chair or co-chair a session but who would not normally volunteer themselves. The response was brilliant, and very quickly we had filled our team sheet.


One of the catalysts for approaching the conference in this way was meeting Hannah Smith, a volunteer student runner, when I chaired the 8th International Conference in 2017. Having done an excellent job, a year later she sent me her CV to critique, and I subsequently employed her as a Graduate Geotechnical Engineer. My vision was for her to introduce her session at the 2023 conference saying that she had been a student runner at the 2017 event, which she duly did!


The feedback that I received was universally positive. Beforehand, folk had the impression that the 2023 conference would be the same faces doing the same thing, so the introduction of youth as well as gender balance was very well received. Another interesting piece of feedback was that senior leads (both male and female) had to push very good female candidates to step up and take the opportunity as they had very few volunteers, primarily due to a lack of self-confidence. The post-event feedback from the individuals who did subsequently take part was that it was hugely rewarding and whilst initially nervous, they proved to themselves that they could do it, that they belonged, and that they would definitely do it again if asked.


In terms of what others can learn – make this approach the norm!

  • Ask for volunteers

  • Gently push those who may need a bit more encouragement to step forward

  • Give strong briefings to set participants up for success – honest and nurturing support is key


Then enjoy watching them fly! That was the best feeling to take away, and I am very proud of everything that the team achieved.”


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