Frida Mörtsell and a list of 1000 women that "could be board members". Photo: Ulla Engberg
more equal recruiting

"Finding those that others can't seem to find"

"Call the woman first"
7:51 min

It started with a bet with a club owner, that it would be possible to find enough female DJs to break the male dominance behind the club's turntables. It ended up with an agency that  is helping companies, organisations and journalists to find women who are experts in fields where there only seem to be men, or people with immigrant background who can balance up an otherwise all-white environment.

"We help finding those that other people can't seem to find. Whether it is other than men that can be DJs or others than women that can talk about knitting or taking care of children.. Or whatever," says Frida Mörtsell, community manager at "Equalisters".

In a small office in central Stockholm, Frida Mörtsell and a small team of social media savvy professionals link up with a network of 50,000 people, who know a lot of people. They are the so called equalisters, ready to come up with suggestions of people who can be that key-note speaker at the conference, or fill a space on the panel at the seminar, or be that expert interviewed on TV. People that come from under-represented groups in terms of gender, age of ethnic background, in any given context.

It all started, almost on a whim, when PR-agent Lina Thomsgård, exasperated at the lack of women on stage during the gala season, went to a night club. When she asked the manager why the DJs were only guys, the manager said "you know I'd really like to have girls playing, but it's just that there aren't so many female DJs, I can't find them".

"And she said; 'you know what? Tomorrow morning I will bring you a list of 100 names of Djs that aren't men'. And she went home, and the next morning she woke up, a bit hung over, and she was realising 100 names, it is quite a lot. She knew a lot of Djs but she did not know 100. So then she started the Facebook-page," says Frida Mörtsell.

Within a few hours, hundreds of people had joined the search of female DJs, and sure enough, the club owner got the list he had been promised. And Equalisters had been born.

Now, 3,5 years later, the list of female DJs has expanded to over 200. And - as a result of concrete requests from recruiters, conference organisers, journalists and others - this list has been accompanied by several hundred other lists, all open and available on the equalister website. Anything from BMX riders, to sound architects, artists, architects, engineers etc etc.

Frida Mörtsell says the aim of Equalisters in the long run is to not have to exist, that one day it will be just as natural to book women artists or speakers, as men. And, by the way, she doesn't think the current male dominance in the public sphere is because of a sinister strategy from some kind of male chauvinist maffia.

"People generally support the idea. A lot of the time it is not about people wanting to have this panel with only one kind of participants. Usually they want the diversity, but they don't have the networks, they keep having their own networks, they don't have the time, they don't have the courage to try someone new. And in this way, we can also help them by showing them that 'this is people who other people think is important'," she says.

Among those turning to Equalisters for help is the organiseras of the IT conference Internet Days, claiming to be "Scandinavia's most important meeting place for internet professionals and enthusiasts". Niklas Seden is the project manager of the Internet Days. He says they have been trying for years to get more women on their panels. This year, with a much expanded event, and a more decentralised conference and organisation, came renewed discussions of how to go about bringing more women in. And so Equalisters came into the picture.

"They had the tools in the shape of a huge network. It's a brilliant idea. There is a lot of people out there that know people, that know people, that know people. That is the beauty of the social media," says Niklas Seden.

"It's easy when you do conferences to stay in your comfort zone and just 'I'll call this guy, I know he always does a good job', and so on, but we didn't want to do that again, because that is part of the problem," he says.

Another tip he got from Equalisters is to call the women first, and not wait till the end. "If you call her last, it can create this false image of "well I have two guys now and now you are like now my affirmative action kind of speaker," says Niklas Seden, who is certain the efforts have made a difference.

This year, fewer women backed out along the way, and though not 50 per cent of the speakers or on the panels are women, it looks like around 40 per cent, which is a lot better than earlier years.

The Internet Days are held in Stokcholm in the end of November.

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