Mentoring is a thing you hear a lot about when it comes to helping people from underrepresented groups gain footholds in organizations, and I’ve only ever heard positive things about mentor relationships when I’ve come across them. I would like to say that establishing mentor programs for women in skepticism would help retain the women who express initial interest in participating, but I don’t really think mentor programs would work for women in skepticism given that the environment isn’t exactly educational, or hierarchical, or the kind of business/training environment in which mentoring programs are usually established. But the ability for women to network within active sexism is very limited because of their low numbers and because the circumstances of how skeptics meet with each other (ie, in nonhierarchical ways). And I don’t really know what else to call it beyond setting up groups within skepticism for women to socialize with each other in, which probably isn’t that practical in real life on a regular basis (for a lot of reasons, from again the low numbers but also time and distance concerns). But mentoring has been shown to help people succeed in certain endeavors, and forming close personal and professional relationships keeps people from walking away from groups, and it seems to me there is something there for skeptics to consider even if I can’t say exactly what.
That said, I think there are definitely roles women could be actively trained to fill, particularly at the local level. There are skeptics groups everywhere, and they are always–ALWAYS–looking for content for their meetings and their events. There are only so many scientists and science writers per city who are available to pop in for free and give talks (and many of those are regular members of the groups), and at least where I live the programs start to repeat themselves. The sad thing about that is that there are so many topics of general interest that would benefit from a skeptical analysis that would likely be good entry points for skeptical novices (and curious members of the non-skeptical public) that are never presented, often because the local leaders just haven’t thought of them. Even when a leader receives a suggestion for an interesting topic, there’s still the problem of who will present it.
Women are tied into their communities in ways that many skeptics, particularly men skeptics, haven’t considered. There are hours of material in each city that would make interesting, thought-provoking lectures and panel discussions, but the people with this raw knowledge don’t necessarily have the experience needed for making presentations and moderating panels. It’s not a matter of overcoming stage fright; it’s a matter of knowing what kind of handouts/slides to prepare, how to pace a talk, how to handle questions from the audience, what kind of references to provide, and how to market their presentation idea to skeptical group leaders and conference organizers.
These are easily learned skills. Easily learned, but not very instinctive. Making a concerted effort to teach women how to organize and give a skeptical presentation would make a lot more women feel like they could successfully share their knowledge with their group. It would not take much effort for a skeptical group to set up a training workshop for women* and walk them through the steps of planning to presentation. You could attract women from your community who have never set foot inside your skeptical group meetings before, too, and it would be very easy for your programming chair to work with these women to set the topics for the next run of meetings well in advance instead of scrambling all the time for speakers. Even better, when these women make their presentations, they will bring their friends and relatives (new potential skeptics), and they will forge relationships between skepticism and parts of the community you didn’t know intersected with it. Most important, you will send the message that you value the knowledge and experience that these women have to share–even the non-scientific/technological/paranormal/religious knowledge and experience that normally doesn’t get air time–and that you are willing to invest in their talent by helping them hone their leadership skills. Not a lot of women skeptics hear that message. You are far more likely to retain women members when you offer them that kind of opportunity to really get involved.
To use a popular business cliche, it’s a win-win situation.
*Yes, it would be very easy for a skeptical group to set up a training workshop for women and men, too, but there are already plenty of men speakers and if you are trying to get women more involved then it’s best to focus on your target demographic. There is no reason why you can’t offer more than one workshop.