A few months ago I started working on a new project that I am truly excited about. A new British podcast that has sparked conversations about extremely interesting and relevant subjects. Yet very soon something started bugging me: for such an advanced and ethnically diverse island, the overwhelming majority of the guests were white men.
The podcast’s producer did make an effort to find female participants, yet, as a testament to society’s imbalance, it proved too difficult for him. Most podcasts featured three guests, and through the first season’s nine sessions, twenty-six guests sat in front of our microphones. Of all of them, only four were female. What’s more, three of them were all featured in one single podcast: gender equality. The fourth and final female guest was also invited to cover a “softer” subject: mental health.
Spot what is specially wrong with these #manels… The last one means “Joining efforts to support breastfeeding”. Follow this amazing twitter account: Congrats, you have an all male panel!
A year ago, Reuters published an article that should shock no one; “Male-dominated panels still rule conferences, study finds”. I wonder how much money is spent globally on studies to discover lukewarm water, yet what caught my eye about this particular one is that it pertained the European Union. If not even there will event organizers bother to find capable females, what hope is there for Latin America and the developing world?
Not interested in consolation prizes
Next month we will “celebrate” the 44th International Women’s Day. I will brace myself to receive multiple congratulations for… being a woman? I must confess that that date feels like a condescending gesture, like some sort of consolation prize. Women are not interested in being idealized because of our female sixth sense, our ability to bear children or the sweetness of our temperaments. We are not even that interested in society shaking its head in unison to condemn sexism. We want equal access to opportunities and equal treatment in the streets, in the workplace, in our homes. I will gladly waive all congratulatory events and exchange them for full worth as a citizen for the rest of year.
The more women take the microphone, the more opportunities there will be for us to attain visibility and advance to leadership positions. Men and women alike will become accustomed to female experts, female voices and female reactions. Little girls will see themselves in these role models. Little boys will learn that women can be in charge just as much as men. Female advancement will propel a virtuous cycle, generating more equitable, prosperous and healthy societies.
Silence speaks just as loud
In creating the representations that build cultures, presence carries as much weight as absence. This is why the absence of women in panels is such a serious matter. For instance, this is why we begin thinking that it’s ok for all male teams to make decisions about matters that will mostly affect women, such as birth control, access to education or abortion.
Establishing a quota is a necessary evil. Forcing event organizers to take the time to locate female experts, is a necessary evil. Committing to not participating in projects or panels that do not feature women in them, is a necessary evil. Being called extremist or, even worst, a feminist, is a necessary evil. Men need to join, because they hold most the cards.
Kudos to men such as Owen Barder, Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development; or Hans Schulz, from the Inter-American Development Bank; or companies such as Blue State Digital for pledging not to serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on it, not including the Chair.
I loved this quick guide for organizers that are dealing with the unsurmountable task of finding capable female guests. I will leave you with it. As for me, I will not take part of projects that fail to include women; and I will strive to spread this commitment.
What happens if we have tried to find women but there is nobody available?
Try harder. You may need to organise your conference a little earlier to be sure of getting women on your panels.
What happens if a woman drops out and we end up with a men-only panel?
There are many brilliant women – please find someone else to take her place.
What if a woman drops out at very short notice?
I get it: shit happens. You could cover yourself by planning to have two women on the panel (gosh!).
Organising conferences is hard enough already?
The Gendered Conference Campaign has some great advice for conference organisers.
What else can we do?
Keep drawing attention to the issue. If you are at a conference with male-only panels, call it out.
Audit your events and keep track of the trends
Be mindful about promoting women through social media