Organising a panel discussion and finding yourself criticised for lack of diversity? Do you have an all male panel (manel)? Fear no more. Here are some handy tips how to react.
Deep breath. Don’t panic. Remain calm.
Not easy … do not take the challenge personally. Please don’t give up at the first hurdle. Sexism is widespread and will not go away tomorrow. It is a journey, start it now. One step at a time. Be glorious. You can lead by example!
Back to basics (skip)
Why is diversity important? The more people of different walks of life you get involved in your event, the wider the ensuing debate’s net can be cast. I suspect curating a wider debate is what your panel discussion is all about. Why else hold a discussion round? (Otherwise reassess the need for the event. Maybe it is a safe space event for a particular group to coalesce?) It is quite logical that different angles can illuminate different corners of the room. We all end up more enlightened and brighter at the end of the event.
Why is it so often about women and gender?
First off, women are not a minority. In fact as a world population women are a slight majority (for some quirky reason of nature/nurture). Cutting out women and their experiences from debates cuts out the life world and lived experience of the majority.
Yes, women are often minorities in certain fields. Take engineering, women make up less than 10% of engineers. There are some blind spots for women in engineering, I write about it a little bit here. I think that it is quite agreeable to say that everyone’s voices should be heard though. Women often do have a different angle on matter, due to different experiences. These experiences can be women-related, or they can be related to the place women hold in a certain society or at a workplace. Why not endeavour to include that angle?
Oh yes, it is arbitrary to a degree. Due to the sheer size, women are not a homogenous group. Neither are men. We also operate in a dominant system (that feminist theory calls patriarchy), and women may have learnt to unreflectively live in that system and (at least superficially) adopt its rules. This can go both ways for a woman: adopting the “quiet and demure woman” position or, for example as an engineer or a manager, effectively becoming male/masculine in their approach to colleagues, projects and the workplace. In both ways, albeit for different reasons, it isn’t easy to be heard as a woman. Yes, it is a dilemma. But cutting out a vast proportion of the general population does not sound like a good idea. (Yes, we need to talk about our current gender dichotomy, but that would take it way too far in this post.)
I want to make this clear. When we talk about true minority groups (for example disability, cyclists) the reasoning for inclusion are not the same (to the women/gender position). The reasons are different and must be handled under the values of equality and fairness. The question must be “Why is it important to give this particular minority group a voice? What does it say about our societal values if we don’t?” Some may argue that patriarchy essentially makes women a minority group (minor in consideration and voice). Either way, diversity is a good thing.
Here are some ideas how to get women on panels
- Get a diverse organising team – get people involved earlier on, at the stage of making decisions on the programme and subjects.
- Ask women directly! Ask a friend to make a connection, ask around!
- Be proactive about this, and be prepared to do a little bit of research. Which civic society groups (or (sub) committees of organisations etc) could you approach and ask for a woman speaker?
- Look at your time and day for your event (especially goes for getting a diverse audience) and ask who can truly attend.
- You noticed you have been invited to speak at a manel (all male panel)? Decline and suggest your excellent woman colleague as your replacement speaker to the organisers.