Include The Women Leaders: Shifting From Manels to Gender Equity in Panels

This is a recent panel at Journalism and Women Symposium, the group that offers a roster of female leaders in journalism to solve the all-male panel problem.How Hoffsome. David Hasselhoff, also known as “The Hoff,” the 63-year-old former “Baywatch” star and more recently the star of the “Sharknado” movies, has become the face of the official “Hoffsome” stamp given to all-male conference panels, thanks to a Tumblr dedicated to the narrow practice.Hoping to end the prevalence of men-only experts and speakers on panels all over the world, (referred to as “manels”), anyone is invited to post a photo of the panel on Tumblr and tag it with a Hoffsome stamp. The goal is to shift away from silencing the voices of women as leaders in industries and disciplines across the globe to gender equity on panels and at conferences.[bctt tweet=“The goal is to shift away from silencing the voices of women as leaders”]The Tumblr, as well as the Twitter feed with the hashtag #allmalepanels, have been gathering steam and drawing attention to the habit of filling up a panel devoid of female leaders at conferences of all sizes and sorts internationally. But there is work to do. The goal is to solve the problem, not just point to it.Is it surprising that “manels” are alive and well in the music industry?It was to Cortney Harding. At the recent 50th anniversary of the global music conference, Midem, the International B2B Music market in Cannes recently, more than 500 participants from 75 countries gathered to discuss trends in the music business.In Hypebot, Harding writes: “At first I thought it was a joke — all the people on stage were male, white, and middle-aged; not at all representative of what the next 50 years will look like in an ever-more diverse and global industry. But alas, it was all too real, and now joins the infamous “all male panel on gender equality and tech” and “all male panel at an international women’s summit.”In the music industry specifically, Hardin writes, “In order to move the business forward, we need to eradicate the all-male, all-white, all-Western panel. No more manels, and if you see a manel, call it out. This means that women, people of color, people from the global South, and allies need to offer solutions, recommend people, and in some cases step aside and let someone else take the mic. It means conferences need to offer more financial support to make sure those people can make it in the first place. It means calling out sexism when you do hear it on panels.”Policy panels aren’t doing enough to represent their field either.Closer to home, Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer noticed a skewing of gender representation and lack of gender equity on panels at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.She writes, “It’s a massive event, held each year on northern Michigan’s Mackinac Island. It’s attended by lawmakers, policy wonks, business and civic leaders — about 1,600 of them, this year. Discussions center on business, policy, business policy and government. Women, you’ll note, attend the conference (with its nearly $3,000 price tag) in large numbers. Yet over the course of three days, 41 men, most of them white, take the stage as keynote speakers or panelists. And just eight women.”Kaffer continues, “Two women — heroic Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha and national journalist Soledad O’Brien — were granted ‘Mackinac moments,’ a 10-minute time slot between main sessions.” O’Brien also was a panelist.In global development, the lack of gender equity in all-male panels is the norm, writes Malaka Gharib for NPR.Could you guess there was a larger problem at play here? You guessed right. “But organizing panels with women speakers is harder than it looks, says Lindsay Coates, president of InterAction, a group that runs one of the largest annual forums for global nonprofits in the world. She couldn’t guarantee that all 30 panels at her three-day event in Washington, D.C., last month had at least one woman. Part of the reason, she says, is that invitations to speak on panel discussions are often reserved for the CEOs, presidents and executive directors of organizations — and they’re usually men. In the U.S., women head only about 14 percent of the global NGOs with the largest budgets; in the U.K., 27 percent; and in Kenya and South Africa, 15 to 20 percent, according to a 2013 study.”To curb this trend, organizations are finding the qualified women to break up these manels (because these qualified women do exist).  

An international effort to change the ratio of women speaking as experts on media panels is in the works, with a recent list of more than 100 female media leaders offered by Journalism.UK.

This is also the mission of Journalism and Women Symposium (where I am a member), an international group of journalists. Offering a solution to diversifying media panels, JAWS has an experts data base and can respond to any conference planners or groups seeking speakers.According to JAWS president Sandra Fish, diversity is a goal because, “We believe that should be the mission of any journalist. If we don’t reflect that broad audience, we may lack empathy for others and the issues they face. And our broader audience will not see themselves reflected in our work.”Fish adds, “So next time you look around and see that there are no women on your panel, don’t just ask why and let it go. Ask JAWS and, with our hundreds of members, we’ll help you diversify your panel.”And more men who are asked frequently to be on panels are joining the effort to be more inclusive with invitations to female experts. They are on board to reach gender equity at conferences now. And men are also keen on documenting the maleness of panels, as seen here in BuzzFeed. According to Quartz, a group of five sought-after experts in Australia announced they would refuse to speak on panels where women were not invited to speak as well.“Sree Sreenivasan, the chief digital officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a prominent evangelist of social media in journalism, announced on Facebook that he wouldn’t sit on panels—or even attend them—if women weren’t on them,” Oliver Stalye writes.Sree copyHe adds, “’There is a moment here, where attention is being paid, people are comfortable speaking up, and there’s a growing sensitivity to to not just imagery but the substance’ women can bring to discussions, said Gina Glantz, a founder of Gender Avenger, an organization devoted to calling out imbalances on panels, power lists, and news show guests.”Quartz reports that “Gender Avenger’s website offers men an opportunity to pledge not to take part on all-male panels.”In academia, a new site Women Also Know Stuff,  hosts a database of more than 1,000 political scientists and scholars who are ready and willing to comment and on panels regarding policy, economics, government and more.According to the site: “So often while planning a conference, brainstorming a list of speakers, or searching for experts to cite or interview, it can be difficult to think of any political science scholars who aren’t male. We’ve all been there… you just know that a woman has got to be studying that topic… but who?“Moving forward, the solution to the gender imbalance of experts everywhere is not just to post photos on social media of the lack of gender equity of panels and conferences, but to reach out with invitations to women leaders as well as male leaders who can inform audiences with fresh perspectives.