Exceptional exclusivity

// 16 November 2011

Tags: , ,

A photograph of a panel of speakers at a conference, all apparently white and male

A letter has appeared in today’s Guardian from a group of women about conferences and events where the line-up of speakers is all male. They state,

As advocates and activists around gender equality – some of us in political parties, others not – we will no longer be attending events where there is an all- male panel without exceptional reason and will also be encouraging others to do the same. Most events could easily have been more thoughtfully planned with a better balanced panel. The benefits of this for all of us are clear: wider representation makes for more informed debate and better policy outcomes. We strongly urge all thinktanks or similar organisations to adopt a policy of no longer holding events without a consideration for gender balance.

This is in line with a call several months ago for men* to refuse to be on panels of all white men, and it seems to me that if enough people take note of both of these calls then the long-overdue change in this arena could really be speeded up.

One of the signatories of the letter, Emma Burnell, has issued a challenge, in the face of previous accusations of tokenism on the issue. She says,

“I am so confident that it’s twaddle, I challenge my challengers. Find me an all male panel – in fact, find me any topic on which you could reasonably hold an informed public debate – and I’ll give you the names of five women who could hold their own on the panel”.

All-male panels should be a rarity in this day and age, a relic of the past that is notable in its old-fashioned exclusivity. Until that is the case, I will join the signatories of the letter and say that I will no longer attend events where there is an all-male panel, without exceptional reason.

*Edited to add: Apologies for missing out the word ‘white’ here.

Hat-tip to Lilli Geissendorfer who shared this story on twitter

[The image is a photograph of a panel of speakers at a conference, all apparently white and male. It was taken by David Fisher and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Chain Bear // Posted 16 November 2011 at 10:32 am

PZ Myers (@pzmyers), a white, male professor who gives public talks on evolutionary biology, science and scepticism has long refused to be part of an all-male panel. He’s a good dude – leading the charge in his field. Well, leading the male charge, I mean.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 16 November 2011 at 10:34 am

I love PZ! Glad to hear he’s doing this too.

Tracey // Posted 16 November 2011 at 11:06 am

“This is in line with a call several months ago for men to refuse to be on panels of all white men” – correct me if I’m wrong, but you appear to be conflating ‘men’ with ‘white men’ here.

Presumably it would also be a step forward if white women refuse to take part in all-white panels.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 16 November 2011 at 11:14 am

You’re absolutely right, I made a mistake in missing out the word ‘white’ there. Apologies.

And yes, I think it would be a step forward for white women to refuse to take part in all-white panels too.

Tracey // Posted 16 November 2011 at 12:58 pm

Thanks for clarifying. Good piece!

Curt // Posted 16 November 2011 at 4:11 pm

These are important issues, and given the public nature of the “panel,” all the arguments about role models, etc., are completely relevant. In science, giving a disproportionate amount of research funds to men is one problem, but at many levels an invisible one. But sometimes it, too, becomes extremely public. Like when a country establishes new “Centers of Excellence” with a big, visible press conference … and *every single one* of the directors is a man. I blogged about my experience being part of this at:

Centers of Excellence: Where are the women? http://wp.me/p1xS1Q-96

Maize // Posted 16 November 2011 at 10:15 pm

Just a clarifying question: What is the intent of how the idea should be applied to events that are composed of multiple panels? Is the idea that one would boycott the whole event (say, a conference) should there not be a woman on each panel at the conference, or that one would boycott only those specific panels on which there are no women? (Of course, each person could decide how to practice or not practice this themselves, but I’m curious if you know what the intent was, or what your own take on that is.)

Mary // Posted 18 November 2011 at 8:33 pm

To my shame I very nearly organised an all male panel for an event recently as a consequence of the women I wanted to attend being unavailable (too much in demand perhaps!). It can happen more easily than you think, especially if you’re under time pressure and doing things at the last minute on the basis of colleagues’ recommendations (especially if they’re all recommending contacts who are men). At least the chair was a (black) woman.

I know a woman who used to work at a high level in a very male dominated industry and she was used to being the only woman in the room / on the panel etc. At one event she was approached by yet another middle-aged white man in a grey suit and she wracked her brains to try to remember which boardroom she’d met him in (not much to distinguish him from all the others, and of course as the only woman everyone seemed to remember her). He had to remind her that they’d last met… when they’d been dating as teenagers. Not a risk you’d be likely to run with more diverse boards / panels!

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds