Are you a man? Have you been or might you be on a fringe meeting panel at Liberal Democrat conference? If the answer to both is yes, I’d like your help…
At the Spring conference just gone in Brighton, I nearly ended up being a speaker on an all-male panel – and one taking place on International Women’s Day no less. The subject – technology and politics – is one where there are a good few female experts in the party, and it was only Olly Grender’s last minute addition which saved my blushes from Mark Thompson’s quite reasonable intention to turn up and put us all on the spot about what was an all-male panel.
That was, however, just a lucky break which does not always occur by any means – and one which reminded me of an idea that had stuck itself somewhere in the back of my mind when I found myself a few months earlier on an all-male panel at a think tank event.
In technology and other sectors which similarly are trying to grapple with male dominance at their events, there is often a movement to get men to pledge not to agree to participate in a conference panel if it is going to be all male.
My fault for not doing anything about the idea when it first occurred to me. Credit to Mark Thompson for nearly putting a panel on the spot on the issue – and that’s why over the weekend I stuck my neck out on Twitter to make sure that this time the idea doesn’t just slip away into a pending pile of good ideas again.
The idea is to change the balance on what is easy for a panel organiser to do. Often the easy option is to go for the ‘obvious’ names, which helps perpetuate the male dominance (out of kilter with a majority female electorate and a close to 50/50 party membership balance). However, once organisers know that people will say no if they’re lining up a list of just men, then the easy option is to go for a balanced option.
This is no miracle cure. There are many other issues that need addressing too, and many issues of equality that are not about gender.
But it is a simple step that can help – help set a different tone at conference, help set a different example to people in the party as to who is welcome to participate and help highlight to those looking for Lib Dem names to participate on occasions outside party conference that there are plenty of women they could ask too. Indeed the organisers are very likely not choosing the best people if they just choose men!
All it needs is a critical mass of male panel participants (or possible future ones) to pledge not to appear on future all-male panels at Liberal Democrat federal conferences.
Who knows, if it works, we could try spreading this more widely.
So, who’s in?
If you are, drop Mark and myself an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – and if you think you can spare a little time to help (e.g. to approach our male MPs) then please do say so too.