Are you a man?

Men in silhouette
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 mark.pack@gmail.com – 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.


15 responses to “Are you a man?”

  1. I think the point is that there are female experts out there that are not being selected to go on panels.

    • TheWomensRoomUK Thanks – I think markpack is starting with Lib Dems, as that’s where his clout’s greatest 🙂 before conquering the rest!

    • TheWomensRoomUK We are working to try and ensure that there are no all-male panels at #ICT2013 in Vilnius in November.

  2. I’ve organised a few fringe event panels, and the issue of gender balance has never crossed my mind. And I really don’t think it should in the future. I’m not in for tokenistic gestures to anyone and I don’t think I’m subconsciously overlooking women either. I have invited a female panelist in the past, and I might well do in the future. But equality is not well served when you give a certain group an artificial leg up. This is a dumb, and patronising idea.

    • EwanHoyle Perhaps you didn’t realise, but men have had an ‘artificial leg up’ all along. Sadly, some proactivity is now needed in order to undo this mess.

  3. I think it’s a brilliant idea.   I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll be asked to serve on any panels any time soon (although I feel that perhaps there are one or two subjects where I have more to contribute than some of those who do get asked), but I would certainly support it.
    It could perhaps be extended or strengthened further, with conference reps pledging not to attend fringe events putting on all male panels?   Or, as the full lineup is often not announced in advance, pledging to walk out (politely) should there not be any women on the panel?
    I would also like to see the party use ‘zipping’ for all internal elections.   At least for a period of time.   All-women shortlists for general elections (without safe seats to put them up for) seem not to be very practical, but zipping seemed to work for the Euro election lists, might prove very effective for the party internally and wouldn’t really have any damaging consequences.
    I have some sympathy with the principled argument against positive discrimination (in all its guises), but I feel you have to weigh these principles up against the principle that access should be fair.   It is perfectly possible for a group of people to be comprised entirely of people committed to gender/race/class equality, etc. but still end up with a system that is sexist/racist/classist, etc.   I think that many walks of life – including our party – still fall in to this trap.   Through no fault of any individual, and indeed against the wishes of the collective, many institutions operate in ways that exclude large sections of society.

  4. Maybe, people should also consider the same when submitting motions for debate at conference… Almost always the mover and summator are male…

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