An end to the ‘manel’? 3 things you can do to help reduce the existence of all-male-panels.

An end to the ‘manel’? 3 things you can do to help reduce the existence of all-male-panels.

I am pretty sure that everyone has had this experience at one time or another. You attend a meeting or conference and, despite the diversity of people in the audience, the people on the podium invited to speak are uniformly men. If you come from the same part of the world as I do (Western Europe) this experience can also probably be extended to the panel only being white, often native English speaking men, of a certain age, who are also probably not disabled or queer (though this is often just an assumption, as someone’s disability status or sexual orientation is not always visible).

Conference organisers who are presented with this problem can feel defensive – it is genuinely difficult to organise a great panel with interesting speakers, especially when you are working in a niche topic. The speakers on the ‘all male panel’ (or manel as it is sometimes called), can likewise feel like they are being unfairly accused, and in a way this is true, the speakers on a panel have less responsibility than the organisers for the composition of the panel, but there are always things we can all do.

EGU has specific recommendations to all our conveners to be mindful of the composition of their panels, and conveners who meet a minimum diversity requirement are awarded the EDI logo on their sessions, showing that they are already working towards combating this issue. It must also be noted that jumping to conclusions about manels can often not be helpful. Sickness, travel difficulties or other problems can lead a carefully constructed and diverse panel to appear homogeneous on the day, and these issues are often not within the control of the organisers.

This International Women’s Day, here are my top tips, for both speakers and conveners about what you can do to bring an end to the manel!

1. Say YES when you are invited to present.

Anecdotally it is said that women and gender-diverse people are more likely to decline a speaking invitation when they are offered one. (Side note – if anyone knows of a peer-reviewed study that actually demonstrates this, please send it on.) This could be true for a range of reasons; women and gender-diverse people perhaps struggle with feeling qualified to speak on panels of experts, especially earlier in their careers. They could have additional caring responsibilities they cannot balance with the invitation, the notice could be too short, or a host of other barriers. But if possible you should say yes to these invitations, especially where they are for talks that are NOT about gender diversity. ‘Women in Science’ talks are great, but I want to hear about your research – so say YES.

2. Say NO (conditionally) when you are invited to present.

Once you have said yes, then the next thing you need to do is get ready to turn that yes into a NO – especially for people who are more senior, and for men who are worried that they might end up on an all male panel. Once you have accepted the invitation, ask who else has been invited to speak – and be prepared to withdraw if the panel isn’t diverse. This is something that I have been doing for the past few years (it was much harder to do when I was a precariously employed PhD candidate and post-doc) and has always been well received. I usually start with acceptance of the invitation, and follow it with the question: ‘Can you tell me who else you have invited so far?’ If the speakers are set and are not diverse, then I follow up with ‘I have made a commitment that I won’t participate in any panels which aren’t gender/racially/geographically/career stage/etc diverse, so although I would love to participate I cannot confirm unless this is achieved.’ Every time I have made this statement for an invited talk it has been met reasonably. At the end of the conversation about diversifying the panel I’m invited to I will say, ‘If necessary I will happily give up my space to someone who represents that diversity better, would you like some suggestions?’

3. Keep a list of diverse speakers in your field

Knowing people to suggest/invite is often said to be one of the biggest challenges for both panel organisers and speakers. This is understandable to an extent. Humans like people who are like them, it’s a sociological concept called homophily, but causes problems when you try and impulsively reach for suggestions. This is where a good list comes in handy. I keep a running list of people in my field with various specialisms, who I know are great speakers and who come from diverse or under-represented communities. That way I don’t have to struggle to come up with names when I am asked, I just go to my list! I’m always adding to it, whenever I see someone good, even if I don’t have a need for them at the time. If you are uncertain where to start, why not start with us! EGU’s blog and our Division blogs have published many lists of outstanding women and gender diverse people that you could recommend, and over recent years these lists have expanded to include racial diversity, geographical diversity and much more.

These may be pretty basic tips to get rid of the manel, but they can work and you shouldn’t be afraid to try them. If you have any other tips please drop them in the chat below – let’s share our experience!

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Hazel Gibson is Head of Communications at the European Geosciences Union. She is responsible for the management of the Union's social media presence and the EGU blogs, where she writes regularly for the EGU's official blog, GeoLog. She has a PhD in Geoscience Communication and Cognition from the University of Plymouth in the UK. Hazel tweets @iamhazelgibson.

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