Rob Davidson on the gender imbalance
The Oxford Union is under fire once again for the gender imbalance in terms of the speakers it has lined up for this year: of 61 speakers confirmed, just 12 are women. This is bad enough in itself, for a university which has a 46% female student body, but have you ever attended a conference where none of the speakers are women?
I have spoken more than once at events where all of the speakers were men, and I have also found myself on male-only panels at conferences. How can this happen in the 21st century when women are present in every industry, every profession, and every field of human activity? And how can it happen in our industry in particular, which is dominated, in terms of numbers of employees, by women?
There is no topic that can’t be discussed by women, so there is simply no rational excuse for excluding women from speaker line-ups. And yet, it continues to be the case that conferences are organised (sometimes by women!) without inviting any female speakers to contribute their knowledge and expertise.
One woman, Dr Saara Särmä, a researcher in International Relations at the University of Tampere in Finland, set up her own blog to name and shame examples of male-only panels and events featuring all-male speakers. Go to www.allmalepanels.tumblr.com and you’ll be shocked at the total absence of women at so many conferences, even conferences on themes such as reproduction.
Conferences featuring only male speakers are problematic because they send out the signal that only men have the expertise in their given field. Organisers need to think about diversity more by making sure than women are fairly represented in the programme. They need to understand that women speakers add real value to events often by getting different viewpoints across, from the female perspective.
British economist Owen Barder has created ‘The Pledge’ which can be signed by speakers who wish to make a public declaration that they will not participate in male-only panels. (www.owen.org/pledge)
Initiatives such as these can, above all, lead to better conferences.