7 Rules for Avoiding All-Male Panels

   •    March 8, 2016

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Halifax Forum

Photo: Halifax International Security Forum

This article was originally published by Foreign Policy.

Tuesday is International Women’s Day, which means that in conference rooms and auditoriums across the globe, panels of predominantly female experts will tackle pressing issues. It’s a refreshing picture, to be sure. But we shouldn’t have to designate a date to get women on stage.

In most fields, it’s becoming harder and harder for event organizers to justify all-male speaker lineups. From tech summits to, yes, conferences on women’s rights, the public is taking notice. A popular Tumblr blog, All Male Panels, documents XY-rich panels, stamping them with David Hasselhoff’s seal of approval; meanwhile GenderAvenger.com showcases an ever-growing Hall of Shame (and, mercifully, a Hall of Fame).

Women’s representation seems to be a particular challenge in security-focused conversations. Even as the definition of what falls under security broadens — beyond nation-states and militaries to human and inclusive concepts — the pool of interlocutors has remained small and overwhelmingly male.

Presumably, no one sets out to create an all-male panel. Some simply discount the importance of women’s participation, saying, “This topic doesn’t relate to gender, so it shouldn’t matter.” Or, “Not to worry, our moderator is female.” More frequently, well intentioned organizers perceive insurmountable barriers. I hear often that “there aren’t any female experts on X issue” or “we invited one, but she declined.” My advice: Instead of trying harder, try smarter.

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