IT’S ABOUT TIME----- #allmalepanels

Nov 27, 2019 | Sandra Pierce


IT'S ABOUT TIME ---#allmalepanels

Did you hear about the panel that was put together for a discussion about the role of women in global security, Security Solutions, Women’s Contributions”… that had no women on the stage!!?!?!

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but, sadly, it was what happened at the Halifax International Security Forum held last week.

Thank goodness for The Women, Peace and Security Network, a group of 70 Canadian organizations committed to monitoring our government’s upholding of the UN Security Council Resolutions on women, who tweeted:

Security Solutions? Sorry, but an all-male panel just doesn’t cut it”.

And Joanne Bernard, Nova Scotia’s former Minister for the Status of Women, joined in on the uproar, who tweeted calling the panel “insulting”. Only then was there a mad dash by the organizers to find some women.

Out went the male moderator, replaced by the renown Janice Stein of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Jody Thomas, our Deputy Minister of National Defence, all of a sudden deemed knowledgeable enough about security issues, was asked to join the panel.

When do women stop being an afterthought? Recently I saw advertised an all-male panel at a Financial Forum on Exchanged Traded Funds, albeit moderated by a female. When I inquired where the women were – the response was they couldn’t find one.

Why should we care? Conferences are a booming business. This industry is so massive that if it were a country, it’d be the 14th largest in the world, exceeding the GDP of Australia, Spain and Mexico. Conferences influence conversations about what’s important. They identify and elevate some of the best and brightest thought leaders. Yet women are still not getting an equal place at the podium.

Mathematically speaking, all-male panels don't just happen. And one mathematician has actually crunched the numbers on this.

Greg Martin, professor at The University of British Columbia, devised a statistical probability analysis that proves gender bias is baked into the conference organization process despite many organizers’ claims that it isn’t.

"If speakers were being chosen by a system that treated gender fairly (which is to say that gender was never a factor at all), then in any conference with over 10 speakers, say, it would be extremely rare to have no female speakers at all” mathematician Greg Martin said in an Atlantic Monthly 2015 interview.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, let me tell you about the amazing Lise Kingo.

In 2016, Ms. Kingo, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, an organization devoted to responsible business practices, started a ‘movement’ to put an end to “manels”.

"Too often I've been the only woman on a panel. It is time that we challenge the status quo and stop making excuses -- there is no shortage of qualified women," Kingo said in her opening remarks at the 2016 Women’s Empowerment Principles Annual Event .

The U.N. Global Compact’s world-wide reach includes 8,500 member companies, including Coca-Cola, Cisco, HP and Johnson & Johnson. Ms. Kingo has encouraged them to make their own pledges to bring gender balance to conferences and events – and asks them to share their commitment via Twitter at #PanelPledge.

While in New York City, Ms. Kingo also announced that the organization's 80 employees will no longer participate in or host all-male panel discussions.

This past summer a new high-profile champion, Dr. Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, joined the effort to achieve a better gender balance. In a statement titled “Time to End the Mantel of Tradition”, the Director of the National Institute of Health stated, he would no longer speak at conferences that did not show a strong commitment to diversifying the make-up of their panelists.

I acknowledge that in some areas it might be challenging to bring in a significant amount of women. There will always be exceptions. By its very definition, a panel is a “small group of people chosen to give advice, make a decision or publicly discuss their opinions as entertainment”. This must make one question the benefits of an all-male assembly.

Employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Deloitte, Amazon, and numerous colleges and universities, non-profits and governments from around the world have taken the pledge:

At a public conference, I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the chair.

I’m still trying to ascertain just how many other companies have taken the pledge, but my question to you is has yours?

I encourage those of you in a position to influence the makeup of a panel or are often asked to sit on one to take up the cause. And take the pledge.

For me-- first stop – RBC. I shall keep you posted.