What’s a manel to do?

Photo by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent on Pexels.com

I saw a Twitter conversation last week between Katrina Collier and Sharon Green on the topic of manels and under-representation of women as speakers.

Here’s a list of some random thoughts based on what I’ve seen and heard.

  1. Women doesn’t describe everyone – this one is simple. WOMEN ARE INDIVIDUALS. That doesn’t mean getting a ‘woman’ meets your speaking requirement for diversity. Token support might be worse than no support.
  2. Sponsor speakers – lots of speaking slots are given to sponsors who will, by default, use their senior management. Who happen to be men. Too often happen to be men. If this is your organisation, stop doing this and establish a principle that speakers for your organisation need to be balanced. If you’re event organisers, establish a principle that all events have to be balanced.
  3. Women don’t want to speak – MYTH. If a woman says no, don’t assume they won’t speak. Find the opportunity so they can. I know of women who were asked once, said no and have never been asked again.
  4. Pulling out – I know of women who have more caring responsibilities than men and have to withdraw because of those. Work around people’s needs to make things work.
  5. Pushing back is OK – if you’re a man it’s fine to say no to an event if it’s not balanced. Push back and ask if someone can co-present with you. Say no and suggest an alternative woman speaker to you.
  6. Hiding imbalance – when you see the list of speakers at a big event, count the men and women. It’s almost certain more photos near the top will be women but a scroll down will reveal the truth. The same is adding a woman to a manel (see the point 1).
  7. Ask to speak – contact organisers if you’re a woman and ask to speak at events. Ask to speak on podcasts. Ask to get articles published in trade magazines and papers.
  8. New speakers need help – build support by creating panels of women, pair a woman with another woman. Use experienced chairs to support new speakers.
  9. Ask women questions at events – amplify women’s voices by asking women audience members questions first. When people ask questions, make sure you answer questions from women attendees first. When running online events, pick out questions and chat comments from women in the audience first and make sure contributions publicly noted are balanced.

As I keep saying, this stuff matters.

Don’t rely on other people to change it, do something about it.


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