Diversity: bringing an end to the all male panel

I wanted to take a moment to think about the increasingly important debate around diversity in the workplace. This isn’t a new concept by any means but it has received a lot of media attention in the last 5 or so years with issues around the gender pay gap, a shortfall of women holding senior positions and a lack of female representation in certain industries. Now the penny has dropped and work is being done to address this issue, or at least there is more awareness around this and knowledge that something needs to be done. When I think about my role as a marketer and where I might be able to influence situations around diversity one thing springs to mind – event planning. Have you ever had to organise an event, webcast or interview and struggled to find a diverse panel of speakers? Have you ever been to an event where it’s been blatantly obvious that there is a lack of diversity in the line up? This is an important conversation worth having so I’m going to tell you a quick story, why this is an important conversation to have and how you can take action today.

I was attending a marketing conference where Rob McCargow, an influencer in the world of AI, gave a keynote on how AI is changing the way we do things. He was setting the scene of his prep for the keynote and touched upon the number of talks that he had been invited to; 12 in 10 days! That sounds crazy but with AI being such a hot topic right now people are hungry for information so it’s hardly surprising, and he’s a brilliant speaker. He started telling us about how the panels that he’s been invited to in the past were heavily dominated by men. “How boring is it to speak on an all male panel?”, he said. Rob’s view, and one that I agree with, was that there is still a lot of work to be done to address this issue and later introduced the term (or hashtag) #banishthemanel.

Definition of manel = an all male panel 

This got me thinking. I always make a conscious effort to put together a diverse panel of experts but there are still so many situations where this simply doesn’t happen either because people aren’t consciously thinking about it or there just aren’t enough female experts to approach.

Why is this important?
The current situation and lack of female representation on panels paints the picture that women don’t have a voice or the necessary skills and knowledge to sit alongside their male peers to provide an opinion. There are all sorts of things wrong with this but perhaps the most important to me is the absence of a role model. How can young (or older) women feel empowered to succeed on their chosen career path if they can’t see what’s possible or what they’re working towards. I’ve always been a big supporter of the Geena Davis institute that aims to tackle gender diversity in media and their phrase, if she can see it she can be it. Although this is focused around changing how girls and women are depicted in the media I think it still applies in this situation. It’s important for girls to have a role model and believe they will be given an equal opportunity to build their own personal profile in the industry, if that’s what they want. Beside, having a more diverse panel makes for more interesting discussion! It’s not about having a woman on a panel for the sake of it but it is about giving those who have the skills a chance to share their experiences and opinions.

This challenge is starting to be addressed but we’ve still a long way to go. Next time you’re asked to organise a panel of speakers for a conference then I would think twice about who you approach and challenge yourself to make this more diverse in nature. If you’re a man asked to present on a panel then perhaps you could start asking questions such as have you invited women to join this panel as well? Perhaps you even have some contacts you could offer to put forward. Just food for thought.

Follow the conversation on Twitter with #banishthemanel and let us know your thoughts!

Advertising Week Europe is being hosted in London this week and I’ll be tuning in. It will be interesting to see how they’re tackling diversity across their programme of events. Watch this space!