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To end all-male panels, more men are speaking up

Reuters/Peter Nicholls
Endangered species.
  • Oliver Staley
By Oliver Staley

Business & culture editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The nascent movement to boycott all-male conference panels is gathering momentum.

Though the exclusion of women from discussions has been a focus of attention for a couple of years now, with Tumblrs, hashtags, and online pledges dedicated to the cause, a number of prominent male speakers have stepped up in recent weeks to announce they would start boycotting all-male panels.

Last week, five men frequently found on the speaking circuit in Australia banded together in refusing to sit on, or to moderate, panels that weren’t diverse. The men—Matt Church, Jason Fox, Adam Fraser, Dan Gregory, and Darren Hill—are researchers and lecturers in leadership, performance, motivation, and self-help. ”The five of us are arguably the most booked speakers in the conference industry and that gives us a certain amount of power in the conversation,” Dan Gregory, a behavioral researcher, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

And on April 22, Sree Sreenivasan, the chief digital officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a prominent evangelist of social media in journalism, announced on Facebook that he wouldn’t sit on panels—or even attend them—if women weren’t on them:

Sreenivasan, who says he was inspired by his 12-year old daughter to make his pledge, offered sympathy for conference organizers who are often overworked and scrambling to put together panels. “I have deliberately not called out anybody,” he said. But he’s interested in seeing a movement spread.

If it happens, history may look back at a flier advertising an April 27 event organized by PayPal as its tipping point. The discussion, featuring five men, was on the subject of “Gender Inequality and Inclusion in the Workplace.” While the panel’s organizer later said on her Facebook page it was intended to be a forum for “male allies,” the damage was done; the company was roasted in the media and online. Cindy Gallop, an advertising executive and activist, posted the flier on Facebook, where it was shared 647 times:

“There is a moment here, where attention is being paid, people are comfortable speaking up, and there’s a growing sensitivity to to not just imagery but the substance” women can bring to discussions, said Gina Glantz, a founder of Gender Avenger, an organization devoted to calling out imbalances on panels, power lists, and news show guests.

Gender Avenger’s website offers men an opportunity to  pledge not to take part on all-male panels. So far, its been signed by 104 men (and women in solidarity). There’s also a hashtag campaign on Twitter—#panelpledge—and a  Tumblr—”Congrats, you have an all-male panel!”—organized by Finnish academic Saara Särmä, who compiles photos of all-male panels and adds a photo of David Hasselhoff for good measure.

Owen Barder, a London-based development economist, posted his own pledge online in January of 2015  after he decided he was done being on all-male panels. It now has 512 signatures.

“Whenever I’m invited to be on a panel, I can almost always think of a woman who would be better than me,” Barder said. If the organizers don’t have women for their talk, he declines the request and supplies them with names and emails of women.

Some regions don’t need pledges or hashtags. At a recent conference in Reykjavik, Liv Bergthórsdóttir, CEO of Nova, the Icelandic mobile telecoms operator, said the discussion about panels without women was no longer necessary in her country because of the scorn that would be heaped on anyone that tried to organize one.

Barder, who is asked to be on panels almost daily, said invitations to all-male panels are already dwindling. “What were succeeding in doing is changing the norm,” she said. “People are embarrassed if there is’t a proper diversity of people on the panel.”

-With reporting by Cassie Werber

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