Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

I'm backing the no all-male Panel Pledge - are you?

At Lib Dem conference this weekend I had a cunning plan. I had been challenged by my House of Comments co-host Emma that the next time I was at an all male panel at an event that I would question why there were no women to ask questions of from the floor. The idea being that the more this is highlighted, the more likely it is that organisers of events will eventually be embarrassed into ensuring panels have better gender balance.

I had had my attention drawn by Jennie Rigg to an event that was scheduled for the Friday night on social media which had a male chair and 4 male panelists. I turned up, parked myself on the front row and was all set to ask my killer question on International Women's Day of all days! It was going to be a real zinger! I was going to leave them floundering!

Then Olly Grender pulled up a chair at the end of the panel and sat down. My evil plan was torpedoed. I couldn't ask my question now that a woman had been included in the panel.

I was of course pleased that I wasn't forced to sit through yet another male only panel. Olly had some great insights into the use of social media from her perspective as a former Lib Dem communications supremo.

Mark Pack who was also one of the panelists had got wind of what I was planning due to some Twitter activity on the subject and the next day we had a chat about it. He suggested something that he has been considering for a while which had been resurrected in his mind by what had nearly happened the night before.

Mark wanted to make a pledge that he would refuse to appear on any panel he was asked onto at any future Lib Dem conferences unless there is at least one woman on the panel. We both agreed this is an excellent idea and I agreed I would also make the same pledge. Mark has written about this today for Lib Dem Voice.

We are both encouraging all male Lib Dems to make the same pledge. That you will not agree to sit on any panel where all the contributors are going to be male.

The more men we can get to agree to this, including MPs and Peers who are almost always in one of the slots on panels the more likely we are to ensure more gender balance in future. Who knows, if we're really successful by the time of the Autumn conference we may end up with no panel without at least one woman on. That has never happened before and is an excellent first to aim for.

So leave comments on here or on Mark's post pledging your commitment to the Panel Pledge. Write about it. Tweet about it. Blog about it. Talk about it.

We can make a real difference. We just need to exercise our right to say no to all male panels.


Anonymous said...

No support.

At conference I have had to sit through plenty all English panels (and home counties English at that!). The perspectives of people from other parts of the supposedly united kingdom are too often unrepresented. I have often felt at conference like an intruder at a club for southerners.

However, if I was the token Celt as part of a no all-English panel pledge then I would feel insulted because everyone would know I was there to fulfil a quota and not there on my merit. It would just be embarrassing and belittling.

The same would go for all-middle class panels. (which they almost always are!)

The point is that there are a lot of under-represented groups and having, for example a black, muslim, bisexual or disabled working class Welshman having to give up a place on a panel to fulfil a quota for a white middle class London woman is just making matters worse and entrenches privilege rather than reduces it!

Ewan Hoyle said...

I hate this. I've had a long chat on facebook that ended in this comment:
"Also I really don't like lying, so what do I say to my female panel member if she asks why I invited her? And there's a good chance she will given the fact that this debate will likely kick off. How would she feel if I honestly said "You were a good candidate but I am also under pressure from factions within the party to have a female on the panel." I hate the fact that before this debate I was gender blind, and now I will be judging people on their gender. This very debate is creating discrimination. It is wrong!"

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the sentiment, but I prefer meritocracy to tokenism. It would be good for the question to be asked, to ensure that it is not just laziness (or enbedded sexism)for a lack of female representation on a panel, but I also have a problem with the idea that it takes a man to rescue us women from discrimination. Unfortunately this is exactly how Nick came over in his speech at the opening rally. Disappointing as he should know better.

Mark Thompson said...

@Ewan. I have found myself far too many times in the audience at events where all 4 or 5 people on the panel (including the chair) are men. I am sure there is the odd occasion when the 5 best people to discuss the issue are men but I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the time it is just that the first few people who the organiser contacted or who came to mind when arranging were male.

I reckon there is a kind of unconscious bias going on which is perpetuated when so many panels are dominated by men. This campaign is an attempt to give a gentle nudge in the direction of getting those who are organising such things to at least try and get a woman on the panel. The membership of our party is roughly 50%/50% but you would not know this from some of our events.

I do appreciate where you're coming from but nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. If people have a strong objection to this (as you clearly do) then they are free to organise their events as they wish. But those of us who are tired of the male dominance are also free to apply this pressure.

I am for example not in favour of all women shortlists as I really do fear that that could lead to tokenism but there is no reason that the campaign me and Mark have started should lead to that. in a party like ours there is a very wide breadth of experience and expertise and I am sure for all subjects there are good and authoritative women who could contribute but they are too often overlooked.