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Why I will no longer speak on all-male panels

The next time you are attending a conference and listening to yet another all male panel, ask them ‘Why?’


 
(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

I was invited to speak on a panel last week in New York. It was unwieldy, seven people, each of us with more than enough to say. Nonetheless, the event went smoothly and played out as expected: introductions, moderated discussion, self-deprecating jokes, a few thought-provoking facts, a couple heart-warming anecdotes and, of course, the mandatory reference to the “Internet of things.”

Then the audience was invited to ask questions. The second of these was “Why are there no women on stage?”

I hadn’t noticed. But it was true. On my left and right — no women. We looked at each other, then we looked at the audience, which was about half women, and suddenly our charming garrulousness was gone. It was an excellent question. But we had no answer.

I am not a feminist. When Vanity Fair breathlessly announces that Emma Watson has just given a game-changing speech on women’s rights, I roll my eyes and turn the page. I don’t have much to learn about equality from an undergrad with a talent for playing make-believe. The politics of tokenism does nothing for me and I have little time for those who claim they lack opportunity.

And yet, there were no women on that stage.

Born in the 70s, I grew up believing that Jill was just as likely as Jack to become an astronaut. In college, my cohort was among the first to be outnumbered by women and at graduate school I was heavily outperformed by them, too. My industry is dominated by women and in my organization I am outclassed by my female colleagues daily.

And yet, none of them were asked to join that panel.

In the West, we take pride in our enlightened views. We laugh at the Saudi fear of women drivers. We are indignant at female genital mutilation in West Africa. We are outraged at yet another Pakistani bride disfigured by acid. Here (we smugly tell ourselves) in the 21st century, women are treated as humans and equals.

And yet, we couldn’t find any to speak that afternoon in New York.

Related reading:
Are you a feminist? Not a trick question
Anne Kingston on a new wave of feminism
Feminism is not whatever you want it to be 

I am an unapologetic member in good standing of the old boys club. I believe men and women are different. I don’t trust quotas or tokenism. But I am also practical. I recognize that if you ignore 50 per cent of the population, you’re never going to achieve what is potentially possible. It is absurd to suggest any enterprise that intentionally excluded half the talent pool could thrive.

And yet, there I sat, with six other men and no women.

As the audience patiently waited for us to answer the question, “Why are there no women on stage?” I thought of my friend Owen Barder, a well-known economist and a world-class mind. He once told me that he refused to join all-male panels. At the time I smiled, thought to myself, “The English can be very eccentric” and carried on. But now, with a room full of women waiting for an answer I did not have, I understood what Owen was doing.

There is no topic that cannot be discussed by women. There is no circumstance that would prevent one from inviting women. There is simply no rational excuse for excluding women. And, if you are invited to join a panel with no women, you must conclude it is being organized by fools.

I do not perform for fools. So, I am taking Owen’s pledge, and I will never speak on another panel that excludes women.

The next time you are attending a conference and listening to yet another all male panel, ask them “Why?” And then patiently wait for their answer. They won’t have one.

More by Scott Gilmore:
It’s time for Canada to grow up
How the war on terror is killing America
Why the ice bucket challenge is bad for you


 
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Why I will no longer speak on all-male panels

  1. Thank you for this!

    And the only response I can give to your ‘why?’ is Marshal McLuhan

    Fish did not discover water.

    In fact, because they are completely immersed in it, they live unaware of it’s existence. Similarly when a conduct is normalized by a dominant cultural environment, it becomes invisible.

  2. You do not perform for fools. And yet, here you are.

    • And here YOU are. Are you even aware you just called yourself a fool?

      • Wow. Can’t slip anything by you,eh.

  3. Good article!

    Like you, I don’t believe in tokenism – but do believe in equality. That doesn’t mean “same”; it means equal opportunity. In some areas – and it seems like political journalism is one of those – the opportunities don’t seem all that equal.

  4. This is nice, but “And, if you are invited to join a panel with no women, you must conclude it is being organized by fools” is delightfully ironic — assumes you’re male!

  5. these types of articles annoy me to no end, because the author isn’t saying anything new, and then spends half the article trying to make himself an exception to the rule (i.e. why you should listen to him over anyone else making the same argument).

    Lines that are particularly annoying:
    “I am not a feminist.”

    “When Vanity Fair breathlessly announces that Emma Watson has just given a game-changing speech on women’s rights, I roll my eyes and turn the page.”

    “The politics of tokenism does nothing for me and I have little time for those who claim they lack opportunity.”

    “I am an unapologetic member in good standing of the old boys club.”

    Great, thanks so much Scott for being completely unoriginal and self-aggrandizing at the same time. It is as if no one else has thought about “practical” reasons for including women in academic panels. come on now.

    • I agree with your comment.

      It seems to me that the real reason this person doesn´t want to be in panels that don´t include women is not because he believes in equality, but because he wouldn´t want to experience another uncomfortable simple question he, nor his male peers are never going to be able to answer. Most of the article he keeps expressing his indifference of the topic, yet he calls himself “practical” when it comes to women inclusion. To me it seems another mysoginist trying to praise himself above the situation. Almost like the old “white” trying to safe Africa, just to put an example.

      • -misogynist- typo

      • I completely agree.

  6. “When Vanity Fair breathlessly announces that Emma Watson has just given a game-changing speech on women’s rights, I roll my eyes and turn the page..
    I am an unapologetic member in good standing of the old boys club. I believe men and women are different.”

    There’s the reason for you. It may not seem that little things matter,semantics,attitudes,ingrained habits of ignoring articles with certain keywords…yet it does. Thoughts create words which create attitudes and habits that result in character and actions.

    An old boy’s club specifically excludes women, the very name says “no girls allowed”. No one would dare to say they were a proud member of the “all white people’s club” because they “believe black people and white people are different”. Or that “I turned the page and rolled my eyes when it was announced that mr/ms X gave game changing speech on LGBT rights”.

    That’s it right there, I’m pointing at it. We’re not different because of gender. We’re different because we are individuals.

  7. The question was a ridiculous butthurt feminist playing the victim and you fell for it. Who knows why there were no women on the panel? Were you responsible for inviting every other member? Maybe women werent available or didnt make themselves available. The Agenda with Steve Paikin had a similar issue a while ago, they said pretty clearly that they try to get female guests one every show but they dont always succeed. These things happen. But you would rather an unqualified token female be included rather than *gasp* an all-male panel.

    If women were specifically barred from participating, that is one thing, but Im sure that was not the case. What you’re doing is encouraging unqualified, affirmative-action, quota-filling, token women to be on panels. So that any women on any panel is suspect that she is just there for her gender rather than her qualifications. Good job.

    • Yes (these things happen! Sometimes you just can’t find a woman, you’re right) and no.

      Equality of participation is not as simple as saying “we invited them to our way of doing things, and they all said no.” Sometimes it’s about the structure — what you’re inviting them to — itself. Traditionally and statistically, women play different roles in society (from what leadership positions they occupy, to roles like primary childcare giver) that make it much more difficult in some cases to participate in certain things.

      I’ve organized conferences for 7 years, and only in the past 2 have we caught on to the fact that more than half the women we were asking to attend were saying no because of childcare responsibilities. Add a daycare service; finally get a female opening keynote — not to be a token female, but because she was absolutely brilliant and relevant, and was no longer barred from participating (whether we realized we were barring, or not.)

      • Sure. I cant imagine anybody objecting to providing daycare services if it’s possible. In some cases it might not be and there may be other reasons why a panel turns out to be all male.

        What’s at issue here is whether one should feign outrage over an all-male panel like the author did. Well, if one is interested in printing mindless clickbait, clearly you should (this article for all its pointlessness is still in the “most popular” category a couple of days after it came out). But if you’re going for thoughtful analysis, the answer is definitely not.

        When asked by the feminist why there are no females on the panel, the author should have said the truth: I dont know, ask the organizers. Maybe the most prominent people available were all men. Maybe prominent women were invited but couldnt, required daycare, and they hadnt thought of, or couldnt afford daycare. I am pretty sure though that the answer is not “because we’re hateful misogynists and no grlz are allowed here”.

        This is not about a real issue, this is about the author signaling “Look Im a feminist, please accept me” and generating clicks.

  8. So much dumb here. So much left un-asked. What was the point of the panel? Were there no women because none were asked to be on the panel, or because none that were asked agreed to attend? Are there large numbers of women working in the fields that the panelists represented? For example, if you were to organize a panel on the challenges presented by over-regulation of industry and the attendant negative impact on innovation and economic growth, would you be likely to have very many women with valuable insights on how industry needs to meet this growing threat? No. But gerrymandering such a panel in order to ensure that women are represented would not necessarily enhance the impact of the expertise being put forth.
    Whenever you add specific, secondary goals to any endeavor, those goals then become the primary. For example, if a government project to build a road also mandates that 20% of the gravel haulage must be provided by visible minority-owned contractors, and a paucity of contractors that fit that criteria leads to delays and cost overruns, then the primary purpose of building a road has been supplanted by the now primary purpose of ensuring that visible minorities appear to have been treated equitably.
    While the writer’s egalitarianism might be seen by some as altruistic, he’s merely parking his brain at the altar of political correctness. Hard core dumb.

    • Re: “would you be likely to have very many women with valuable insights on how industry needs to meet this growing threat”

      Dump the stereotypes, buddy. If you look, you may be surprised at what you find. Just because there aren’t a large number of women working in some fields doesn’t mean that those of us who are working in such fields don’t have valuable insights to offer. Same for men who work in areas traditionally dominated by women. Although from your rhetoric, I suspect you prefer having your own views of how the world works confirmed, not challenged. How’s that for some insight?

      • Nice moving of the goal posts, Stokes. Nobody objects to the presence of women. It’s their absence which is causing a huge stir.

        As you yourself noted some fields dont have a large number of women, and some fields are “traditionally dominated by women”. So some panels will be all male, and some will be all female. And politically correct betas like the author will try to get feminist points by being outraged at the former while being totally cool about the latter.

  9. A question so stupidly out-of-date that only a journalist would ask it, and possibly to please his girlfriend.

    Answer 1 to question: The topic of the panel is not My Gender. Therefore, why do you require Proof of Gender on the panel?
    Answer 2: Intelligence is not a gendered construct and neither is originality.
    Answer 3: Only a year ago 6 out of 10 Canadian premiers were women. This panel represents the disenfranchised fighting back.
    Answer 4: Token females are decoration. Serious people don’t decorate their world, they engage it.

  10. While I am thankful that someone brought this to your attention and you, in turn, have thought to bring it to others’, I think there’s a lot further to go here.

    “I don’t have much to learn about equality from an undergrad with a talent for playing make-believe. The politics of tokenism does nothing for me and I have little time for those who claim they lack opportunity” is a lot of ageist, dismissive, and ignorance about the world for two sentences.

    Emma Watson’s international feminism (and campaign) has a lot of issues for us to talk about, but not one among them is the fact that she’s an educated and successful woman at 24. I work in women’s rights work, and I also really want to hate and abolish tokenism, but in the real world, quotas are an unfortunately successful method of pulling us out of deeply unequal systems, which were built to disadvantage entire identities of people from the get go. We work to get to a world where we don’t need them — but you don’t get there by dismissing it now.

    Lastly, “I have little time for those who claim they lack opportunity” from a middle-aged, American white man? With all the minds and research you have access to, I know you can do better than that.

    • middle-aged, Canadian* white man. Apologies.

      • feminism = judging someone based on age, ethnicity and gender.

    • I work in women’s rights work, and I also really want to hate and abolish tokenism, but in the real world, quotas are an unfortunately successful method of pulling us out of deeply unequal systems, which were built to disadvantage entire identities of people from the get go.

      translated: I dont like quotas but let’s do quotas anyways because it works.

      I respectfully disagree.

      I’ve met enough very intelligent women in my working life that I believe quotas are actively harmful. They’re only needed if all you care about is 50/50 representation at all times in all things. The quotas end up tarring the women who got there on merit with the quota stigma as well.

      Some fields have more women and some fields have more men. Science suggests that this is based on some biological realities and not social conditions. I propose to accept the world as it is rather than pretending the world is as we want it to be.

      • Average Ape, which “Science” are you talking about? And if you have any insight into the practice of “science” then you know that they are all confined to economical and political interests: politics, economics, sciences and social practices are all in interaction with eatch other; influencing and confining eachother. Furthermore, the very ‘essence’ of science is that research is to argue for a specific purpouse. Research will EXCLUDE MANY things so to PROVE ONE thing! But well, I guess going into the speciffic of “Science” and the very construction of so called “knowledge”, or the specific of scientific language, might be a waste of time.
        I guess, in the Old World, when Homo sapiens were “only” Great monkeys, some of them also thought of the realization of fire was “going agains the constraints of Monkey’s biology”. And when we because of enviormental circumstances so that we developed “human language”, changed physically and dispersed to various places on the Earth, some Old World monkeys also thought it was outrageous; going against their “biology”—It IS in our genes to only make grounts, to groom, to only eat fruits and vegetables and walk the earth in the savanna. Well, indeed, when the steam- engine was invented, it was also considered as going agains the “human nature” to travel in such a high speed—no, we are not talking about 500 km/h. The very idea of Evolution is that it is an on going PROCESS. There is nothing “set in stone”, there is nothing “natural” (talking of something that as if it is in a constant state of being). According to Evolutionary theory, there is only individual adaptation to what is required in its evironment. And it is in the moment of enviromental changes (in human terms we can talk about societis and cultures). But I guess it is this aspect of “Science” some people are afraid of, and it is in the realization of that there is no such thing as “natural” about human practices that frightens some people. Because, what would these changes “mean” to conceptualization and affirmation of what is You. As we have clearly seen in this article: it is THIS that the entire article is about. The author, whether or not speaking in the sense of “affirming” to still being a part of ” an unapologetic member in good standing of the old boys club” or adderssing the pressing demand in his enviroment for change (adaptation), what he is doing is defining his Identity in this situation.

        • Hmmm comment is awaiting moderation for 24 hours. Fishy.

        • Ok so you cant post links here or your comment will be “awaiting moderation” indefinitely.

          The science is available at

          www dot uphs dot upenn dot edu slash news slash News_Releases slash 2013 slash 12 slash verma

  11. I don’t believe in equality. ITs just a codeword for envy and coercion.

    What a disgusting. anti-male and anti-freedom mentality.

    I serve on lots of male only panels, and will continue to.

    I am not s slave, I am free to choose.

    Please give up your space Scott Gilmore, and don;t annoy anyone by telling them about it over and over again.

  12. If you say you’re for equality, but “not a feminist”, then you just don’t know what the word “feminist” means.

    • I couldn’t agree more with this comment.

  13. The most reasonable answer might be that there may not have been any women available which would adequately fill the knowledge, speaking ability, time, etc. requirements of the panel. Just as there are many groups and panels comprised solely of women, it seems only reasonable that the males be extended this same courtesy and understanding.
    Obviously the person asking the question was merely trying to cause a stir, therefore suggesting the likelihood of the question being totally without merit.
    One might ask a similar type of question in any panel of any composition and the best response might be to question whether or not there was a problem with competence of the current speakers or presenters.
    With the current tendency of the politically correct constantly attempting to make mountains out of molehills, one might be suspect of both the question and the author.

  14. Those people who are talking as if they know the reality of this very situation, which they don’t unless they do an investigation and ask for the documentations from this event, are being just as “unrational” and “unreasonable” as those they claim themselves to stand above. One can feel confident, at least appear to be, in talking about “make mountains out of molehills”, when life runs relatively smoothly and not much other than shortage of self-motivation prohibits ones OWN aspirations in life. However, life looks differet for the majority of the earths population regardless of which social category one belongs to. Denying this, only confirms that one lives a shielded life. Furthermore, those who denies the very premises of the economical system that governs all our lives— I don’t know whether one should consider your ignorance as a joke, as a reason to feel pity or reasons to feel envy of your blissfully oblivion. Well to give a short illustration of something which we all should have learnt during compulsory education, e.g. the Ebola virus: The virus is not “new” and it was given its name in the late 70s when the virus first came in contact with humans, at least the first case that has been documented. This however does not mean that the virus did not exist unitil this particular time. It is simply first during human interaction it is given a word and thus provides us with an instrument to talk of a phenomenon as if it is an “object”, although the objetification of the pehomenon is defiend becuase of human interaction. Okay, let’s fast forward to “modern time”, ebola is one of the most deadlies viruses. However, it is first when its potential “victims” are those in power that it will be brought into attention. It is first when it is given economical support because of political interests (in turn political interests are affected by “economical interest”) that groups or individuals can thrive. In this case, the company and the research-group who has worked on developing a medicin called ZMapp has only came this far, being the world- leader experts in ebola virus, because the US military has supported them economically since many years ago. The reason they find the virus to be of interest in particular is because they think of it as a potential biological weapon and a further risk factor for their soldiers abroad. The research-groups, and mainly, the individual expertise has only been brought into existense becasue of someone in power believes it to be of urgency, in this case it is the US Government, specifically the military. Who would have “cared” about a virus who has mainly affected poor people in poor countries otherwise? “Making mountines out of molehills” is anything but subjective, and surely this idiom is surely only expressed by those who live a good life, those who have no interest of dialogue.

  15. Respectfully, I can’t understand how anyone born in the 70’s can still publicly claim to “not be a feminist” without a massive public outcry. If someone calmly wrote that they “didn’t support equal rights for people of color,” they would probably lose their job.

    From the trusty online dictionary:

    noun: feminism
    1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
    2. an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

  16. ” The politics of tokenism does nothing for me and I have little time for those who claim they lack opportunity.

    And yet, there were no women on that stage.”

    Two great tastes that taste great together.

  17. BRAVO to any man who speaks up to encourage equality with women. I noticed some of the comments below–how some feminists were not happy with some of his language. Actions speak louder than words and Scott Gilmore’s commitment not to speak on any all male panels—is something to applaud. So my question: this article was written in 2014–Scott, how has your panel speaking been going after this commitment?
    Best regards, Cindy Burrell
    President, Diversity in Boardrooms
    847-807-5334
    http://www.diversityinboardrooms.com/

  18. You didn’t answer the question for us any more than you appeared to answer it for the audience at the panel. Were women asked and simply choose not to accept? Or were they never asked? We don’t know. In your rush to make yourself out to be the one good man, you don’t actually tell us. I have seen time and again articles from women saying how difficult it is to get other women to participate on panels. Fact is, organizers have a very limited amount of time to find participants, and if they consistently get rejected by women while men are accepting, eventually, the panel is can very well to end up male. Whether this was the case for you is unknown, because you don’t bother to tell us.

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