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The Pervasiveness of Manels in Higher Education

There's no excuse for an all-male panel

April 11, 2019
 
 

The first and last time I was on a manel (an all-male panel) was in 2016.

I had just given a keynote talk at an event and a panel was next on the docket. Thinking that my work was done, I sat down in the front row and waited for the panel to begin. However, before the panel conversation started, I was invited back up to the front to be a panelist.

It was painfully awkward. The rest of the panelists were men. I hadn't been informed ahead of time that I would be asked to be on the panel. I knew (and actually hoped) that someone would call the panel out on social media. Thankfully it happened.

 

 

I made a promise to myself after that event that I would never ever willingly participate on a manel (or get invited to join one without speaking up). This was my own version of The Pledge. Thankfully, the events that I've spoken at since then have been manel free.

However, the seemingly ceaseless ubiquity of manels (or speakers lists that are all-male) at higher education events is astonishing. In 2019, it's not shocking to see manels, it's appalling.

 

 

A few weeks ago James Clay tweeted out that the event he was attending had “no female speakers.” The Advance HE event, on the “Brave New World” of HE with “thought leaders across global/UK contexts,” had 12 sessions with 12 male speakers. Thankfully, Simon Horrocks was on the case with an excellent Twitter thread as well as a thoughtful blog post calling out the need for gender diversity on panels and speaker lists.

Last week at Ellucian's annual customer conference, a higher education CIO manel held during an “Executive session,” featured 7 men and no women. It was acknowledged as a “miss” by Ellucian's CEO, Laura Ipsen.

 

 

Now, I realize that I'm not exactly endearing myself to the organizations listed in this post. That's the point though, right? After all, it's easy to call out manels if there isn't any risk involved. If an organization/conference doesn't select me as a speaker because I call them out for featuring a manel, so be it. Men have an obligation to call out manels.

 

 

In conclusion...wait..., I literally just saw another manel this morning as I was perusing the social web.

At this year's Spring Higher Education CIO Congress, the opening keynote panel on “The Evolving Role of the CIO - Is It the Best or Worst Job on Campus?” featured, you guessed it, 3 dudes.

Billed as an 'invite only' event (I'm sure they'll be calling me next year), the HE CIO Congress is “a premier gathering for CIOs, CTOs, Chief Innovation Officers and CISOs from institutions across the country.” And, because you can't make this stuff up, the rotating carousel of past keynote speakers on the RTM Higher Education CIO Congress website features 5 men and no women.

 

 

Lastly, I've seen a disturbing trend (at least within social media posts) that goes like this: “Organization asks a bunch of men to either be on a panel or be featured speakers at an event. Organization asks a few women to participate in order to 'bring gender diversity to the table.' Due to 'reasons,' the already limited number of female speakers aren't able to participate. Organization issues non-apology apology by stating that they tried to include women in the program, but none of the women they asked showed up.” This happens over and over again.

Here's the problem with that line of thinking. For starters, it places the blame on the (usually) anonymous women who didn't show up rather than on the conference/organization. That's extremely problematic.

Organizations need to ask an equal number of men and women to participate as panelists / featured speakers at their events. In my experience, unless it's an event with “Women” in the title, more men are asked to participate. This sets the stage early on for a manel and/or a male-majority event.

In 2019, it's not a 'miss' when an event puts forward a manel or an all-male speakers list, it's abject incompetence or conscious marginalization.

 

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