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Women, It’s Time we Derail the “Manel” Express

Positive Steps Towards Gender Diversity

Recently, a leading business magazine held a round table panel discussion in Bengaluru on digital transformation. Ten Chief Experience Officers from varying online ventures, participated in the discussion. Let’s rephrase that. Ten male CXOs participated in the discussion. As the organizers could not find a single suitable woman.

Maybe this was an oversight from the organizing committee or they didn’t care much about what women have to say. Either way, it reflects poorly on the mindset of the organizers. However, it is not the first time that the female point of view has been deemed irrelevant.

 Globally, political, healthcare and business meetings are represented by ‘Manels’. An all-male panel at vital gatherings, ignoring the existence of women.

At the beginning of this year, a photo of the US President Donald Trump went viral. In this photograph, he was shown signing an anti-abortion bill, according to which all US-funded organisations were prohibited from providing information related to abortion in the US and abroad. So, even in the world’s most powerful nation 50% of its population does not get a say on a bill related to their reproductive organs.

In times where companies, big and small, are working hard to make sure that there is gender diversity at the workplace, such panels should be discouraged. Yet time and again, we see an all-male panel, raising its head like a giant anaconda, eating away the relevance of our views and experience.

For those who still do not believe that the situation is as bad as we are making it to be. There is a page on Tumblr which showcases all the events with all-male panels.

Manels dominate everywhere, from a street photography festival in Brussels to an all-male research on infection biology, or even a dialogue on citizenship and a youth economic forum.

How do we deal with this?

One way is to express outrage on Twitter using hashtags like #manel  and in our backyard, Monica Jasuja is leading from the front with #NoMoreManels, to point out at this discrepancy.

Second, is by acquiring the empathy of our male colleagues. Men should be sensitized on the relevance of this issue. In many cases then, they voluntarily walk out of manels. Also, they are likely to let the organizers know the reason for walking out. This has worked.

Five of the most booked male panelists in Australia, decided to boycott all male panels last year, to protest against lack of female representation.

Public health reporter Andre Picard also withdrew from an invited panel at 2017 Trottier Public sciences symposium at McGill, Canada a few days ago. He said that the reason behind his walk out was that the panel consisted of ten men, and not a single woman.

Such efforts from men are praiseworthy and inspirational. What remains to be seen is that how men in our country take a stand on this issue. So, let’s get started.

Also read: The A word: Why Abortion Remains A ‘bad’ Word

Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.