Are organisers to be blamed for “manels”?


It is a fact that “Manels” or all male panels are a reality. It is a subtle form of excluding women’s voices and perspectives at important discussions and decision making events. 

In the month of August 2016, SheThePeople and Safecity conducted a survey of over 100 conferences, events and TV shows to find out the ratio of male and female speakers and panelists. Our findings will be presented in a series of articles starting today to highlight the issue and ensure that organisers and speakers are more gender inclusive.

How often have we heard – “What you see is what you get?” So over a period of time if you see the same scenario played out in front of you, over and over again, it seems to take on a semblance of normalcy. Thus when we watch television shows, news channels or attend conferences and see panels with all or majority male members on a regular basis, it does not occur to us to even question the absence of women.

Survey On Manels by SheThePeople - SafeCity

Survey On Manels by SheThePeople – SafeCity

However, excluding women from important discussions, policy making events and decision making tables is unjust. It is discrimination and needs to be addressed.

According to the United Nations, gender equality is a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Gender equality means men and women have equal value and should be accorded equal treatment. It is the measurable equal representation of women and men.

Across the last few months, Safecity and SheThePeople have scanned the Indian TV networks, conferences and events for “manels” or all male panels. Shockingly, we found that on average of over 100 data points, 18% of TV news panelists and 12% of conference panelists are women.

Survey On Manels by SheThePeople - SafeCity

Survey On Manels by SheThePeople – SafeCity

Despite there being enough qualified women who could be called upon to be speakers, it appears as though the organisers of the events chose to take the easy way out and stick with the known – male speakers.

I challenge organisers to acknowledge this discrimination and inequality and put in place measures that would be more gender inclusive and provide an environment for rich discussion. There’s even a crowdsourced database of women experts that I co-created with Esther Ngumbi and Monica Jasuja.

Some of the measures that organisers must take are:

  1. Ensure the panel, event and conference has a high representation of women, as speakers and audience. Women and men have different lived experiences and ensuring diversity in the room allows for a rich discussion and varied perspectives.

  2. Do not succumb to the pressure of a “manel”. There is no excuse for not having women experts available. There are highly educated women who must be given an opportunity to speak. Find them. If they cancel or choose not to speak at the event, pursue your search for another woman replacement.

  3. Tokenism is not being gender inclusive. So having an all male panel moderated by a woman does not count as a gender equal panel. You will be called out for it.

  4. It is a matter of time before male speakers as well as audiences refuse to attend events highly dominated by only men. So you can choose to be proactive and ensure equal representation.

  5. Finally, it is upto the organisers to break the cycle of all male panels. You can be ahead of the curve and be the change.