The Problem of All-Male Panels: @EUPanelWatch Says No More Excuses

All three women we called were busy on the day of our conference.

We need big-name speakers and few of those are women.

These are just two of our favorite excuses as to why we don’t see more women speaking at corporate events. And they are just excuses. We can’t buy that there are only three women in a given field in Europe who could be asked to speak at an event, or that the only big-name players are men. If we do, nothing will change.

A growing frustration with these excuses led us (Marika and Laurel) to set up the Twitter account @EUPanelWatch. Both working in Brussels, a city at the heart of European policymaking, we realized that at the events we both attend we see the same repeated pattern of all-male panels all too often and frequently the same male speakers.

We asked ourselves what message that sends? The answer: that Europe is run by men, for men and there is no room for new players or ideas.

So we said no.

No to all-male panels.

We call out all-male panels with pictures and tweets and the response since we started the account at the end of January has been really positive. Some people tell us it’s not something they’ve noticed before, but now they can’t help but see the overwhelming “male talk fest” that policy debates often become. Others say that they’ve been frustrated with the situation for a long time and are glad to have a place to vent their frustration.

We want to retire the old-fashioned all-male panel to history, where it belongs. If we’re going to progress and make innovative political decisions, we need viewpoints from all representatives of society, not just half.

To ramp up the pressure on event organisers, as well as political and industry figures who take part in panel debates, we are conducting a “monitoring month.”

Throughout June @EUPanelWatch with the support of the European Women’s Lobby and around 20 incredible volunteers, will keep track of events in Brussels across policy areas including foreign affairs, trade and energy. We will tally how many male and female speakers feature at each event and once we have all the data, we will use it to answer some key questions.

Which industries or policy areas seem to be the “worst offendors” when it comes to neglecting gender balance at public events?

When women are included, how often is more than one woman on a panel?

How can we move from the current situation to one where debates are diverse and take us forward?

We hope monitoring month can drive us forward on this journey that we have thoroughly enjoyed so far. One thing this has shown us is that if you’re passionate about making a change for the better and can deliver a consistent, clear and positive message, people will support you and we are really grateful for that.

Laurel Henning is a journalist who writes on energy and climate policy issues, and Marika Andersen works for the Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona. Both are based in Brussels, Belgium and have been running @EUPanelWatch since the end of January 2015.

We started @EUPanelWatch from a growing frustration with the replication of (sometimes the same) all-male panels. Brussels is a city at the heart of European policy-making, and we asked ourselves what message these panels and debates send. Are we a Europe for the past or a Europe of the future?

Our argument is simple: We need more diverse debate to achieve an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous Europe.