How to End All-Male Panels: A Pledge, the GA Tally, and You

Take the GenderAvenger Pledge now! or keep reading below…

Too often, we say to ourselves “but I’m just one person” how can I change something? Yet, throughout history, there are examples of individuals speaking up and rallying many more individuals until the collective voice becomes a powerful force that can no longer be ignored. Today, with the instant global reach of social media, our individual voices are collected and magnified many times over.

That is where we find ourselves now with a loud, collective voice that screams “enough” when women are not represented in the public dialogue.

It started with one person taking a stand in their corner of the world.

We first heard about a “man pledge” to not speak on panels without women from Shifra Bronznick, founding president of AWP, Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community. Shifra created the Men As Allies program for professional and volunteer leaders willing to speak up for including women in the public dialogue. So far, 52 allies have pledged not to convene or appear on all-male panels. When invited, this group encourages conveners to “change the frame on roles and expertise… If the category is so narrow as to exclude women, expand the criteria or change the category.” In addition, AWP asks each man who takes the pledge to also take responsibility for promoting female colleagues who are equally accomplished but perhaps less visible to speak on these panels.

by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo [public domain],  via Wikimedia Commons

by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Tamara Wittes, Director for Middle East Policy at Brookings, and Marc Lynch, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, co-authored this sobering piece on the lack of women at the table in Middle East policy debates, Owen Barder said “enough”.

Owen Barder is Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development. His pledge is simple: “At a public conference I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the Chair.” A dozen men have signed on in the past couple of months. On, 61 men working in human rights have taken a pledge over the past year to only participate on panels where women are included.

Despite the simplicity, taking a pledge isn’t easy. As Shifra points out, sometimes it means giving up honoraria. In many cases, it is uncomfortable. In every instance, the speakers who turn down an invitation give up the opportunity for visibility. But each of those who have taken a pledge have decided their own visibility is secondary to ensuring that women, too, are visible in the public dialogue because, as Owen says, “We believe that public discourse would be improved by better gender balance.”

And now Finnish feminist scholar Saara Särmä has started a fabulously frank and funny Tumblr that has quickly gone viral, “Congrats, You Have an All Male Panel!” We love its simple brilliance in drawing attention to the absence of women.

In this moment, as the attention shines on the absurd reality of women’s voices being excluded, the next question is “Now what?” How do we use this one moment to make change?

A little over a year ago, Gina Glantz had her own “enough” point. Responding to yet another instance where women were invisible, Gina founded GenderAvenger to ensure women are represented in the public dialogue — from panels to experts quoted in the media to “Top Lists” — anywhere women are missing. In one year, we have grown from one person to more than a thousand, faming and shaming along the way.

Here’s how we’re making change, one pie chart at a time. Through the GenderAvenger tally, attendees at an event can use our mobile app to count the number of women and men on a panel. Anything less than 30% puts a panel in the “shame” category. More than 40% earns a “fame” mention.

The app can be used for any instance where women are missing but in the case of panels at an event, it is an opportunity to create a real-time groundswell among participants using an event’s hashtag that cannot be ignored. (At one event, the activity of the GA tally resulted in a hastily scheduled discussion on the event stage about gender equality.) You can download the app for the iPhone (Android coming soon!) or use the app on our website.

In addition to targeting conference organizers, you can also use the tally to point out to sponsors that they have put their name on an event that lacks women’s voices. One event sponsor immediately responded to a GenderAvenger tally saying they would discuss the lack of women with the event organizer and, given the attention it generated, we bet they will be more assertive in speaking up for the inclusion of women as a condition of future sponsorships.

One tally is shared with many who share it with many more. (If you’re old enough to remember the Faberge Organic Shampoo commercial… “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on…” It goes something like that!)

We’ve also added The GenderAvenger Pledge, inspired by those mentioned above, because men’s voices are just as important to the GenderAvenger mission as those of women. Sign the pledge here.

So, the next time you wonder what one person can do, think of these folks and start your own movement. Snap a photo. Create a GenderAvenger tally. Take the pledge.

Challenge it. Change it. Together, we can. It starts with each one of us.