The Kona Network’s Answer to the All-Male Panel

When we call out a manel, GenderAvenger is often asked in response “We couldn’t find any women. Can you recommend some?” In our view, that’s just plain lazy. While we are not in the business of recommending speakers, we are glad that others are creating resources to help event organizers easily find the myriad women experts who should be on conference stages. We have featured lists recommended by the GA community and today we hear from the newly formed Kona Network about what inspired them to launch a crowdsourcing effort to build a global database of women experts.


Saudi Arabia was approved as a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women for a four-year term, starting in 2018. Lawyer Hillel Neuer, who runs UN Watch, described it as “absurd — and morally reprehensible,” comparable  to “making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”

Yet, in An End to Manels II, Open Society’s 2019 report, the scene is described dispassionately: “three out of four speaking roles at high-level conferences across Europe are held by men… and gender and discrimination are seldom discussed at these conferences.”

The Kona Network, which means “women” in Icelandic, is the daughter of social media dialogue and gender awareness. Our goal is to challenge male biases by building a crowdsourced independent database registry of women experts. Since starting the Kona Network at the beginning of 2019, most of the conversations we have had tend to fall in the following categories:


Is it possible that event organizers are not used to thinking women want a seat at the table? In societies where men traditionally hold leadership positions, women’s roles lack individual rights and freedoms. Even when post-capitalist societies show attitudes towards women's’ rights and roles in society, perceptions of women can still remain traditional. Data confirms lack of access, representation, decision making, agency, salary equality and input integration.


What if women are not invited as experts because of false notions of inclusion and diversity? For instance: women are not a good investment, because they trade loyalties when they marry; women are too expensive because maternity leaves, training seminars, extra compliance services are just too expensive for a company; and women are too dangerous to be reckoned with, because they bring in problems and concerns we are not in the business of dealing with to avoid sexual harassment claims. Let’s just not have women around!


Perhaps the way in which women are being defined by roles as fighters, badasses, trail blazers, forces of nature, inspirations and role models does not represent the whole picture of who we are. Constraining women in the super hero category sways the pendulum to the other extreme, the one where there is very little room to fail. No one wants to choose these binaries as their only definers: hero-villain, mother-whore, good girl-bad girl. Equality, representation, opportunities and rights are freedoms, not cardboard categories.

The current political and social context has paved the way for women in civic technologies, design thinking and social justice to speak up. We have been part of our industries for years: creating, observing, and adding volume. We study in the same universities, work in the same companies, and attend the same conferences, meetings, fundraisers, but our voices remain sidelined where real influence exists.

It’s time to ensure that no organizer, convenor or conference planning team can say “we looked, but expert women were nowhere to be found!”

That is why we are contributing our expertise to community efforts by crowdsourcing an independent database registry to promote women experts in tech, design, media and social innovation as a resource for panels, conferences and speaking engagements. We plan to showcase the registry globally, to include ALL women — in databases, events, recruiting firms, event convenings, and academic and tech conferences within our first year.

We have drawn inspiration from amazing initiatives such as the Spanish festival Primavera Sound, which declared that gender equality is the “new normal” in their program lineup; DevelopHer is a community inspired by other supportive and like-minded tech women on a mission to create the lives they want; the Manel Watch Tribe in the US, UK, EU and IRE, DK, keeps watch on gender equality in conferences and public panels; the Digital Rights Foundation is a trailblazer in advocacy focusing on ICTs to support HR, democracy & digital governance; and GenderAvenger, which provides a suite of tools that anyone can use to ensure that women are always represented in the public dialog.

Together, we can make manels a thing of the past.

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The Kona Network is a women led initiative that challenges male biases by building a crowdsourced independent database registry of female experts in Tech, Media, Finance and Science to SHOWCASE abilities and talents by industry, region, language and level of expertise; FEATURE their profiles as speakers, experts and commentators in their industries; and PROMOTE their work, publications, research articles, news media pieces. You can find the Kona Network online at Twitter and Facebook.