The No Excuses Resolution: Accept No Cop-outs for Poor Gender Balance
Whether you are a marcher, a letter writer, or someone who makes calls; whether you call out organizers at events or through social media, you are bound to hear all sorts of excuses.
Just a few weeks ago, I received an email describing an intriguing project, the core of which involved interviews of folks from around the globe. Imagine my dismay when I saw the first seven interviewees: one woman and six men. Knowing the organizer, I emailed him saying he had a very cool idea but that I was disappointed with it featuring almost all guys. Somehow he thought that listing the woman first would count for something. Surely he was kidding. Then, he asked me for suggestions. Excuse #1, rejected. Next, he claimed this was just a start and sent a list of 100+ potential interviewees, of which only 12 were women. Excuse #5, rejected.
Of course this made me want to remind everyone of GenderAvenger’s top ten Beat the Excuses list, so I decided to reprise it here and ask you to commit to the No Excuses Resolution.
The No Excuses Resolution:
"I will accept no excuses for poor gender balance whether I hear them in person or through social media feedback."
Undoubtedly, you will find yourself needing to push back. We would love to hear about your experience, whether you were snarky or polite, and how the recipient of your comments reacted. Please email the exchange, and any new excuses you hear to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go forth and speak up, because there is never an excuse for leaving women out!
Here are GenderAvenger’s top 10 Excuses and our suggested responses.
“We know we have no women. We are always looking for ideas. Could you please send some names?”
“This from the organization that has the largest list on the planet of knowledgeable people on your issue?”
Cultural change has to happen within an organization, so it is important to place responsibility where it belongs.
“I tried, but a lot of women were just too busy/unavailable.”
“Try harder. And next time figure out how to make your event more welcoming. Do you have a sexual harassment policy? Might you offer child care on site or list child care options?”
It is important to stress that extra effort (and looking beyond the “usual suspects” and making the event more woman-friendly) will result in better panels, better lists, and more satisfied audiences/readers. And, of course, if you are available, suggest yourself!
“I can’t believe I didn’t notice. How embarrassing.”
“We can’t believe it either. Don’t be embarrassed, do better.”
Certainly, it is okay to be more kind and say, “Yes, I was surprised. I really appreciate your acknowledgement and am hopeful that this will not happen again on your watch.” It is most important to establish expectations.
“You know how good we usually are and how hard we try. Look at last year…”
“That was then; this is now.”
"We were once better" is not an excuse for current failure, especially since what is happening in real time is what matters to onlookers. And, of course, the reaction to “last year we were much better” begs the question “so why not this year?”
“This is just the beginning. Stay tuned.”
“First impressions count. It is really hard to catch up once you have acceptances from a lot of men and few women.”
Initial announcements set the tone and can turn off attendees. When initial ads or conference speaker lists include few women, note what it will take to create gender balance by the time of the event, and suggest that, as the gender balance improves, new ads should be created and new speakers announced to show the improvement.
“23% is good; women make up less than 30% of the workforce” or “Studies show that 30% makes a big difference.”
“All the more reason to feature women to show they are welcome” or “Just think what 40 or 50% would do!”
It is important to aim high. Waiting for the numbers to catch up with the pressure of attention results in all too incremental change. Do not settle for artificial constraints.
“They weren’t on the publicity list but there were a lot of women present.”
“Present is not the same as presenting.”
Women featured onstage is a measure of how much an organization values women’s voices and understands that broadening the perspectives enriches the conversation.
“Our President is a woman and she opened and closed the event.”
It is important to communicate the excuse to the woman who is being used to back it up so she can influence future events.
“Look how many of our moderators are women.”
“Good, now put them on panels, too.”
Adding women moderators is a common response to criticism about the lack of women on actual panels. Moderators are important and can steer the discussion; however, they are not a substitute for the experts assigned panel seats.
Worse than any excuse is when a man who is questioned sends a woman to respond.
“You’re kidding. His response is that you should have to make the excuse?”
This has happened. It is worth noting in your response to the woman. “Thank you for responding, although I do think so-and-so should take some responsibility…” and then go on with your follow up message to the excuse given.