Stop Using Women Moderators to Excuse All-Male Panels

by Fortune Live Media [ CC BY-ND 2.0 ],  via Flickr

by Fortune Live Media [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Believe it or not, explaining why an all-male panel is not ideal is a conversation we find ourselves having far too often. By now, we’ve heard all the excuses in the book, but one that strikes me as particularly insidious is the tried and true “But look at all our women moderators!”

Forgive the eye roll.

Adding women as moderators to create speaker gender balance isn't enough.

A moderator of a panel or debate serves as a champion of the audience. The panelists, on the other hand, speak for an industry and are brought in as experts to offer insight the audience does not have. Although moderators are undoubtedly important, placing the bulk of the women in your conference in this role doesn’t actually address gender balance, and does little to promote women’s voices. So while I would never discourage a woman from serving as a moderator, it bears stating: it is not enough.”

Woman-as-Moderator creates a passive dynamic.

The Woman-as-Moderator creates a passive dynamic, a position where the contribution of women is to ask questions. This is not to say that a moderator can’t be forceful or feather-ruffling, but it’s never the moderator that has the answers, and that matters, because while a woman moderator may appear to be part of the discussion, she is never considered an authority. It’s fine to position a woman to ask the hard hitting questions and speak for the audience, but it can’t be all we’re offered.

The organization of any kind of public conversation — be it an onstage panel, a televised roundtable, a town hall meeting — rests on the assumption of engaging dialog. Women are a necessary element of that engagement. Representation without social dialog doesn’t amount to much, and neither does the placement of women in a role just to further the ‘real’ conversation.

Women must be placed as equals in public conversations.

Women at what is perceived to be the helm of a discussion is not enough if all they are doing is talking to men. A woman placed on the fringe of a conversation is not the same as a woman engaged in that conversation as an equal. Demand environments where women’s opinions are valued, and not just within the vacuum of a ‘woman’s space’ or on ‘women’s issues’. It’s time we see women looked to as authorities on their subjects with opinions worthy of debate and showcase. Women make up over half the population, our voices should take up just as much space.