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The Open Heroines Guide for the Guy Who Got Stuck on a Manel

When we started Open Heroines, one thing on our minds was that we consistently weren’t seeing enough women speaking at conferences and events.

A guy in a crowd.
Written by
Published on
November 15, 2019

When we started Open Heroines, one thing on our minds was that we consistently weren’t seeing enough women speaking at conferences and events. When you don’t see people you can relate to in positions of power, you start to believe that you cannot be the one in that position. That negative mindset can be powerful – and very harmful to women looking to move up in their careers, becoming frustrated rather than driven.

We refuse to believe that women can’t speak at events. We refuse to believe that there are not enough women out there to speak on various topics. We believe that women can and should be in positions of power. This is why we continue to call out manels, and actively help our communities to eliminate them. We’ve written about why one woman on a panel is not enough, and we keep calling manels out publicly all the time.

However, the reality is we cannot be on the organising committee of every large international gathering. While we’ve noticed that manels are becoming increasingly rare in some gatherings close to our own community (the OGP Summit now has a no manels policy, and the International Open Data Conference also has no manels), they are still happening in high level diplomatic events. While women are a big part of the workforce, they are still underrepresented in positions of leadership – especially within the public sector in roles like ministers or heads of departments in governments.

This week, we spotted Martin Tisné on a manel at the

Paris Peace Forum

(thanks to Cori Zarek!), and had a great Twitter discussion with him and other men about “last-minute manels.”

From this discussion, we present to the community: The Open Heroines Guide to the Guy Who Got Stuck on a Manel.

Before the event

Manel is preventable! Follow the next steps to create more diverse panels:

  1. Ask the organisers how many people are on the panel, and how many of them are women. It’s really easy to get stuck on a manel when the organizers have only put a single woman on the panel. Ask them to add more women, and give suggestions for who to add.
  2. The panel you’ve been asked to be on might be a good professional development opportunity for one of the women or nonbinary people on your team. Consider giving their name[s] to the organisers instead.
  3. At Open Heroines, we also like to consider intersectionality. So when asking about the people in the panel, ask about the other panelists’ backgrounds. Also, when suggesting potential women to join, be sure you’re including women of color and queer people too.
  4. The moderator is a woman, fabulous! However, she does not count as part of the expert panel, so make sure the panel has women in it as well.
  5. Sign Owen Barder’s pledge of “I will not be a part of all male panels,”and draw the organisers’ attention to the pledge.

During the event

If you have done the steps above, but still find yourself on a manel, you can still take action. Here’s what you can do.

  1. Walk out. This is the boldest choice out of all suggestions, but it sends a clear message about why having only men on a panel is no longer acceptable.
  2. If you have decided to stay, ask the moderator to acknowledge that this is a manel. Ask them to ask for a woman volunteer from the audience – we’re sure there will be at least one woman attending that can speak on the topic.
  3. If the moderator refuses to acknowledge the manel, address the topic while speaking.
  4. If you are travelling with a colleague who happens to be a woman or a nonbinary person, suggest them to the moderator (with their permission, of course!)
  5. Reference women’s work while speaking on the panel. If a woman can’t be on the stage, centering on their work is a good way to bring attention to their absence and ensure they’re getting adequate credit for contributions. Tweet about it after the event, and mention women’s work by name. In general, it is a good practice for men to highlight the work of women’s and queer peoples’ work even outside of the context of a manel. It helps A LOT to raise awareness.
  6. Give a shout out to the women on your team. They are a huge part of the reason why you are there in the first place!

After the event

  1. Tweet about why you were on a manel, being open about what happened helps all of us to learn.
  2. Email the organizers and give them feedback about what happened.
  3. Don’t do it again.
  4. Commit to sending women from your team to all the panels in the next 6 months.

So there you have it! The Open Heroines Guide to the Guy who got Stuck on a Manel.

If you are a woman, and have been invited to a panel, you can help too. Ask if there are other women on the panel, and suggest names. However, remember that this load is not for you alone to carry, and don’t feel obliged to join a panel just to be the token woman. Women should not carry the burden of eliminating manels, men should act on it as well.

If you are an event organiser, design with diversity and inclusion in mind. Create policies that curate a program where there are no manels. Our wildest dream is a program with no panels at all, but we understand this can be a stretch. Looking for inspiration? Here is what The Lancet, one of the largest medical journals (a field has a long history of bias towards articles written by men), has been working on as part of its pledge to diversify and eliminate gender bias. Your event can do this too.

We can stop manels, even at high-level conferences and events, and within fields highly populated by men. We just need to pay close attention.

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