A “manel”, or all-male-panel, is a frequently-spotted occurrence in the AI scene. But, while they seem to persist, I welcome the growing reactions, either in person or online, audiences now have to manels.
It really does get noticed now, and it’s getting increasingly more embarrassing for conference organisers if the diversity of their speakers is not proactively managed.
Of course, diversity is not merely about gender, but much of the focus on technology diversity initiatives are on women, so it’s a shame to not see that permeate positions of thought-leadership, such as speaking on a panel.
Manels do not occur out of malice but out of insufficient effort. Women are out there, I promise, but they are often harder to find.
Men are known to self-promote better, recommend their mates, and as there are more men in tech generally, they are on stage more in the first place and therefore get on the well-known conference circuit.
You do often have to dig a bit more to find those equally qualified, or even left-field, female speakers. Here are my top tips for how to avoid a manel:
What to do for conference organisers and speakers:
- To conference organisers – Whenever you ask for recommendations for speakers, formally or informally, make sure your source puts a balanced list together. Explicitly ask them to.
- To speakers – If you are invited to speak on a panel, accept with the condition that you will not sit on a manel.
What not to do:
- To conference organisers: Respond to criticisms of your #manel by saying your organising team are all female. That is almost always the case, and no, that does not make it any better. If one more conference company says that to me I am going to punch someone.
- To speakers: Speak over, interrupt or patronise your fellow female panellists. You may well know your other male panellists better, or you may even be better at waffling on public stages at your ability to disrupt. Your female colleagues, or anyone for that matter, may have a different style, so ensure you provide space for that style to take centre stage.
This article originally appeared in AIMed Magazine issue 04, part of a wider feature available here.
Maxine Mackintosh, PhD
Maxine is a Researcher at the Alan Turing Institute and University College London working at the intersection of data science and dementia. Her PhD involves mining medical records for new predictors for dementia. She is passionate about understanding how we might make better use of routinely collected data to improve our cognitive health. Alongside this, she is the co-founder of One HealthTech – a community which champions and supports underrepresented groups, particularly women, to be the future leaders in health innovation. Her professional work has led her to the Royal Society, Roche, L’Oreal, Department for International Development, and NHS England.