Since starting @EUPanelWatch we’ve had some time to consider what and who needs to change for diverse and better debates to happen.
In our collective decade in Brussels we have been to our fair share of events. We’re pretty familiar with the format – and the regular speakers: mostly men. Therefore we ask the audience to insist on more women, we ask event organisers to work harder to get women and we ask women themselves to take more opportunities to speak.
In a way though, this lays much of the focus on women to ‘fix’ a problem they are not the cause of. If debates have been and continue to be dominated by men it’s also men’s responsibility to free the space for more diversity.
A growing number of men are signing pledges to no longer speak on all-male panels. This is good. But not speaking on all-male panels is one thing, using judgment to determine when it’s worthwhile speaking on any panel is another.
We’ve talked with a lot of people about how events get organised. One thing we’ve heard is that men sometimes don’t event wait for an invitation, but rather ask to be speakers. Another thing we’ve heard is that men who are asked to speak but admit they know little of the subject, will say yes anyway because it’s a good opportunity for exposure/attention or ‘to learn’.
How is such practice a good thing for events, or something women seeking more speaking opportunities should emulate? While such behaviour helps explain some of the awful events we’ve been to, it begs the more important question: Should we really be encouraging women to behave more like this in order to get more diverse speakers? We think not.
Instead, we think men should say no to speaking slots not just to ‘make space’ for women, but simply because a lot of the time they shouldn’t be speaking in the first place. If you don’t have anything valuable to add, shut up and listen instead.
Men should learn from women who choose their speaking engagements more carefully: Speak for meaning and impact, not for attention or ‘the experience’. It’s not your experience of the event that’s important, it’s the audience’s. If we ask more women to step up, we also need to ask some men to shut up.
PS: Can we please also get over the stereotype of women being chatty? Seriously, our experience and research shows the exact opposite to be the case #manalogue