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Advocating "End to Manels," New Report Highlights Persistence of Male-Dominated Conferences

"These events reinforce the glass ceiling by presenting men as more important decision makers and limiting networking opportunities for women."

An all-male panel at the annual Munich Security Conference. The dominance of male presenters and speakers—which has led to use of the terms "manpanels" or "manels"—has major implications, a new study argues, because of the outsized impact on key policies and decision-making dictated by such events. (Photo: flickr/force_center/cc)

Its release timed to coincide with International Women's Day, a new study out Thursday reveals that among the persistent disparities between men and women remains the glaring difference in the number of male panelists over female panelists at academic and other professional conferences.

"Diverse views and experiences bring greater wisdom and a better connection with the needs and aspirations of citizens. If women are stuck on the margins, policy misses out on many great ideas and insights." —Heather Grabbe, Open Society European Policy Institute

The dominance of male presenters and speakers—which has led to use of the terms "manpanels" or "manels"—has major implications, the study argues, because of the outsized impact on key policies and decision-making dictated by such events.

"These events reinforce the glass ceiling by presenting men as more important decision makers and limiting networking opportunities for women," said Christal Morehouse, the report's author and senior program officer for the Open Society Foundations, which sponsored the study. 

According to a summary of the study:

Conference organizers are the gatekeepers to the stage. This is a big responsibility. They make decisions about who will have the opportunity to share their views with heads of state, policymakers, and business leaders. Journalists report the statements of these speakers to audiences around the world. Prioritizing gender balance over seniority can stop help counter inequality in our societies by allowing women a fair say on policy and allowing female role models to come to the fore.

"The policies being debated affect women and men equally—it's perplexing that in 2018 women still don't have an equal opportunity to shape them," Morehouse added.

The study—titled An End to Manels: Closing the Gender Gap at Europe’s Top Policy Events (pdf)—looked at "high-level" conferences that took place across the European Union over five years and conducted a statistical analysis of over 12,600 conference speakers. What it found was that these events averaged three male speakers to every woman, a ratio that Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, argues undermines not only women but all of society.

"Diverse views and experiences bring greater wisdom and a better connection with the needs and aspirations of citizens," Grabbe said. "If women are stuck on the margins, policy misses out on many great ideas and insights."

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