June 2

event planning tip

OPINION: Women moderators are great – but not to cover up an all male panel

We gladly provide women moderators. But preferably because of their personal qualities, not to fix an all male panel. Beatriz Rios and Rogier Elshout wrote this op-ed in in the Euobserver

“Can you send a female moderator because all our speakers are men?” As collective of moderators focussed on ‘the bubble’, we get this request a lot. It is good that there is attention for gender equality in events and we have great women in our team so we gladly provide them. And when there are a lot of men speaking, a  woman moderator does not only prevent a snarky post on allmalepanels.tumblr.com (‘congratulations, you have a manel’), it provides some antidote to all the testosterone.

But too often a woman moderator is requested as a token for real diversity. As a band-aid for the underlying problem: all speakers are men. That shouldn’t be fixed with a woman moderator, intermezzo or grid girl. But solved by its roots: diversify your line of speakers. It’s great if the questions get asked by someone other than a cis man, but it is even more important that the people who answer those questions get more diverse. If the opinions of all ages, colours, backgrounds, experiences, stances and genders are included, the conversation gets more interesting and relevant. And if new voices are added, new answers will be provided and more people will feel represented.

The Root core of course is a lack of gender balance in high positions. As long as many seniors, executives and other representatives of organisations, institutions and think-thanks remain middle aged white men, it will be hard to increase diversity in conferences too. But we don’t have to wait till that problem is solved to reduce the problem of all men panels.

  • don’t think diversity quota, think diverse quotes

Setting quota (no manels) help setting a minimum level. But rather than designing a panel like you’d always do but now with quota, rethink your event:  how do we get a rainbow of opinions? If you take diversity of opinions as starting point, the search for more diverse spokespeople will be much easier. 

  • let people speak because they are relevant, not because they are important

What if instead of going for the hot shots, you opt for the interesting voices? If you already have 2 inside voices, enrich the discussion with an outsider. If you have 2 hot shots, enrich the discussion with a challenger. If you already have 2 CEO’s, don’t add a third but add someone from the workfloor. If you do this, you are much more likely to stumble on more diverse persons.

We once moderated an election debate about biodiversity. Off course the 3 (middle aged white old boys networkers) directors of the organising organisations had to do a welcome word. But after that, instead of having them talk their policy talk, we interviewed a farmer, a volunteer and entrepreneur. Not only did we have a more diverse panel, we had a more concrete, relevant and lively debate.

  • look further and better

Stop saying “there aren’t enough women”. They exist. If you organise events, check out websites such as Brussels Binder or especifically ask for woman experts. If you are a men speaker and realise the panel you are invited to is far from balanced, suggest a woman colleague’s name. 

  • be more persuasive and supportive

If you invite 50 woman doctors to speak at a medical conference, 49 will say: “I’m not thé expert on this specific field”. If you ask 50 men lawyers, bankers or garbage collectors, 49 will say “sure, I have been to a doctor once so I can talk about it’. Off course this is a slight caricature and you don’t have to mansplain women that they are too humble, but do reassure them to step forward. 

If you work in an organisation, a think tank, a university: empower your woman experts. Provide training, support and recommendation. And as women: claim your space!

  • Remove the barriers to speak. be more persuasive and supportive

If an invitation to speak means a speech in a very formal atmosphere, it is not easy to say yes if you are not accustomed to it. If discussions are high testosterone where speakers try to outrank each other or are full of inside jokes, when speakers are announced as ‘authorities’ instead of ‘fresh voices’, outsiders will hesitate.  If we make our conferences more relaxed, less about statements and more about dialogue, not only will they be more inclusive to non eager speakers, they will also be more relevant, fun and productive. 

Hopefully in two years from now we won’t get requests for female moderators any more, but a request for a moderator that fits the event and compliments the panel. Regardless of their gender. And if we then propose a non-male, it is because of their added value as moderator, not as token. And instead of the same panels but now with women, we have truly inclusive and diverse conversations.

Rogier Elshout (he) and Beatriz Rios (she) are moderators at European moderators collective Moderating.eu  

Want more inspiration?

See also this great publication of the Brussels Binder

About the author 

Rogier Elshout

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