Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference.
The year is 2020 and the voices of women are still not being heard. That’s why, if I’m asked to appear on an all-male platform at a conference, I will have to say no.
Several years ago I signed a pledge not to appear on all-male platforms.
Here are some FAQs about the pledge:
Frequently asked questions
What happens if we have tried to find women but there is nobody available?
I will suggest some women who would be much better than me, and contact them for you. I have done this on several occasions and this often works. You may need to organise your conference a little earlier to be sure of getting women on your panels.
Will you pull out of the panel if it ends up being an all-male panel?
Yes, I have had to do this on several occasions where the conference organiser has not thought early enough about a balanced panel.
But if you pull out then our audience will be deprived of your expertise?
That’s very kind of you to say so, but this isn’t about me.
What happens if a woman drops out and we end up with an all-male panel?
There are many brilliant women – please find someone else to take her place. I will suggest women for you and contact them for you.
What if a woman drops out at very short notice?
The best way to stop this from being a problem is by planning to have two women on the panel. But if I’ve agreed to be on a panel I won’t let you down if something genuinely unforeseen happens. (But if this means a male-only panel, then I will state my position in the conference.)
Surely panel speakers should be chosen on the basis of their expertise, not their sex?
In an ideal world, yes. However conferences happen in the real world, and in the real world, patriarchy permeates at every level. I have been invited on to all-male panels often enough to see how it works. Conference organisers often start with “the usual suspects” – who tend to be male. This Google image search of “expert” shows that we as a society have an inbuilt bias towards “dudes” as experts. Positive action is needed to overcome this and to ensure women’s expertise is heard. By recognising and encouraging women’s expertise, we widen the talent pool and increase our understanding of environmental issues.
How can we avoid having all-male panels at our conference?
The simplest thing is to start thinking about this at the earliest possible stage. When you draw up a list of potential speakers, by the time you get to 2, if one of them isn’t a woman then you have an emerging problem that you need to deal with immediately. When I have organised conferences myself I have always followed this rule, and I have always managed to avoid ending up with an all-male panel.
We have a woman as Chair/Moderator of the session, is that OK?
No, because if a woman is Chair and the panel speakers are men, then there is a sexual division of intellectual labour. This isn’t to undervalue the role of the Chair, but Chair is a different role on a panel to an expert.
What about guest lectures at universities or colleges?
If you ask me to be a solo guest lecturer, then the Pledge doesn’t apply and I will be happy to accept, and trust that at least 50% of the other guest lecturers on your course are women.
Who else has taken this pledge?
If you find yourself at a conference and there’s an all-male panel, use the hashtag #allmalepanel.
“At a public conference I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the Chair.”