An article recently published by NPR titled “Survey Suggests ‘Manels’—All Male Panels—Are Still the Norm” revealed that men outnumbered women more than two to one as speakers at events in the last five years. The news came from a survey released by Bizzabo, an event software company, who analyzed private sector events in 23 countries and found that, of 60,000 speakers, 69 percent were men and only 31 percent were women. A breakdown of the gender distribution by country shows that the gender gap in the United States was slightly smaller—men made up 65 percent of speakers and women made up 35 percent. Notably, the survey included events in 23 different industries, and women did not outnumber men in any industry.
One might attempt to explain the discrepancy was to look at overall gender discrepancies in the workforce or in education. However, statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor show that women make up nearly half (47 percent) of the workforce. See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, women are more likely than men to earn a bachelor’s degree. By age 29, 34 percent of women have obtained bachelor’s degrees compared to only 26 percent of men. See U.S. DOL Blog. Thus, despite strides that women are making in the workplace and higher education, this report highlights another area where women still lag behind men and another hurdle we need to overcome.
At first blush, this hurdle may not seem as large as gender wage gap issues or the lack of women in leadership roles. However, the prevalence of “manels” evidences a larger problem, namely, that men are more frequently viewed as authorities in their fields. Certainly, speakers are chosen based on their knowledge and expertise—or, perhaps more accurately stated, their perceived knowledge and expertise in any given area. It is this perception that results in “manels,” which is concerning on a number of levels. First, women are missing out on professional opportunities that can come from these engagements, such as marketing and new business. Second, men, as regular speakers, gain additional credibility as subject matter experts, which perpetuates the cycle of men being more likely viewed as authorities in their fields. Finally, panel discussions are enhanced by a variety of viewpoints, including perspectives from both women and men. It will only be more difficult to close gender gaps if women’s voices are consistently left out of the conversation.
So how do we take the “m” out of “manels”? Like most gender issues, there is no quick and easy solution. However, I would encourage women to affirmatively seek out speaking opportunities rather than wait for an invitation. Additionally, if you are involved in planning an event, make it a point to invite women to speak and have at least one woman on any given panel. As with many gender issues, overcoming perception is half of the battle. From wage discrepancies to “manels,” gender gaps are intertwined, and by overcoming the perception that men have more expertise and are better adept at speaking, we not only will fix the “manel” problem but also will work towards narrowing other gender gaps as well.
Katelyn H. Wilson is an associate at Bressler, Amery & Ross, PC in Birmingham, Alabama.