I went to an event last night - speakers, audience, questions and answers. A common structure. The main theme of the talk is irrelevant; my comments would be the same whatever the topic. Within the presentation were comments about increasing social mobility, diversity and broader opportunities for the disadvantaged. These issues became rather ironic as the evening wore on.
The person who introduced the main speaker was a white man. The main speaker was a white man. The panel members were two white men. And the person who wound up the proceedings was - yes, you guessed right - a white man. (And don't think for one minute that my experience is a one off - today in the Guardian was a report about a similar issue in Manchester.)
It is likely, in my view, if I asked the organisers why they thought it was acceptable to host an event, to which hundreds of people came, where all the speakers were white men, they would say that they tried to find women but there were few or none in roles relevant to the topic under discussion - in other words, they could do nothing about it.
I have had a similar response from employers who say they want to have more women in their workforce but they don't apply. So that's that then?
But we all can do something about this and men can do something too. Men can refuse to speak on panels where there are no women. This would at least be a start. It may seem like a small thing but it would mean that greater efforts would be made to ensure that women are given a loud voice and can encourage other women to join them.
Employers can take action too to make their organisations more interesting to women and offer terms and conditions that make work viable for those who have caring responsibilities. Another small but important thing in organisations where women are under-represented would be for management to establish a system of "reverse mentorship". That means that women would inform the management of the organisation about how it is for them and what needs to change to help keep current female employees and attract new ones.
It is easy to blame someone else for the lack of a diversity in job applications or speakers in so many contexts. Gender is just one of the issues and of course ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation are also incredibly important. But women are NOT a minority group. Approximately 50% of the population are women. Let's make sure this reality is accurately reflected. Maybe next time there is an all-male panel, all the women in the audience should leave? How would the men feel then?
I am hoping that more men will commit to turning down a position on all-male panels as one small act that would make a big difference for women.