I’ve written about this before in the context of the Labour Party conference, but it’s a wide spread problem and if anything it seems to be getting worse. Panels at political events are, more frequently than ever, men only affairs. I’m very glad today to be a signatory to a letter in today’s Guardian calling for a stop to this practice.
When I wrote about this last time, I was (yawn, of course) accused of tokenism. I suspect I will be again. Here’s why that’s so much nonsense: in the decade that I’ve been managing successful political events – on topics as wide ranging as the environment, democracy, housing, culture, science and a host of others – I never, not once have had an all male panel.
In fact, I am so confident that it’s twaddle, I challenge my challengers. Find me an all male panel – in fact, find me any topic on which you could reasonably hold an informed public debate – and I’ll give you the names of five women who could hold their own on the panel. It’s not tokenism you see, it’s research.
And it matters. It matters because women are being shut out of public debate. We don’t see other women on panels, delivering their thoughts to a roomful of people waiting to be inspired. Just as when we close our eyes and think of a politician, we think of a bloke in a suit, so too do we picture him when we think of a political speaker.This is taking it’s toll. Women are vastly under-represented in think tanks for example.
Having run events for so long, I know that the easy thing to do is to invite the bloke who was good on this topic the last time it was discussed. But it’s the lazy thing to do. It’s part of what is making our political discourse so stale, jaded and unable to cope with the really big questions of our times.
Giving women a platform to share their thoughts isn’t just good for those individual women, but for all of us – male and female – who understand the true value of diversity in voices and thought.