Opinion: Are you a man?

menAre you a man? Have you been or might you be on a fringe meeting panel at Liberal Democrat conference? If the answer to both is yes, I’d like your help…

At the Spring conference just gone in Brighton, I nearly ended up being a speaker on an all-male panel – and one taking place on International Women’s Day no less. The subject – technology and politics – is one where there are a good few female experts in the party, and it was only Olly Grender’s last minute addition which saved my blushes from Mark Thompson’s quite reasonable intention to turn up and put us all on the spot about what was an all-male panel.

That was, however, just a lucky break which does not always occur by any means – and one which reminded me of an idea that had stuck itself somewhere in the back of my mind when I found myself a few months earlier on an all-male panel at a think tank event.

In technology and other sectors which similarly are trying to grapple with male dominance at their events, there is often a movement to get men to pledge not to agree to participate in a conference panel if it is going to be all male.

My fault for not doing anything about the idea when it first occurred to me. Credit to Mark Thompson for nearly putting a panel on the spot on the issue – and that’s why over the weekend I stuck my neck out on Twitter to make sure that this time the idea doesn’t just slip away into a pending pile of good ideas again.

The idea is to change the balance on what is easy for a panel organiser to do. Often the easy option is to go for the ‘obvious’ names, which helps perpetuate the male dominance (out of kilter with a majority female electorate and a close to 50/50 party membership balance). However, once organisers know that people will say no if they’re lining up a list of just men, then the easy option is to go for a balanced option.

This is no miracle cure. There are many other issues that need addressing too, and many issues of equality that are not about gender.

But it is a simple step that can help – help set a different tone at conference, help set a different example to people in the party as to who is welcome to participate and help highlight to those looking for Lib Dem names to participate on occasions outside party conference that there are plenty of women they could ask too. Indeed the organisers are very likely not choosing the best people if they just choose men!

All it needs is a critical mass of male panel participants (or possible future ones) to pledge not to appear on future all-male panels at Liberal Democrat federal conferences.

Who knows, if it works, we could try spreading this more widely.

So, who’s in?

If you are, drop Mark and myself an email at [email protected] – and if you think you can spare a little time to help (e.g. to approach our male MPs) then please do say so too.


* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • Geoffrey Payne 12th Mar '13 - 12:31pm

    That is my excuse for not standing for Parliament. I think a woman should stand sounds a noble thing to say. The real reason is that I don’t like campaigns, having my photo taken, making speeches and having to defend policies I don’t always agree with.
    I find when I am organising conferences we get together in a group and discuss who to invite. In no time we get a long list of men. Then when we invite women to speak often they say no. But be rest assured when you look at the agenda that whether we succeed or fail to get a balance, you just do not know how much effort was involved!

  • Stuart Smith 12th Mar '13 - 12:36pm

    Perhaps Mark, you should have spoken to Cllr Daisy Cooper who promoted “the Womens Room” in tweets last November see http://thewomensroom.org.uk/

  • Steve Bradley 12th Mar '13 - 5:02pm

    The Green Lib Dems consciously aim for a mix of genders on the panels for all our fringes.

    As Chair I also ensure there is a balance in the gender of those I select to ask questions of the panelists as well.

    It doesn’t need to be a big drama – just something that organisers of events are conscious about. Sometimes it doesn’t always work – e.g. having Ed Davey and one of his SpAds speaking at a session on Ed’s energy policy, but that was the nature of that particular event.

    The one difficulty is when we’re asking external bodies to supply a speaker, as that removes any control from us over who they put forward. And our party does tend to have obvious choices on issues, not all of which are female (e.g. Tessa Munt was on fracking, Norman Baker would be on Transport).

  • Paul Holmes 12th Mar '13 - 6:11pm

    For once I can agree with every word you say on this one Mark.

    How about a similar self denying ordinance against appearing on any panel that does not have someone from the North on it as opposed to the normal London/South of England clique?

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '13 - 8:13pm

    Yes I am. Is that a problem?

  • The real problem is that it won’t generally be known until the last minute (ie. just before the event/meeting) whether a particular panel will be single sexed or mixed. The real point is in what Geoffrey Payne says, namely ensuring the organisers at least try and organise a representative panel; but do not expect them to succeed every time.

  • Daisy Cooper 13th Mar '13 - 8:54am

    Hi Mark, this is a great idea. There are two other things that could also help:- 1) I’d love to see the new LibDem Women group develop a roster of women party member experts; and 2) the fringe registration forms should include a prompt question requiring the organisers to check whether any of the speakers have signed up to this pledge.

    We should remember that women still carry a disproportionate burden of caring responsibilities for children/ elderly parents etc and many wont normally attend conference – this means they may not be known in the party so may never be invited to speak! A roster could help break this cycle., as an invitation to speak at conference might provide an extra incentive&reason to attend.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Mar '13 - 9:17am

    Good morning. I see there is more gentleman than ladies on this topic. Yes women do make better carers than men, that is well documented, we do in general better, than the males among us on the subject of caring.

    We do have time for other things, that is why I am surprised with the lack of women on a female topic.

    I think the balance within the party is a little out of balance. I agree with Daisy, there could be some improvements.

  • Helen, the piece is (I think quite consciously) aimed at men, so it’s not surprising that the comments have a reasonable proportion of men in them.

    I like the idea of WLD maintaining a list of experts on various topics though.

  • Helen- apart from Jennie’s point above, I don’t tend to comment on this website
    or in the forum that much any more. I love commenting and comment on many
    websites and forums.

    This one tho, I find very male-dominated. I wanted to try and change that by speaking
    up for women, but over a year or so found I just got more frustrated and in the end, bored,
    by the relentless closed mindedness and yes, sexism of some of the comments – also demonstrated
    by some comments in the media around recent allegations. I’d rather spend my time doing something
    else, more productive for myself and the party.

    So that’s why I don’t comment that much on LDV articles.

    Back on point, I think this is a great, voluntary idea.

  • Debbie Enever 14th Mar '13 - 8:49am

    I think more balanced panels is certainly something we should be working for, and asking the women’s group to co-ordinate seems very sensible.

    But Helen ” women do make better carers than men,.” Please don’t reinforce the gender stereotyping, just because some women do. When I left my children with their father to go to work this morning I left them with the best possible care – the suggestion my husband is any less qualified than me to care for our children ( or for many years, his dying mother) isn’t true and reinforces stereotypes which will hold gender equality back more than anything else. Women often hold women back more than men – just consider Thatcher …

  • Quite right Jayne when I was a wee thing fresh from the London School of Economics and with lots of passion about politics it was a bit of a shock to go to Lib Dem training events only to be told about “Colour me beautiful” and how to acccessorise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • sorry – I’m such a lost cause to Candy and friends that I can’t even SPELL accessorise

  • Paul Holmes 14th Mar '13 - 6:50pm

    Mind you Ruth these things do not just apply to women.
    I also was shocked when attending Target Seat PPC training, prior to getting elected in 2001, and being presented with the list of clothing that I was supposed to buy. It started I recall with 7 suits, one for each day of the week so that each one had 6 days to ‘recover’ on the hanger before being worn again for the next campaign session.
    a) I rarely canvassed/canvass in suits.
    b) In my world ordinary family men with 3 kids couldn’t possibly afford to buy the range of clothes suggested -colour co ordinated a la Spillane or not.

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