Opinion: How many all-male panels will there be at Autumn Conference?

Guardian 2 photo by Liberal democratsPersonally, I’d like there to be none. And that’s why I have today written to Tim Gordon, CEO, and Tim Farron, party President, asking for a message to be sent to all internal and external organisations holding fringe events at Autumn conference, to remind them of the need for diverse panels, including gender balance. I’ve also asked that the same be done for all local parties who will soon be electing their Executives.

A while back, Mark Pack announced his decision to decline invitations to sit on all-male panels at Liberal Democrat fringes, urging other men to take the same course of action. I hope they hold firm to their promise.

And please remember: this isn’t about tokenism. People’s views are often shaped by their identities, experiences and interests, and a particular policy may impact upon people or groups differently by virtue of them being a woman, having a disability, or any other factor.

It’s also important that we breaking the ‘lazy cycle’ whereby previous panel speakers are often the first ones to be asked to speak at future events, thereby perpetuating the ‘male, pale, and (sometimes!) stale’ line-ups.

If you’re involved in organising a fringe event, please take that little bit of extra time to find good speakers from all walks of life, and ensure that a range of voices are heard at your event.

If you’re not sure how to find them, contact Liberal Democrat Women, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Disability Association, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, or Liberal Youth. Or HQ’s Diversity Unit.

Photo of Guardian fringe by Liberal Democrats

* Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans.

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7 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jul '14 - 5:51pm

    A better question would be “how diverse will our panels be?”. It might be nitpicking, but people are judging people all the time and I think the wide diversity approach is better. I know other equalities are mentioned, but they still seem a bit of a footnote.

    Best wishes

  • Toby Keynes 18th Jul '14 - 6:02pm

    I’ve organised quite a few fringe events now, for Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats.

    I don’t think we’ve ever failed to line up at least one person of each sex, including the meeting’s chair, but sometimes, frankly, it’s been a bit of a struggle avoid an all-male line-up. That’s despite the fact that we (men) are often outnumbered at our committee meetings.

    If I were only trying to ensure gender diversity, it wouldn’t be quite so challenging – but the nature and ethos of HSLD means that I certainly don’t want a panel made up entirely of humanists and atheists agreeing with each other, so my first priority tends to be to have at least one religious beliefs represented. I also want a reasonable variety of parliamentarians, local politicians and outsiders. All in all, I’m having juggle quite a few diversity demands of my own.

    So is it a bit of pain? Sometimes.

    Is it a worth while aim? Definitely, and it’s regularly forced me to cast my net wider than I might otherwise have done, and find fresh voices.

  • Good point by Daisy that most people may overlook because of the faux outrage over gender comment that will inevitably come – our panels are always the same.

    Not just the speakers, but the people that turn up; and that speaks volumes. I can count on one hand the number of panels that concern, say, education or youth unemployment that have actual young people there. And I don’t need any hands to count how many times a young person who actually attends said panel has been chosen to ask a question.

  • Daisy Cooper 20th Jul '14 - 8:11pm

    Eddie – you’re right, in some ways, that would have been a better question, but achieving gender balance is arguably the first hurdle and we’re still not there yet…. You’ll see I’ve listed all of the groups concerned with diversity so there are no excuses!

    Toby – great to hear it! Thanks v much for taking the time to do this.

    Stace – thanks… This is more grist to the mill!

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jul '14 - 9:09pm

    Daisy, thanks for replying. I am open minded to the idea that gender is the most important aspect of diversity.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 21st Jul '14 - 11:30am

    Dear Colleagues,

    I am personally really pleased that Daisy Cooper who is a Federal Executive member herself is challenging this matter, but I hope that other Federal members do likewise and then a critical mass of support will be built that will lead to positive change.

    Frankly I believe that it is utterly appalling that in the 21st Century we have ALL male panels. In my opinion until we start to tackle and resolve issues relating to the Gender Agenda, I believe that we will continue to unsuccessfully deal with other equality matters.

    Simply put, if we are happy to discriminate against the majority of the population, then those in a physical minority have little hope.

    This is why I personally support some form of positive or affirmative action to redress the imbalances that exist within the Party and wider society .

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair
    Newbury Town Council – Councillor for Victoria Ward & Deputy Leader

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