The Fight Continues

A little over ten years ago, this blog was founded to give women scholars, lawyers, policymakers and others a voice on issues related to international law, policy and practice. The idea was, in part, to counteract the argument that “there are no women” out there with relevant expertise on a particular international law topic, through a page listing women by their expertise. (By the way, if you’d like to update your expertise, you can email intlawgrrls@gmail.com  with “Expertise Update” in the subject line.)

Although progress has been made, the “manel,” and surprisingly, even the all-male or almost all-male conference, continue to live on.  See this conference taking place this week at McGeorge Law School on the fascinating topic of Russian interference in the 2016 election.  Nine men and zero women will be speaking, according to the website.

It is hard to believe that only men have something to say about this topic, which dominates the news cycle on a daily basis. If the organizers are looking to diversify, there are plenty of women they could contact with expertise in public international law, national security law, election law, and Russia.  A quick look at the IntLawGrrls, LawFare, Opinio Juris, and the JustSecurity blogs is enough to find numerous women with relevant expertise.  They could also check out a few law schools’ faculty profiles (e.g., nearby Stanford) and places like the Wilson Center.

The reason to eliminate “manels” is not that men and women bring different perspectives to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is an open question. Rather, the point is that these events give participants a chance to share scholarship and contribute to cutting edge debates in real time. They result in greater prestige and name recognition for the participants. They grow networks and open doors for future collaboration and job opportunities.  And, the presence of both sexes shows students and others in the audience that women also have something to say about these issues.

So what do we do about it? Marty Lederman recently called out a conference at the University of San Diego for having 14 men and one woman, on Twitter: “We academics (present company included) should stop treating this as acceptable/unremarkable.”  UC Irvine Professor and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye ends his emails with a signature block that includes, “& I don’t sit on manels.”  Their voices and their commitments are noteworthy and important.   In Geneva, numerous chiefs of international organizations have pledged not to sit on panels without gender parity or to ask about gender parity before accepting an invitation, through the Geneva Gender Champions Initiative.  In 2016, Champions intervened 42% of the time to request a change in the gender balance of a panel, resulting in changes 84% of the time.

Maybe it’s time we all had some hard conversations with our colleagues and asked them to refrain from sitting on such panels or attending such conferences going forward.  Maybe we should stop forwarding announcements for conferences and panels with no women involved.  Or maybe we should start featuring “manels” on IntLawGrrls. Thoughts?

 

********************

March 1, 2018

The McGeorge Global Law Center asked me to put their comment into the blog, so that people could read it without having to scroll through the comments. I am reproducing it here, with some of my own thoughts below:

“We are organizing the conference and thank you for raising an important concern. Please understand that as of Thursday, February 22, when the announcement went out, we had invited more than ten women to speak at the conference. However, only one accepted the invitation, and she unfortunately had to withdraw for personal reasons. While we were distressed at failing to secure women speakers, we thought it necessary to publicize the conference at that time given that it was but a week away. We are nevertheless continuing to look for women speakers. We have since approached an additional number of women, and while almost all of them have conflicts, we believe that one invitee will be able to participate and are working with her to accommodate her schedule. We would also note that our resident election law expert, Dean Mary-Beth Moylan, has always been scheduled to moderate the election law panel. (The announcement only listed speakers and not the moderators or organizers.)
We are very troubled that people would assume we had not considered inviting women speakers, and wish to take the opportunity to clarify the record. We hope you will consider acknowledging the same in the text of your blog post as readers may not scroll down to read all the comments that follow.
With thanks, McGeorge Global Center”

*******************************

I appreciate very much that McGeorge responded to this blog post and felt that it was important to clarify what their process was, and that they did, indeed, seek to include women. I wonder whether this was a fluke or whether it is a common phenomenon to invite 10 women and get only one who is available to participate (who unfortunately, dropped out in this particular case). Have others had similar experiences? Do men accept invitations to speak more frequently than women? If so, what explains that phenomenon?

I am also heartened that others have commented to this post or reached out to say that they are thinking about ways to ensure that women are included, like by asking organizers whether both sexes are present on the panel or at a conference.  Another question this exchange has raised is, what happens if you did reach out to women, and none were available? What responsibilities, if any, do the organizers have in such a situation? What can they do to send the message to their students and conference attendees, or to the broader community, that the participation of women is important to them?

I hope we can continue to have this dialogue in an open and respectful way, whether on, or off-line.

 

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9 thoughts on “The Fight Continues

  1. Thanks for raising this important issue, Nienke! It’s frustrating to see the continued existence of manels, despite all of the information about expertise on our blog. I look forward to hearing from other readers, but in the meantime am grateful to you for calling out this and other manels.

  2. There’s no valid reason that this is still happening. I’ve organized a large, highly technical professional conference for the past four years with over 200 speakers. The last two years we were at exact gender parity and the two years before that we were within percentage points of it. The committee selecting and inviting those speakers had to work hard at gender parity, but not as hard as these organization make it out to be. And, no surprise, once you make a commitment to it, and have the support of people like those who contribute to IntLawGrrls, it becomes much easier to find the highly qualified women with the expertise needed to address the topic.

    Official guidelines and policies are also crucial here. Every academic institution and organization should long ago have adopted a wide diversity policy regarding panels, and gender parity on panels is a legitimate part of that. (Speaking in my personal capacity for those who know whereof I speak)

  3. Nienke, thanks for highlighting this issue which may be obvious to readers of this blog, but obviously not to many who are organizing panels. Perhaps ILG readers could feature manels via this tumbler site: “All Male Panels” http://allmalepanels.tumblr.com/ which demonstrates how ubiquitous the manel is across continents and academic disciplines, while offering a bit of levity on the subject as well.

  4. I’m also glad for this notice and reminder that it’s a serious problem and serious steps can be taken.
    1. There is no substitute for being involved in planning, for those interested in advancing this objective (i.e., not just women). For those seeing a conference or panel announcement without particulars, volunteering to suggest names that would help improve gender parity is another route. It is much harder to change anything later.
    2. I liked the commitment to “not to sit on panels without gender parity or to ask about gender parity before accepting an invitation,” though per the first comment I’d be inclined to add “and in any case to reflect on and suggest potential participants who might improve parity.” I may have been looking in the wrong place, but I found the Geneva pledge and related materials kind of opaque.
    3. Sometimes “manels” result even though the people responsible are less at fault than usual. People may drop out or drag out consideration, leaving organizers high and dry. Organizers may seek or receive funding at the last minute, forcing them to issue a wave of invitations that is hard to balance effectively. Panelists may accept based on assurances that gender balance will be sought, and when for some reason it doesn’t result, it may not be feasible for them to withdraw. I have no reason to suppose that these excuse many instances. I’m only mentioning it to suggest that — barring extreme cases — should the suggestions of not circulating announcements (or naming and shaming) be taken up, it might be worth reaching out for explanations first, or at least signaling that certain kinds of excuses are legitimate and might be volunteered. This may be common ground.

  5. We are organizing the conference and thank you for raising an important concern. Please understand that as of Thursday, February 22, when the announcement went out, we had invited more than ten women to speak at the conference. However, only one accepted the invitation, and she unfortunately had to withdraw for personal reasons. While we were distressed at failing to secure women speakers, we thought it necessary to publicize the conference at that time given that it was but a week away. We are nevertheless continuing to look for women speakers. We have since approached an additional number of women, and while almost all of them have conflicts, we believe that one invitee will be able to participate and are working with her to accommodate her schedule. We would also note that our resident election law expert, Dean Mary-Beth Moylan, has always been scheduled to moderate the election law panel. (The announcement only listed speakers and not the moderators or organizers.)
    We are very troubled that people would assume we had not considered inviting women speakers, and wish to take the opportunity to clarify the record. We hope you will consider acknowledging the same in the text of your blog post as readers may not scroll down to read all the comments that follow.
    With thanks, McGeorge Global Center

  6. It is almost worse that the Dean was moderating, and was left out, then the original exclamation that was offered. Since the Publicity went out all over the country, which is how we all saw it, she was somehow mysteriously left off even though she is apparently an expert in the field, meaning that apparently you did not think her name really added much to your program.

  7. Following up on our comment above, we thank Prof. Grossman for acknowledging and reproducing our comment in the body of the post. Happily, Jean Hobler, Former Anti-Terrorism and National Security Coordinator, U.S. Attorney’s Office, E.D. Cal, Owner, agreed to and did speak at the conference yesterday. She gave a fascinating former national security prosecutor’s read of the recent indictment of Russian trolls. The Global Center also acknowledged and expressed regrets from the podium at the symposium about the dearth of women speakers there, and assured the audience that it was not for lack of trying.

  8. In response to Leila’s second comment dated Feb 28, which apparently did not appear until recently and after we had submitted our March 3 response, we would like to clarify that our decision to highlight only the speakers and to list neither the three moderators nor the two organizers was a gender-neutral decision. We were concerned that listing all 5 persons in addition to the 9 speakers would have overwhelmed the announcement and made it less impactful. All five moderators and organizers were of course similarly affected by the decision to showcase only the speakers.

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