‘Where are the women speakers’ webinar

On July 1, 2020, Women in Geospatial+ welcomed four distinguished speakers to join a geospatial panel discussion: ‘Where are the Women Speakers?’ as part of a webinar series on career development. Moderated by WiG+ co-founder, Julia Wagemann, the webinar began with the launch of the Women in Geospatial+ Speakers Database, meant to facilitate organizations in finding relevant women and people from underrepresented genders to be speakers for conferences and events. Aida Montfort Muriach, the database engineer, described how to register and search the database, which currently hosts 126 women+ speakers from 37 countries.

After the introduction to the database, Liz McCullagh (500 Women Scientists), Dr. Rachael Murray (Queensland University of Technology), Marie Hemingway (Jacobs and Women’s Infrastructure Network), and Todd Barr (AIR Worldwide and The Mappyist Hour podcast) weighed in on questions from the audience.

When asked about the prevalence of “manels” (male-only panels), Hemingway pointed to the trouble of having decision-making committees that are not diverse: the resulting panels are similarly likely to lack diversity. McCullagh described how inequality in gender representation in the career structure affects the diversity in conferences – the person with the most prestige in the field will probably be a male. She suggested that organisers should choose their speakers based on passion and knowledge of the topic, instead of prestige alone.

The panelists then responded to how to successfully challenge a manel in a constructive way, without self-alienating. Hemingway recommended a three tiered approach, urging the organisers, panelists, and attendees to question the diversity of the panel before committing to hosting, joining, or attending the conference.

  • Organisational perspective: Make sure that you are pushing policies like “no women no panel”
  • Panelist perspective: Ask who the other panelists are, politely challenge if it is an all-male panel
  • Attendee perspective: When you see all-male panel events, you politely challenge it

Murray joined by suggesting panelists and attendees ask about a company’s diversity policy, exploring the diversity (or lack thereof) of previous events, and then giving the organisation a chance to fix it once noting a lack of diversity.

The panel discussion ended with pushes for women+ and allies to engage and push for diversity. McCullagh emphasized the need to engage allies and amplify other women+. Barr echoed this point, noting the importance of advocacy both by women+ and allies to push for mentors who are diverse. Similarly, Murray pushed attendees to expand their networks to include more diverse individuals, specifically BIPOC & BAME, LGBTQ+ and voices from the Global South. Hemingway emphasized the motto: ‘speak often and speak up.’

Although their advice varied, their main point was clear:

Women+ speakers are out there, and the responsibility to find them lies on women+, allies, and the conference organisers.

Check out: The unseen consequences of all male panels by Marie Hemingway.


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