Manel (noun) - a conference, TV, expert panel comprised entirely of men. Men-only panel.
I was born and raised in Saint-Petersburg, Russia – not a particularly diverse city, and I would not be identified as a visible minority. So, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about diversity until a relatively recent trip to San Francisco. I was walking with my friend who had moved there a few years back, and he shared some enlightening yet disappointing facts about the racial divide in the tech sector in California. Upon returning to Canada, I continued mulling over our discussion. It was clear to me that I was uninformed on the matter. Wanting to learn more and to spotlight the issue, we at StackAdapt decided to make a documentary on the broader topic of diversity in the tech sector. When our documentary was unexpectedly picked up and featured on the front page of the Financial Post, it became apparent that the issue was not only relevant, but that there was (and is) a desire in the tech community to develop understanding and seek solutions.
Diversity may refer to a broad set of characteristics including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities. And while many groups are underrepresented in the tech industry, I found the persistent lack of women particularly surprising given that world’s population is split virtually evenly between men and women.
This is perhaps, in part at least, related to the broader issue of women representation in business leadership (or lack of thereof). The numbers are staggering. For example, only 2% of all venture capital funding in 2017 went to female-founded companies. Among the top 100 venture firms, the percentage of women partners edged up to a mere 8%. Of the Fortune 500 companies, only 5% had women CEOs.
Last month I was invited to join an industry panel. About week prior, it became apparent that the panel would be made up entirely of men. Having been recently made more sensitive to this issue, I saw this as a problem, and felt some discomfort at the thought of participating. However, I felt it was too late to withdraw. During the event, I was uncomfortably aware of the number of women in the audience, and of how (in my perception) I had mansplained their own industry to them for the better part of an hour. I left the event unsatisfied and frustrated.
Not being able to fall asleep that night, I thought about what had gone wrong. Right before I finally dozed off, I decided on how I would approach the issue of women’s participation in panels in the future. I woke up the next day and wrote this:
If I am invited to join a panel that calls for an individual with a certain expertise, experience, or knowledge (e.g. a “digital advertising expert”, or a “startup founder”, or “someone who raised venture funding”) but does not necessarily have to be me personally, and my participation would mean we have created a manel, then I will decline the offer in favour of nominating a female participant.
Hi reader, thanks for taking the time to read this (or any of my previous articles). I am curious to hear from you! Do you agree / disagree? Have you watched / participated in manels? How did those make you feel? Leave a comment below.