In this day and age, there is no room for all-male panels, or “manels,” as they are commonly known.
Yet, a quick search of Twitter for #manels or #allmalepanel reveals it remains the norm, with picture after picture of them occurring in a wide array of scientific and medical disciplines. Some try to excuse the error with a woman moderator – a “mom-erator” doing the “housekeeping” of managing the presentations. This is just as bad, if not worse.
I need to make one thing clear. If all of the panelists on a panel are male, it’s a #manel It doesn’t matter if a women is moderator — it’s still a manel. Having a woman do the moderating “housekeeping” of a session, and thinking it qualifies as inclusion is wrong & insulting.
— Daniel O’Maley (@domaley) July 28, 2020
As women who practice as gynecologic surgeons, the representation issue appears particularly stark.
In a field that is for and about women, our presence is notably lacking in leadership and professional opportunities. And this lack of gender representation belies a much larger concern: the failure of our discipline to achieve broad diversity across not only gender, but also race, ethnicity, sexual orientation in opportunities for advancement.
As succinctly stated by reporter Lauren Whaley, “male-only panels are a symptom of a much bigger problem: the lack of representation and inclusion in science writ large.”
Male-only panels present a less nuanced view of any topic given the lack of diversity. They perpetuate our expectation that rigorous science is performed by men and typically by white men, discouraging aspiring women who might chose STEM.
The downstream effects are apparent in less funding for research in women’s health and in development of surgical instruments that don’t fit women surgeons’ hands, among other examples.
Leadership opportunities are less available to women for similar reasons to those underlying the prevalence of “manels.”
Chairs of OB/GYN departments are predominantly male (80%). Gender disparities in pay in medicine are worse than those in other professions. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, yet women in the U.S. are still typically only paid 82 cents for every dollar men are paid. In medicine, women physicians and surgeons are paid only 71% of what their male counterparts are paid.sh
This June, a webinar put on by a medical device company on a gynecologic surgery technique featured 12 men and exactly zero women. It’s worth noting that 50% of gynecologic surgeons and 85% of trainees in the field are women.
At first I was met with “well there are no women who perform this technique.” NO WOMEN in all of Ob/Gyn. I doubled down that inexorable zero is never an excuse. If there were no women then why didn’t they train women like they did the men? Then the phone call w/ a director …
— Kelly Wright MD (@MigsRunner) June 8, 2020
Even in a field about women, for women. We need our male colleagues, we need diversity in our field. But we need equal leadership opportunities. #MIGS #MoreThanOne #ILookLikeASurgeon #WomenInSTEM @ManelWatchUS @JulieSilverMD @RUBraveEnough @CapriceGreenber
— Kelly Wright MD (@MigsRunner) June 8, 2020
The company responded to feedback about the lack of gender diversity on the panel with the excuse that there were no women trained in the technique. If this is, in fact, the case, it points to an even more dire concern: why? why aren’t women receiving these trainings and opportunities?
The problem is endemic in physician relationships with industry. 97% of medical device companies involved in women’s health technologies are led by men. Women physicians are less likely to be named as “Key Opinion Leaders” (KOLs) by medical device companies, therefore getting fewer speaking opportunities and less compensation from industry. And unlike in medicine, where women make up 50.5% of medical school students, only 20% of graduating engineers were women in 2017. The lack of women in engineering means that devices made for women have very little input from women from the ground up. The development, leadership, and KOLs for medical devices for women are mostly men. What are we missing by not including women in the discussion of these products?
The solution to this problem is not complex.
In her article, Lauren Whaley notes a conference (The Ethics of Making Babies, run by one of the authors of this blog post) and how many women were invited speakers. This was intentional and reflects what happens when you put a woman in charge of recruiting for panels.
We frequently refuse to attend or loudly complain when we run across “manels,” and that is one step we can all take. But, ultimately, we need allies who will actively seek out women, and especially women of color, for their expertise. National and international organizations and societies should create publicly released policies that delineate their commitment to diverse representation on panels and for invited speakers.
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, called for an end to “manels” in 2019. He committed to decline participation if underrepresented groups were “conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences.” Allyship by those like Dr. Collins will prompt conference organizers to rethink their speakers and put an end to “manels.”
All those not previously invited to speak will easily rise to the occasion. There are incredible speakers and leaders waiting in the wings, ready and able to share their ideas and expertise. For those who might complain that “quotas” of this type are unfair – you’ve missed the point. We ask simply that those recruiting for these opportunities cast their net wider and deeper. We all stand to gain broader knowledge and enhanced perspective from more diverse panels.
Kelly Wright is an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.
Louise P. King is Director of Reproductive Bioethics at the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School.