The 34 all-male panels at Labour Conference are sexist. Vote with your feet and don’t attend

20th September, 2013 1:06 pm

All-male panels at Labour Conference Fringe events don’t exist, right? They’re a thing of the past, a dinosaur panel lumbering in from some bygone era when women still stayed in the kitchen and listened on the radio while their politico husbands were given platform after platform at political conferences…

Gone are the days when male MPs would employ their wives as Parliamentary secretaries, right? Gone are the days when a Labour Conference panel could casually announce its speakers – and not one women would sit on that list.

Well no, actually, those days aren’t gone. Whilst casually browsing through the Labour conference fringe guide, I was reminded (as I often am when looking at any political event speakers list) of quite how many men there were speaking. So I decided to do a little monitoring of the worst culprits – where there’s more than one speaker at the event, and none of them (including event chair) are women.

I used the Labour Party Fringe Guide to produce my statistics. If there’s a 50% chance that a panel member is a man, then the probability of an event with three speakers and a chair being all-male should be 6.25%. By that statistic, all male panels should be pretty rare. I found 34 on the Labour Party Fringe Guide. And the number creeps even higher when I looked at one-speaker events.

This figure is far too high. If there are 300 events each with 4 speakers (not an unreasonable assumption), then statistically you would expect to find 15-23 of them were all male. Yet there are 34 all-male panel events at Labour Party Conference.**

Of course if you expect to see 19 events with all-male panels, you would also expect to see 19 events with all-female panels. But I only found 3 –  and one of those was Labour Women’s Conference.

These statistics serve as a sharp reminder that women’s voices are underrepresented in politics. Even the Liberal Democrats are waking up to the fact they have as many MPs who are knights as are women. It is the responsibility of conference fringe organisers to ensure their events have the best panels they can get – and part of that is ensuring a variety of voices are heard. Is it really the best panel you can get on a subject when all the speakers have had male experiences of the topic?

As ardent LabourList fans will remember, Emma Burnell highlighted a number of panel discussions at last year’s conference where there was not a single woman’s voice to be heard. She asked conference attendees to think twice before attending an event with an all male panel. I will not be attending events with all male panels this year, becaue I think women’s voices need to be heard, and not just in discussions about “women’s issues”. I’m voting with my feet.

You should too.

So, it’s time to name and shame. Here are the all-male events I found in the online Labour Party Conference Fringe guide with more than one speaker, where there were no women, not even as a chair.*

Fringe title

Organisation

Date

Time

Investment in infrastructure – powering the economy

The Guardian in partnership with Hitachi

22nd

17:30

FE Week – Future of Apprenticeships

FE Week in partnership with Pearson

22nd

18:00

Auto Enrolment: It’s talked the talk, but can it walk the walk?

Social Market Foundation and B&CE

22nd

18:00

How will the next Labour Government support community pubs?

CAMRA, Campaign for Real Ale

22nd

19:30

What Difference can Labour make on Ireland? Meeting followed by traditional music from 21:30

Agreed Ireland forum

22nd

20:00

Save the Children Evening Reception

Save the Children

22nd

21:00

The Squeezed Middle: Can Britain afford not to save?

Social Market Foundation and Association of British Insurers

23rd

08:30

Growing the local social economy

Social Investment Forum

23rd

10:00

Beyond the Bubble: The Voters’ Verdict

Ipsos MORI

23rd

12:30

Kurdistan Region: Energy security and global politics

Kurdistan Regional government (KRG) UK Representation

23rd

12:30

Unlocking Mutuals: New capital investment for growth

Mutuo

23rd

12:30

Youth Insight: The reality and aspirations of the world of work for British youth

The Work Foundation and KFC

23rd

12:30

Does the key to your health care lie in the community?

Optical Confederation, National Community Hearing Association and Pharmacy Voice

23rd

13:00

A Portrait of Political Britain: How to win in 2015

Populus and Policy Exchange

23rd

13:00

Can research and innovation fuel the UK economy?

The Royal Society, The British Academy, The Royal Academy of Engineering and The Academy of Medical Sciences

23rd

13:00

Sharing the cost of social care: A new settlement for later life

Demos and Just Retirement

23rd

17:30

Launch of the remote warfare policy comission

University of Birmingham

23rd

17:30

From welfare-to-work: Local solutions to a national problem?

London Councils in association with Total Politics

23rd

17:45

 “Abortion Harms Women”

Labour Life Group

23rd

18:30

Council housing: A new dawn

The Smith Institute and Southwark Labour

23rd

18:00

Homes for Britain reception

Homes for Britain – a united voice for housing

23rd

19:30*

Does EU membership benefit British business? A debate

The Law Society, British Influence and Business for Britain

23rd

19:30

Constructing the future: How can we get young people back to work in our cities?

Centre for Cities and Willmott Dixon

24th

07:45

What do the banks and the NHS have in common? Cultures in crisis

CIPD

24th

08:00

Modern slavery: How can the UK step up its fight?

The Centre for Social Justice

24th

08:30

Does Labour take the North for granted?

IPPR North

24th

12:15*

Future of local public services

Westminster City Council

24th

12:30

Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus: Bridging the Gap

CIPD

24th

13:00

Britishness and the future of our communities. Join us to watch Ed’s speech with the experts

NatCen Social Research

24th

13:00

Homes fit for Families: Achieving a quality, safe, competitive private rented sector

Residential Landlords Association

24th

13:00

A vision for 2035: The future of rail

Transport Hub and CILT

24th

13:00

Manufacturing: How to be pro-growth

Demos and MBDA

24th

17:30

Air tax, visas, connectivity – does the UK have an aviation policy for growth?

Transport Hub, AOA and ABTA

24th

18:45

Powering sustainable growth: Seizing economic opportunity from renewable energy

Labour Friends of Cycling

Dods Renewable Energy Dialogue

Labour Friends of Cycling event

24th

23rd

19:30

12.30

*NOTE: Some events have recently confirmed female speakers and posted on their websites. We have struck through these events to highlight this. To create our table, we used data which was correct as of midday 19th September, from fringe.labour.org.uk .

**[statistical side note – expected value is 19 events, with standard deviation 4, so 34 is approximately 3.5 standard deviations from the expected value, and would generally be assumed to be statistically significant]

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  • John Ringer

    Great work on this, Kirstin. Hopefully comrades won’t give you too much abuse for pointing this out – some people get very sensitive (or “mangry” as I like to say) when you point out sexism…

  • Toby Perkins MP

    The CAMRA event now has Rowenna Davis, PPC for Southampton Itchen on the panel, and did have before this article appeared, although the article makes an important point nontheless.

  • iainmontgomery

    I won’t be at Conference, but will be sharing this with as many people who will be as I can.
    Good work.

  • Sir Trev Skint MP

    Women could just organise their own events instead of waiting for men to appoint them!

  • For the Liberal Democrat conference, Mark Thompson and myself arranged a little campaign to persuade MPs etc. to refuse to take part in a panel if it’s all male – http://www.markpack.org.uk/39690/opinion-are-you-a-man/

    That seems to have worked quite well at helping to take a few more steps in the right direction. A similar lobbying campaign for Labour conference might similarly have an impact?

  • lisybabe

    It would be interesting to extend this further. Labour are supposed to be the party of the people. Except they’re mostly white heterosexual non-disabled men.

    I’d like to see a breakdown of how many panels are all white, all non-disabled and all heterosexual.

    For example; people with some kind of impairment make up 18% of the population. So almost one in 5 speakers should be disabled. If Labour want to start winning back disabled people’s trust after the ESA debacle they should start with representation at conference. Why have a social policy panel with all non-disabled speakers when there are disabled people qualified? Why have an all non-disabled panel on global warming when there disabled experts? Etc, etc.

    Repeat for gay people, non-white people, and so on until you have a conference that’s made up of the people it claims to want to represent.

  • ColinAdkins

    Kirstin well done. About twenty years ago there was an organisation called Socialist Women on All Male Platforms (SWAMP). I used to organise Anti-Apartheid Movement fringes at Party, TUC and other conferences. The formidable Terry (f) Marsland, then GS of the Tobacco Workers pointed out to me the lack of women on one such platform. I started my excuses …’ I cannot control who the ANC or SWAPO send’ etc etc. She shut me up with ‘no more excuses just sort it’. it would be fair to say I never had to make excuses again. It just takes some thought.

  • EmmaBurnell

    Challenged a few organisation on this on Twitter. Glad to say the Homes for Britain reception will have Grania Long from CIH speaking.

  • Ben Cobley

    While it is of course quite right to raise concern about this issue, it’s way off the mark to call it ‘sexist’. Sexism and racism are practices, actions. They are not self-evident in a bunch of statistical data. If they were, then you would be justified in calling the Premier League ‘sexist’ and the Scottish Highlands ‘racist’.

    Also, I’m guessing that the bulk of people organising those events are actually female. Such things never get mentioned in these sorts of articles though. Guilt lies in the data rather than in individual people’s choices and behaviour. The point seems to be to provide support to a pre-arranged conclusion, using data to support the agenda rather than seeking to understand what is really going on. That’s understandable; we can’t realistically do the latter all the time.

    But we should at least be rather more careful with our language.

    When people get ‘called out’ as guilty like this for not necessarily doing anything actually wrong, they tend to turn away and sometimes become outright hostile to the people doing it – in this case the Labour Party. We do far too much of this sort of thing with our identity politics, and as it’s becoming more institutionalised into the party, it’s not doing us any favours, even if it may attract the vocal True Believers.

    http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/

  • EmmaBurnell

    Indeed – this is something that several of us have been working on with some – but clearly not total – success.

    Also adding further pressure to the Party to put pressure on event organisers.

    • I’m sure the thought of being less good than the Lib Dems will encourage some of your colleagues!

  • Pete

    I’m sorry, but I think it’s a little bit ridiculous to decry this as indicative of endemic sexism within the Labour movement. Yes, it is daft to have any single-sex discussion of an issue in the 21st century, but it is hardly the result of malicious sexism (except, perhaps, in the case of the Labour Life Group – how can you make the claim that ‘Abortion harms women?’ when you can’t find a woman to support you?!).

    Take the SMF, for example. You want members to boycott the Social Market Foundation for being sexist – even though the SMF has several other conference events that are mixed-sex, including two that include female shadow ministers, has a perfect 50:50 gender balance among its staff, has a board of directors which is not only one-third women but chaired by a woman, and has several prominent women on its policy advice committee (including our own Rachel Reeves MP and Sarah Jackson of Working Families). Not exactly a bastion of militant anti-female feeling, is it? The same goes for the Guardian, the Centre for Social Justice (worth noting half of its 23 staff, including the Operations Director, are women) and Westminster City Council, and I’m sure others on the list.

    There are 430 events at conference, most of which overlap with each other, and many of which are held by third party organisations. I would imagine that in a number of cases, organisations hoped to book female speakers who were unavailable, possibly because they are appearing at another conference or event at ours. As you’ve seen all ready, even in the days running up to conference, some groups were still finalising their panel details. It’s not as straightforward as simple statistical probability,

    I think any single-sex panel is a bit ridiculous in the modern world, but as you yourself have said, statistically, some are going to exist – and if we accuse any organisation that puts one forward as being guilty of malicious sexism, all we are going to do is tell them it isn’t worth coming to Labour’s conferences anymore. It’s much better to engage positively and constructively with those groups.

    I’d also make the point that if you’re concerned about a lack of female voices at an event, isn’t encouraging women to boycott them only going to make the problem worse, not better?

  • Pete

    With respect, how would you measure the “all heterosexual” criteria? For one, just because someone has a partner of the opposite sex doesn’t mean they’re heterosexual. The vast majority of gay people are also indistinguishable from their straight counterparts in every respect except for who they feel attraction to, so unless you plan to ask intimate questions about everyone’s sex and love life, screening them is going to be pretty difficult. These two points apply pretty well to disabled people, as well – mental health issues are much less obvious but no less serious than physical problems, and some physical difficulties aren’t obvious at all. Third, most of these panels are small – four to five people – and each deals with completely different issues, so it draws from a unique cross-section of society. That makes it impossible to ever get a perfectly representative sample of the country’s makeup.

    I’m not denying the situation can’t be improved – there’s much that could and should be done, and I think as younger people start to replace the current generation of political and business leaders, we’re going to see a much more diverse leadership culture, because at least part of the problem will always be generational. But I really don’t think it can ever be as simple as “group X represents Y percent of the population, so Z panels should have X people”, because the reality is much more complicated and sadly not as clear-cut.

  • Benjamin Reid

    Hi Kirstin,

    I agree there should be a higher percentage of women panellists at conference.

    Our event, Youth Insight (Monday at 12:30) has Puja Darbari, Uk Director of Strategy at Barnardo’s on the panel, but she had not been able to confirm at the time we sent the event details through to meet the Fringe Guide deadline.

    Ben, the Work Foundation

  • Rebel with Cause

    Most distressing and inappropriate of these all male panels is the one on abortion. Were it all female it could be ok just but this is positively antideluvial.

    And this just when I was thinking of voting Labour. Guess not yet

  • Andrew Gray

    So what you’re saying is that these events should be boycotted because of their gender? Just because the ‘specialist’ in this case happens to be a male?

    How petty.

  • Daniel Speight

    Mind you most of these events would be worth missing anyway, although real beer…

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