Every so often I share a link on Facebook about panel parity, with a focus on gender. What usually happens is someone comes along and says that quotas are bad and can’t we just get the best people on panels.
In the recent past, a number of conventions have said things like “We plan to put the best people on panels”. What usually happens is that you get a majority of panels with 4-5 men sitting around talking. I think we can agree that there might be something wrong with this.
Here is a Truth that is often missed out by a lot of people against panel parity. Panel parity is the aim to have the best people on panels.
However we can’t just magically have that, despite what some people think we still have a society that is filled with bias.
Whenever I try to put together a panel, I usually think about who I know might be good for the panel. I think about who I have seen previously is a good speaker, who I know has written relevant works.
This seems a reasonable step; the problem is that because women don’t get to be on many panels, I don’t immediately think about women to put on panels. Yes, this is my bias, but I think that it might be a bit more wide-spread.
So I set myself a target of at least having 40% of my participant slots having women in them. I also want to have a similar target for each panel, while knowing it may not be possible; this is what I have called “soft quotas”.
The 40% is the least that any convention that wants to draw in more attendance from women should be doing.
The point, for me at least, of ‘soft quotas’ is that it forces me outside my comfort zone, it forces me to justify why I have four men on a panel with no women. Sometimes that might be justified, but I had better know why I have done it.
I am looking forward to the day when people will do stuff like gender balance without having to think about it, but until then I am going to do my hardest to make sure that any event I am involved in is at least getting parity at the convention level if not at the panel level.