Abi Symons

Fifteen is the magic number (but only if you’re a man)

Our writer was shocked to find that not one woman could be found to attend a round table event

October 19, 2017 16:20

I recently received an email from a Jewish charity about one of their fundraising events. It seemed entirely innocuous at first and like all the other mass-marketed events emails I receive. That is, until I read it.

The event being marketed is the Industry Leaders Round Table Dinner focusing on the property industry and comprising of fifteen advertised speakers. You’re right, that does seem like a really large number of speakers. A quick scan followed by an almost cartoonish double take and a much closer look, told me that all of these speakers are men. Fifteen speakers and not one woman? I googled every name on that list to check just in case any of them were a woman called Ian or Keith. You never know and I live in hope. Fifteen industry-leading companies were approached and apparently, not one single woman could be found to represent any company. I couldn’t believe that in 2017 I was looking at the biggest all-male panel since Donald Trump’s last bill signing.

Luckily there was one female name on the email, other than my own. The person managing the RSVPs is a woman. So we haven’t totally forgotten that “not-men” exist. I emailed the organisers back, asking:

“Is there any reason that all the speakers are male? I find it hard to believe that in 15 companies nobody found any women. It's extremely disappointing to see no female representation.”

The response I got was almost as tired and rehashed as the situation itself.

“Unfortunately all of the women we approached were unable to help this time, we would most definitely love to have more women on our list so if you have anyone you think may be suitable please do send their details to me for next year.”

I’m sure that’s true. I’m sure a couple of women were asked and when they declined, nobody thought to try for, y’know, other women. I wonder if anyone thought to approach The Association of Women in Property. I bet they’d have helped. Male Champions of Change have an excellent document called The Panel Pledge on how to ensure a gender balance. It’s full of helpfully formatted tips and advice on how to avoid inviting only men. You’d think it would be as simple as also inviting women. Alas, it isn’t.

The thing is I think that the organisation in question is a phenomenal charity that does important and necessary work in our community for some of the most vulnerable people. That makes it all the more galling to receive such a flimsy excuse. There are a lot of examples of panels made up of 3-5 men. Probably the most famous recent example is the PayPal all-male panel on gender equality. Yes, you did read that correctly. That kind of number might elicit an eye roll, a grumpy tweet and a complaint email but fifteen? I don’t know how many women were asked, but the more I think about it, the more it seems obvious that there couldn’t have been a great effort put into finding any women and it is absurd to me that no one tried harder.

An article published in March 2017 in Estate Agent Today written by multi-award-winning estate agency trainer and consultant Richard Rawlings, states “British estate agency, unlike agency in most other countries, is still dominated by “Men in Black”. As an industry, we are possibly among the guiltiest of all in terms of gender discrimination.” He later states that in America, 69% of estate agents are women. Come on guys. If America has got this, can’t we try a little bit harder?

The problem with putting on an event with an all-male panel is that it discourages women from being there at all. Aside from the fact that there is no one to tell them what it’s like to be a woman in that industry, it perpetuates the boys’ club mentality for men and it becomes even harder for women to access. Why should women be excluded even more than they already have been? If anything, events like this should be a platform to ensure that women in industries with little-to-no gender equality (like property) are even more visible. You want to see who’s at the top of the industry? Great, we’ll show you: look at these women who are right here with the men. It just isn’t that hard.

In light of all that has happened in the last week with revelations of how Harvey Weinstein treated women in their workplaces, after the #metoo viral campaign on Facebook to raise awareness of all the harassment or abuse that women face, it’s exhausting that we have to fight this kind of battle on our own doorstep. In the Jewish communal world we are making progress, but it is clear from this that women are still being shut out from these public spaces, not seen and not heard. I imagine there were enough people involved in the planning of this event that someone should have flagged up there ought to be more female representation. And yet…

It isn’t good enough.

So how many men on a panel does it take to rile up a feminist? No fewer than 15, it turns out. 

October 19, 2017 16:20

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