Manels…they’re a thing. It’s rarely intentional, but one of the challenges in volunteers working on components of a conference is that they aren’t always in a position to see how their individual work impacts the big picture. For the National Association of State Procurement Officials, well-intentioned volunteers developing conference sessions worked to identify individuals with the best expertise on each topic. But, NASPO found that a conference pieced together by different volunteers ends up with session after session of men-only being presented as the experts in the field. The “manel” phenomenon didn’t go unnoticed, one evaluation response noted “The last few panels were devoid of women. Given the large number of women involved in procurement, and the specific challenges women face…I hope that next year the panels are more balanced.”
To address the issue of “manels” and take a stand that the organization proactively seeks to bolster underrepresented communities among the speaker base, step one was to create a Speaker Diversity and Inclusion Policy (the full text is included below). But a policy is only as good as those who carry it out. So, the next step was to use the policy as a call to action for all staff and volunteers working on events. Staff suggesting speakers or working with volunteers sought out a balance of gender, regional representation, ethnicity and other factors to broaden the potential pool of subject matter experts. Volunteers were educated on the issue and reminded to look at the overall agenda – not just the topic expertise for their session – to ensure the rich diversity of the organization was reflected fully in the event.
For one of NASPO’s events, women went from representing only 26% of speakers in 2016, to over 47% in 2017 and up to 58% in 2018. One particular topic enjoyed a 180-degree flip to feature an all-female panel discussing Information Technology issues! Not only do members of the association feel like they are more accurately represented, but by proactively acknowledging the diversity in NASPO’s membership and sharing the policy with volunteers, the conference team became empowered to include consideration of all the factors at play in selecting speakers, not just technical expertise. Volunteers are more engaged in the overall development of the program and there is a whole new wave of diversity-advocates ready to take on the “Killer Manel” for the next conference!
Speaker Diversity and Inclusion
NASPO believes inclusion of diverse perspectives is critical to the educational integrity of conferences and meetings. NASPO conference committees, work groups and staff organizers actively pursue speakers, presenters, facilitators and leaders from diverse backgrounds. NASPO will not tolerate discrimination against those in consideration for inclusion as a speaker at NASPO conferences or meetings based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, veteran status or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.