Skip to main content
Newsroom Press release

Male Dominated Topics Rule at Europe’s Top Policy Events

Men dominate speaking roles at Europe’s top 23 policy events and particularly in debates on foreign policy; the European Union; crime, terrorism and security; economics; environment, climate and energy; and technology. In the second of a two-part series from the Open Society Foundations on closing the gender gap at Europe’s high-level policy events, An End to Manels II finds that even for a male dominated stage, some topics are extraordinarily male.

“We must seriously consider the long-term effects of the absence of female voices from influential discussions on foreign policy or economics for example,” said Christal Morehouse, the report’s author and senior program officer for the Open Society Foundations. “Closing the gender gap at Europe’s top policy events is not just about better representation, more importantly it’s about reaping the benefits of hearing new ideas and introducing diverse perspectives into these events and the policy decisions that follow,” commented Alla Garcia, the report’s co-author and program specialist for the Open Society Foundations.

The first report in the series found Europe’s top policy events feature an average of three male speakers to every woman. An End to Manels II takes a closer look at what topics are discussed and by whom; the report examines 23 conferences, 122 events, 20,615 speaking roles, and 4,601 conference panels.

Economic issues dominate debates at high-level conferences in Europe and men dominate these discussions. In 2017, for every panel that debated gender, 16 discussed economics. In contrast, gender and discrimination, issues with a higher proportion of female speakers, are seldom discussed at these conferences. In 2017, of the 921 panels examined, 13 were on gender and 11 on discrimination.

The report finds that Europe’s top policy events remain focused on a traditional set of issues which are often, according to Eurobarometer data, out of touch with Europeans’ real concerns. High-level conferences must balance providing long-term thinking and policy advice with responding to public opinion. Identity, nationalism, and migration for example—all issues of popular concern causing major political ramifications in Europe today—rank low among the topics discussed at Europe’s leading conferences.

“When the same people talk about the same issues together, they tend to come to the same conclusions over and over,” said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute. “In our rapidly changing world, we need to break this pattern. Fresh perspectives are needed on democracy, security, and economics—and women have a lot to contribute on all these issues.”

An End to Manels II recommends that conference hosts devote more time and effort to identifying female experts on male-dominated topics; conference organizers might also explore twinning dominant and less dominant topics, such as examining how gender and discrimination affect the economy. Likewise, conference hosts must also encourage the participation of male speakers on the one issue that has been a majority female conversation at high level conferences: gender. The report also recommends that conference hosts make a greater effort to explore topics that matter to citizens.

In response to the reports’ findings, the Open Society Initiative for Europe is launching a call for proposals in early 2019 to help increase the number of female experts on topics where they are severely underrepresented as speakers at high-level conferences. Interested parties can email to find out more.

Read more

Subscribe to updates about Open Society’s work around the world