Skip to main content
Newsroom Press release

Women Vastly Outnumbered at Europe’s Top Policy Events

Europe’s top 23 policy events feature an average of three male speakers to every woman, according to an Open Society Foundations report published on Thursday. The Foundations warned that the European Union could not achieve gender equality without more female role models taking the stage at key policy debates.

“These events reinforce the glass ceiling by presenting men as more important decision makers and limiting networking opportunities for women,” said Christal Morehouse, the report’s author and senior program officer for the Open Society Foundations.

“The policies being debated affect women and men equally—it’s perplexing that in 2018 women still don’t have an equal opportunity to shape them.”

The report, An End to Manels: Closing the Gender Gap at Europe’s Top Policy Events, uses a five-year statistical analysis of 12,600 speakers at leading European policy conferences to quantify, for the first time, the exact extent to which men dominate the stage.

Among the worst events for gender balance were the Munich Security Conference, which hosts just three female speakers for every seventeen male ones, and the Davos World Economic Forum, which averaged one female speaker for every four men. Both conferences provide an arena at which heads of state, business, and think tank leaders learn from each other’s experience and research. The international press report what speakers say from these podiums to the world.

“Policies need to work in diverse societies across Europe—if they’re shaped predominantly by one gender, they are unlikely to work for everybody,” said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute.

“Diverse views and experiences bring greater wisdom and a better connection with the needs and aspirations of citizens. If women are stuck on the margins, policy misses out on many great ideas and insights.”

Women made up half the speakers at only one conference, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.

While most conferences have shown little improvement in attracting more female speakers over the five years assessed, two events have shown that a concerted effort to balance panel gender can prove effective. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Forum increased its share of female speakers from 25 percent in 2014 to more than 43 percent in 2015 after issuing its conference organizers with a 50 percent target.

The Chatham House London Conference drastically improved gender balance from 28 percent female speakers in 2015 to 44 percent in 2016 by creating an internal gender awareness action plan.

“Inviting speakers based only on the seniority of their positions just perpetuates centuries of inequality,” said Alla Volkova, the report’s coauthor and a progam specialist at the Open Society Foundations. “Conferences that have looked instead to rising stars and talented female researchers have not only increased the diversity of their panels but made their debates much more interesting.” 

The Open Society Foundations report is the first in a series of briefs looking at the way policy discussions are dominated by older white men.

Further information as well as interviews with Open Society spokespeople or any of the female experts above may be available upon request.

Read more

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