New research shows women are underrepresented in Europe's top policy forums. Here's why that mattersby Stephanie Boland / March 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
Does it matter whose ideas are heard? New research by the Open Society Foundations one Europe’s top 23 policy events showed that on average, conferences feature three male speakers to every woman.
Only one conference—the Organisation for Security and co-operation in Europe’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting—approached gender parity.
Some, including the Munich Security Conference, Bruegel Annual Meetings (which discuss key issues in European and Global economics) and the Riga Conference (which discusses foreign policy and defence) had less than 1 in 5 female speakers.
A different perspective
Of course, as with female representation in any area—journalism, business, academia—the issue is not that an individual man and individual woman will necessarily have different policy ideas. But in the aggregate, women’s insights matter.
“The policies being debated affect women and men equally,” explains Christal Morehouse, the report’s author and senior program officer for the Open Society Foundations.
“It’s perplexing that in 2018 women still don’t have an equal opportunity to shape them.”
This is the case in everything from research around families—women are still likely to do the majority of unpaid labour in the home—to economic policy.
Research published by shadow equalities minister Sarah Champion in March 2017, for instance, showed that UK women are bearing 86 per cent of the austerity burden.
“Policies need to work in diverse societies across Europe—if they’re shaped predominantly by one gender, they are unlikely to work for everybody,” says Heather Grabbe, Director of the Open Society European Policy Institute.
Where the problem originates
Of course, there are several reasons women may be underrepresented. It is certainly true that international conferences are often more difficult for women of a certain age to attend (as, again, women still take on the majority of unpaid labour in the home, including childcare).
Anecdotally, organisers also suggest that women are more likely to turn down an invitation on a topic they feel unsure about, whereas male speakers are more likely to take the risk.
Yet in most cases the problem starts earlier, with men and women not receiving an equal number of invitations to speak.
One issue is that men are more likely to be promoted to senior roles—again, particularly in older age brackets where women may be taking, or have taken, a career break.
Conferences which aim to invite…