Why All Male Panels Matter

And here’s why.

1. There is no shortage of qualified women who are ready and willing to speak on panels about their expertise in post production.

Really, I know a lot of them. In fact, I’ve been putting together a list (the Women in Post PR List) of female identifying post production experts over the last year who are interested in speaking on panels, being interviewed on podcasts and in magazines, and any number of other public events. You can request the current list from me anytime via email: kyleepena at gmail dot com. And if you’re a woman, you can add, update or remove your information anytime. There are many lists out there to find women for jobs, and this one is focused only on women in all areas of post production: sound, picture, tech, executive, everything.

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Adobe-sponsored gender gap panel at NAB in 2015.

I don’t do all the legwork for you here. I don’t know who is going to be at NAB or IBC. That’s not what this is intended to solve. This is a blunt force tool to introduce more women to your circles. Do you need a database of men who are attending a conference to know they’ll be there, or are they already in your social media circles and in your Rolodexes? Put in some networking effort in the off seasons to make your circles more inclusive — you’ll benefit too.

I’ve put together several panels over the last year and a half for the Blue Collar Post Collective in Los Angeles. I have never had any issues with gender parity. “But you’re a woman,” you might say. Well, I know a whole lot of dudes too.

Many of the women who speak on my panel have never spoken on one before. Sometimes they’re nervous. Most of the time they just haven’t ever been considered or asked.

A Blue Collar Post Collective panel on the VFX pipeline in spring 2017.

“But I tried and I couldn’t find any women to be on my panel.” “I booked a woman but she canceled.”

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No, there are women. We’re 20% of the post work force in Hollywood. There aren’t infinite women to choose from (not yet, anyway). But if you can’t find women to put on your panel, that’s an issue with your network, not with women.

“This is just how it ended up, I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

To quote Dawn Foster in her fabulous book Lean Out: “Of course, people still do argue [that men must be more capable], claiming it’s a coincidence that the candidates for each individual job or promotion just happened to mirror the demographic already holding forth in the corner offices. But too many coincidences raise suspicion. If every time you ask somebody to watch your pet dog it escapes, you might be inclined to think this happens less by chance than be negligence.

Are you being negligent? What else are you being negligent about? Data management? Back-ups? Client assets?

2. It is so embarrassing for you.

Ain’t nobody believing people can’t find women on to speak on their panels. In fact, in a study by the Lowry Institute about this phenomenon in Australia, 87% of respondents disagreed with the statement “Usually when there are panels of all-male speakers at conferences, it is because there were no women qualified for the panel.” 63% strongly disagreed.

Nobody is buying it. And that’s because it’s nonsense. And people take notice.

At this point, an #allmalepanel is such an embarassing phenomenon (with its own hashtag and tumblr and everything) that organizers just look plain lazy. This is so easy to fix. Are you really going to put your reputation at stake when there are oodles of women available?

To that end, if your reaction to being called out for having an all male panel, a low paying conference filled with men, or few female demo artists is anger, I want you to consider the fact you’re more mad at being called out than you are about the lack of female representation in our industry.

3. It makes it so much harder for women to break the glass ceiling in post production.

BCPC Panel on Mental Health, August 2017

Holding public events — like panels — where men are exclusively featured as experts persists the idea that women are not present in the post production community, not interested in pursuing their careers to the highest levels, or aren’t savvy enough to speak publicly. Women already struggle to find a foothold in technical fields like post production — a topic I’ve written about at some length over the years. Gender bias is real, and it is strong and present in everyone.

Women are graduating at the same rate from media programs like SCAD, NYU and USC but when it comes to getting employed, staying employed, and rising to the top, they leave. Among the top grossing films of the last decade and the top scripted television shows, only about 20% of editors are women, a number that hasn’t gone up or down more than a couple percentage points since 1998. Women leave these jobs in droves. For a lot of reasons.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.51.15 AM.pngBecause it’s so damn hard to exist in a workplace that is not built to be inclusive to you. We expect women to have babies, but we punish them for taking time off. We don’t give them paid family leave. We make assumptions about where their loyalties are, and we make more assumptions about women who choose not to have babies at all. We judge womens’ voices and tone, calling them aggressive or bossy while we compliment men for being good leaders. White women are paid 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, with black women getting 65 cents and hispanic women 54 cents. Men are judged for their potential, while women are judge based on their past performance. In performance reviews, women are criticized for things men are praised for doing. Online women are assumed to not know about the topic they’re discussing and get “mansplained” in every other Facebook thread. Women must consider how they dress for a public event as to not be labeled a floozy or a prude, while men are unlikely to think about it much. Men tend to get all the credit for a project when they work with women.

And women have to do all this stuff while they also keep up to date on the latest tech, hone their technical or creative skills, and make their careers happen. AND, ideally, use their position in the industry to advocate for other women. I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “backwards and in high heels” but it kind of applies to a large swath of women.

This is all just so exhausting. A lot of us reach a breaking point.

Lack of visibility is also bad for future visibility. Seeing no women representing post production persists the Confidence Gap — which is not a cause of the lack of female representation in tech, but rather an effect. Seeing no women makes women who do show up feel unwelcome, like intruders. And seeing no women gives young women no one to look up to, making this daunting field look even more daunting.

A BCPC panel on being an assistant editor in scripted TV in early 2017.

4. Your panel content is lacking critical diverse perspective.

Women make up 50% of the population, and once again, 50% of graduates of media programs and 20% of post production. You’re missing the perspectives of a large chunk of the community when you don’t assure your panel has at least one woman on it. The experiences and voices of women are important to creating an inclusive and sustainable industry.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.32.25 AMWe’ve all seen news reports of rooms full of male politicians making legislation over womens issues, like the right to choose and birth control. Wherever you stand on these topics, surely you must agree that women should at least be at the table when discussing issues that affect only them.

Similarly, women should be at the table in industry discussions, and not in a “women in post” kind of a way. Women are not one entity, we are individuals who have been shaped by our own experiences. We need to be a part of the discussion.

5. It’s wrong.

BCPC Panel on Ageism

It shows you care so little about making our community inclusive that you don’t even bother. A UN organization is urging its employees (and 8,500 member organizations like Coca-Cola and Cisco) to stop participating in them. CEOs are taking pledges to not allow their organizations to participate. People are capturing and publicly shaming the panels on sites like @TheManelLog, where 2017’s NAB Show sessions have shown up in droves.

We look at history books and judge people enforcing blacks-only water fountains. We sigh at the long battle of womens suffrage. We’re going to look at the 21st century battle for gender equality in the same light — which side do you want to be on?

What can you do? 

Look, if you’re having an #allmalepanel at a conference or educational event, or your trade show booth’s programming has one woman in a sea of 20 men, you’re gonna get named and shamed. There’s no way around it, and the fact you managed to do this to yourself despite all the discussion on gender equality over the last few years means you truly earned it.

But that also means you can only go up from here, right?

Here’s what you do.

If you identify as male and you’re asked to speak on or moderate a panel, ask who else is speaking with you. If it’s an #allmalepanel, tell the organizer you’re going to drop out unless a woman is added. Offer to give up your seat for a woman.

Remember: almost nothing is ever going to begin to change unless men decide to change it — because women are already invisible. 

If you’re programming a panel, reach out beyond your network and ask women for recommendations. Don’t expect them to do your homework for you though — build your network beyond people who look like you. Nobody says you have to have your panel, either. Can’t find a woman? Don’t have it.

The Appointments Secretary for California Governor Jerry Brown told me she will hold seats vacant on commissions for years in order to place a woman there. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti was the first to achieve parity on all commissions. If the slow-moving US government can make this work, surely your one hour panel can too.

Make it a priority. 

If you identify as female, call out every #allmalepanel you see. Ask trade show organizers why they have no women speaking on their behalf. Women can’t just boycott these panels. They’re so numerous and we’re not visible anyway, so nobody will notice if we’re gone. Instead show up and ask questions about if the panelists care there are no women on the panel. Put pressure on organizers. Draw attention to this gross oversight.

And if you’re a manager who has the opportunity to make people in your organization more visible — for example, an organization asks you for a representative on a panel discussion — find a woman and put them forward.

When you suggest women for panels, keep in mind that women have more at stake than men when it comes to being public figures and may push back more.

1. Death threats and sexual harassment is out of control thanks to the empowerment of online trolls. Help provide a safe space for all your panelists.

2. Since women are less visible, they may experience the effects of the Confidence Gap and feel they aren’t expert enough. Woman apply for jobs when they feel they meet 90% of the requirements, while men go for jobs they’re only 60% qualified for — same goes for panels. It may take asking more than once.

3. Women may be uncomfortable speaking because they aren’t visible, which means more attention is on them. Being the only woman in the room often means representing your whole gender. If you stumble, you’re not just an individual stumbling, you’re a WOMAN stumbling. Making your panel half men and half women reduces this pressure.

4. Women are less likely to attend conferences and trade shows because they take on a disproportionately high amount of domestic work. Societal expectations tend to put them in charge of managing their children and household, or taking care of individuals who need assistance. Ask women ahead of time and fund their trip up front. Pay them for their time at the conference. The only blunt force answer to socio-economical issues is money. Pay women money.

5. Women are also less likely to be able to take time off work to attend trade shows, or even speak on panels locally. They are already punished for taking time off to manage their households or have children. They may feel they can’t “rock the boat” since they’re the only woman in the room anyway. Organize well ahead of time and help them make their cases to their employers — a public facing expert is never a bad thing for a business.

Is there good news? 

Yes, you can make an effort for your next trade show or panel and start making a positive contribution to our industry right away. If you’d like to talk to me more about how you can make this happen next time around. Email me and we’ll talk. I’d love to eradicate these #allmalepanels and only cover technical news at NAB someday.

And request a copy of my Women in Post PR List. It’s growing every day. I can even add you to a listserv to get an updated copy every quarter.


— XOXO, Kylee Peña, post production professional, Vice President of Blue Collar Post Collective West, and Associate Editor for CreativeCOW.net (kyleepena at gmail dot com)