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Manels, Wanels and vacuuming - can conferences be more inclusive?

Manels, Wanels and vacuuming - can conferences be more inclusive?

  • Conferences are an important part of many professions, as places where careers are developed, opportunities for collaboration arise, and new ideas are encountered.
  • Dr Emily F. Henderson (Warwick) has co-edited with Dr James Burford (La Trobe) a ground-breaking collection of academic articles into the ways conferences can exclude women, carers, BAME and LGBTQ+ participants and what actions can be taken to tackle this.
  • The special issue presents evidence from a number of empirical research projects so that change can be driven by evidence.
  • The papers collected in Thoughtful Gatherings foreground gender while exploring other intersecting in equalities and conferences in relation to different country contexts.

A ground-breaking collection of papers examining gender, conference participation, and academic progress across the globe has been co-edited by Warwick researcher Dr Emily Henderson, Associate Professor of International Education and Development in the Department of Education Studies with Dr James Burford (La Trobe)

Thoughtful Gatherings, a special issue of the academic journal Gender and Education, is the first collection of gender and feminist scholarship specifically focusing on conferences and includes papers from the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

In recent years conferences have become a topic of fierce debate with organisers criticised for “manels” – all-male panels – and “wanels” – all white panels. Other negative aspects of conferences which are being more openly discussed include the experience of sexual harassment and problems of affordability and access, particularly for delegates with caring responsibilities.

Dr Henderson, who was Guest Editor of the issue alongside Dr James Burford of La Trobe University, Australia, said: “The increased coverage of conference controversies created the momentum needed for this special issue.

“It is the first time anything of this kind has been published and it has repercussions for (re)thinking how some of the ‘normal’ practices of academia operate – particularly when we are so concerned with inequalities in the academic profession .

“One of the key themes in the collection   is that issues relating gender to conferences are multi-faceted and sometimes contextually specific. For example, a measure of gender parity - equal numbers of attendees - cannot fully capture whether men and women are equally able to experience a conference fully , and is also exclusionary to those identifying as gender non-binary . We already know that delegates with caring responsibilities at home often miss out on networking sessions or informal gatherings that occur alongside the formal schedule .”

The papers in Thoughtful Gatherings present fresh, unique empirical evidence of the ways conferences can exclude women and other minoritized groups, and offer innovative ideas on re-imagining the traditional conference format to enable genuinely inclusive learning and networking.

Dr Henderson added: “We hope that the papers presented here will encourage more thoughtful approaches to organising and attending conferences, prompt institutions to review how they facilitate access to academic gatherings, and open the door to further critical research on conferences.

“There are some things which are deeply entrenched and hard to change, and which are linked to broader inequalities in universities and other professions, but other things can be rectified at a practical level.

“As a first step it would be helpful to see greater accountability, with more organisations auditing their support for conference provision, and more conferences evaluating the experiences of their attendee groups from an intersectional perspective.”

17 February 2020