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NIH chief announces he will no longer participate in all-male speaking panels

Director Francis Collins says more women need to be represented in science

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

The Director of the National Institutes of Health says he is tired of serving on panels entirely comprised of men, declaring this week that he will no longer accept invitations to speak unless it is clear that "women and other groups underrepresented in science" are included in the agenda.

What are the details?

Dr. Francis Collins made the announcement on Wednesday, issuing a press release stating, "I want to send a clear message of concern: it is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as 'manels.'"

Director Collins' decision comes in response to a recent report released by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which, he explained, "identified the critical role that scientific leaders must play to combat cultural forces that tolerate gender harassment and limit the advancement of women."

"Starting now," Dr. Collins wrote, "When I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities. If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part."

He went on to "challenge" others to adopt the same policy.

The Washington Post reported that Collins takes part in roughly 125 speaking engagements each year, often serving as a keynote speaker and sometimes as a panel participant.

Anything else?

According to CNN, all-male panels are "not just a science problem," citing examples where women have allegedly been unrepresented in gatherings such as the annual World Economic Forum and a TV writer's panel hosted by Variety last year.

Yet it is unclear how many female experts must be slated at an event in order for the agenda to be deemed satisfactorily inclusive.

According to watchdog group International Gender Champions, conference coordinators should go beyond simply assuring the inclusion of women in panel discussions. The organization fights to make single-gender panels obsolete globally, and posts an annual study tracking the male to female gender ratio in panel discussions across an array of industries.

IGC encourages forum organizers to not only ensure that women are represented in expert discussions, but that "in the case of 'women's issues' panels, dynamic male experts" are included, too.


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