Ending the 'manel': This group of female doctors want to see more women speakers in healthcare

Ending the ‘manel’: This group of female doctors want more women speakers in health

A group of female doctors are calling for the end of ‘manels’ (or panels filled with only men) at medical conferences, and are creating a database of female experts to remedy the gender imbalance that is so often experienced in healthcare.

Women Speakers in Healthcare Australia and New Zealand, launching this week to coincide with International Women’s Day, is a group of female doctors who have come together to collate and make available the largest database of female experts in all areas of medicine.

The idea is to address the stark imbalance of male and female experts at medical conferences, by a creating a tool that will open access to female speakers for medical colleges and organisations.

Although women make up nearly half of all medical practitioners, they are consistently underrepresented in leadership roles and as speakers at medical conferences.

As a female healthcare professional, Dr Kate Ahmad says it’s all too common to turn up to a conference in the medical space only to find that most (if not all) of the speakers are male.

Devoid of any female presence or insight, Dr Ahmad says these ‘manels’ are too often the norm.

“Manels are far more common than their female equivalent the ‘wanel’ – 30% of panels versus 2% in one study, and most panels are male dominated even when they include women,” says Dr Ahmad.

In healthcare, women tend to make up less than one third of speakers at conferences.

“Being less visible has follow on effects in career progression and reputation in often highly specialised fields of healthcare,” Dr Ahmad says.

“For conference organisers, gender bias is often subconscious and unintentional, or beliefs around the lack of availability or merit of female experts may influence selection of speakers and panel members.”

Initiated by Dr Alison Hempenstall, a Fulbright Scholar and Rural and Remote Medicine registrar, Women Speakers in Healthcare Australia and New Zealand was inspired by a successful group in the UK, that has registered over 500 women speakers in the past year.

“We ultimately aim to make all conferences and medical events gender balanced, diverse and inclusive whilst maintaining stringently high academic standards,” Dr Ahmad says.

“We want female healthcare students and junior doctors to come away from conferences with new role models and inspiration.”

“At the first hint of a manel, or male heavy speaker line-up, we now hope that conference organisers will access this database to make their event more diverse, more inclusive, and more representative of all healthcare professionals.”

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