In the past few weeks I’ve been to three female-focused events where the MC or event organiser opened the session by asking the audience to clap for the men in the room.
The reason for the applause? The men had turned up to hear from the panel or keynote speakers – just like the women in the room. The only difference for the male segment of the audience was that they were about to hear from a majority female line-up of speakers – just like many women find themselves doing at non female focused business events.
At one such event I attended, the men were even asked to stand to receive their round of applause. And yes, it was as awkward as it sounds.
At another event, men were told that, “It’s so great you’ve come to hear from women in business”. That line was particularly surprising to hear, especially given this all-female panel session had been touted as not being about discussing women’s issues, but rather a discussion on startups, where the panel all happened to be women.
Every time I hear men being congratulated for showing up to such events, and I’m hearing it increasingly more often, I immediately lose track of what’s happening on stage and start looking around the room to consider the varying levels of effort required from those in the audience to get there.
Is it really so difficult for men to enter a roomful of women? Did they need to perform a circus act in order to arrive on time? Did they have to turn away work and make sacrifices in order to do their bit for the female business community?
Could it be that men too, benefit from being in the room, just like their female counterparts? That there are networking and other business opportunities on offer, that they could actually learn something?
While I’m always happy to see men in the audience at women’s events, and I’d like to see more in the future particularly when discussing issues like flexible work, childcare, paid parental leave etc, it’s time to end the applause. Men shouldn’t have to feel like their presence at such events is token or the ‘right thing to do’, and women shouldn’t have to feel like second class citizens, grateful that men are interested in their views.
The next time you find yourself in front of an all-male panel, ask the event MC to get the audience to thank the women in the room. It was good of you to show up.