Tired of 'Manels'? All Raise's Database of Female, Non-Binary Speakers Hopes to Improve Tech & VC Panels

Tired of 'Manels'? All Raise's Database of Female, Non-Binary Speakers Hopes to Improve Tech & VC Panels

For years, study after study has shown women — and especially women of color — are underrepresented in tech conference panels, as keynote speakers and in news coverage.

The pandemic has not helped. Instead, as companies have taken their events virtual the "manel" — or all-male panel — has made a comeback, especially in VC and the tech world.

Frustrated that the trend drowns out important female perspectives, CEO Pam Kostka of All Raise, a nonprofit that advocates for female founders, operators and funders in tech, announced Monday a new "Visionary Voices" speakers bureau. In her blog post, headlined "No more manels, no more excuses," Kostka described the bureau as the creation of the tech industry's largest database of female and non-binary "founders, funders and startup operators" so that event organizers and reporters can more easily find them.

The bureau includes speakers like Rebecca Kaden, managing partner of Union Square Ventures; Iman Abuzeid, the CEO of Incredible Health; YooJung Ahn, the head of design at Waymo; Sumaiya Balbale, the CMO of Sequoia Capital; and Miriam Rivera, co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures.

Kostka said that the pandemic's forced transition to virtual events has exacerbated exclusion. She's seen anecdotal reports of more manels and speaking opportunities for men that, in the end, blocks women from accessing crucial networking and profile-building opportunities. Reports have also shown that women are less likely to raise their voices in virtual meetings and are frequently discounted when they do speak up, because of the manner in which men and women communicate.

"Virtual meetings have made it harder for women to be heard in group settings, aggravating gendered differences that already exist in traditional in-person spaces," Kostka said in an emailed statement. "We are just a few months into the pandemic so see this as a currently developing trend, supported by research and a growing body of anecdotal evidence."

"The consequences of this run deep in tech and VC: a lack of access to the same profile-building opportunities strengthens invisible and insidious structural forces and stereotypes. Particularly, pattern-matching that reinforces white men as the experts in the room," Kostka wrote. But, "it shouldn't be this way."

To date, the bureau includes more than 975 female or non-binary founders, investors and operators from across the VC-backed tech ecosystem. The nonprofit is also continuing to accept applications for those who want to be included in the speakers bureau.

As part of their overall effort, All Raise said it has partnered with Fast Company, Protocol, SaaStr and Startup Grind to commit to Visionary Voices "principles" for equitable representation in coverage and events.

The best practices include:

  • Not hosting all-male panels (a female moderator doesn't make it less of a manel)
  • Strive for a 50-50 split of men and women speakers
  • Avoid all-white speaker panels and aim to include a large percentage from underrepresented groups in the tech and VC world
  • Track the demographics of speakers by asking them to voluntarily self-identify and be up front about keeping that information strictly confidential. Use aggregated data to improve future events.

"It's critical that we keep finding ways to increase access to speaking and thought leadership opportunities that elevate women and people from underrepresented groups to raise their voices and be heard," Kostko wrote.

"Visionary Voices is about ensuring that powerful publicity and networking opportunities aren't simply reserved for a select few and that female and non-binary leaders have an equal shot at becoming the architects of tomorrow who will build, shape, and fund our future."


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