How can organizations ensure that the events they host are as inclusive and gender-equitable as possible? Not an easy question to answer, but TTI has made it a priority to bring a gender lens to our event planning for the upcoming Think Tank Initiative Exchange (TTIX). This outlines our efforts, our expectations, and what we’re learning along the way.

This won’t be another “manel”

As the summer student for the Think Tank Initiative, I was tasked with bringing a gendered lens to event planning for the upcoming Think Tank Initiative Exchange. There was keen interest across the team to develop a comprehensive strategy for integrating gender considerations into each stage of the event process - including planning, implementation and evaluation.  Considering that the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) operates in 20 countries and works with a wide variety of cultures, it only makes sense to ensure that TTI events provide an accessible and inclusive space.

In my review it did not take long to see how prevalent male dominated panels and conferences still are. An article from The Economist highlights how women are often seen but not heard at seminars. It references a study demonstrating how if a man asks the first question, this sets a tone of gender imbalance in questions at seminars; in contrast, if a woman asks the first question, there is a balance in questions from the floor. There are also movements and boycotts againstmanels,” all-male panels, in an effort to have more inclusive participation in meetings, seminars and conferences.

Checking ourselves with checklists

In approaching this event with a gendered lens, we first had to determine the considerations to take in the planning, communication, and hosting of this event. To do so, we developed a checklist to clarify what should be considered at various stages of the planning process. Looking for guidance from international organizations and academic bodies, it became clear that many institutions had developed checklists of their own for event planning, but mostly with an emphasis on ensuring physical accessibility of meeting sites. While accessibility is important, we also felt that it was essential to go beyond this to address other obstacles to the inclusive participation, such as gender neutral spaces, family services, and inclusive language.

We utilized many materials from Grupo Sofia, a network of female social science researchers in Peru promoting the empowerment of women in academia, including their effective #lasmujeressaben campaign. Our information on incorporating gender borrowed loosely from sources like the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. While these organizations did not have specific event planning checklists, the information provided on gender-based analysis, gender issues in monitoring and evaluation, and gender mainstreaming manuals provided guidance on what issues to consider in organizing an event that is equitable and inclusive.

The challenge for the Think Tank Initiative team is that while we aim to host this event with a gendered-lens, some considerations are difficult to put into action. Ensuring a space is accessible is a bit more straightforward. Considering the width of doors and hallways for people who use wheelchairs, priority parking, and alternative listening or communication devices are just some of the ways to create physical spaces that can be accessed by all. In contrast, addressing barriers resulting from gender norms is trickier; how to avoid sexist language or counteracting systems of privilege can be difficult to operationalize.

Despite these challenges, we managed to produce what we feel is a helpful checklist, which includes different sections to consider each step of the Exchange; communications materials, transportation services, room layout, language, session facilitation, and evaluation. We anticipate that it will effectively provide guidance on how to conquer both physical and social barriers to enable and encourage the diversity of voices at the TTI Exchange.

Putting it into action

In taking this checklist forward, we have also prepared guiding principles for both facilitators and participants, to ensure that our ambitions to have a gender equitable and inclusive event are clearly communicated. Notes on inclusive language, and methods to emphasize the diversity of voices present will be circulated to session leaders, panelists and the hosts of the event. The evaluation of the event will have questions about inclusion and gender balance, so that TTI can continue to learn how to support the participation and of diverse groups at their events and learn how best to meet the accessibility needs of guests.

This has been a learning process, where we have continually asked ourselves what/who we might be overlooking. From my short time here with TTI, I see an impressive commitment in the program’s ability to support diversity and inclusion throughout its work. No doubt we will continue to learn more about how best to do this in the process, and we look forward to sharing any lessons when we’re done.