Speaking Out Against #Manels in the 21st Century


It was exactly a year ago that I wrote an article about all male panels and why diversity matters. That post was regarding a shameful display at the  2017 Canadian Urbanism Conference where three well-known caucasian older planning males participated in an all male panel. CanU organizers “breathlessly labelled the session a conference “favourite”, with tweets from the three male manel saying  how great they were together.

Kudos to  former City Planner and now Toronto Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat who was the only person who called it out for what it was, noting the lack of diversity “shameful” and a display of “professional incompetence”. Lesson learned, and the Council of Canadian Urbanism promised to work harder on diversity.

Fast forward one year and we’ve pretty much experienced the same situation with the Urbanarium’s event bringing together planners from Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco on September 20. The Urbanarium says a smart city requires an engaged and informed citizenry, and that is what they are doing. So it was a surprise when the Urbanarium’s line up went one better than the faux pas of Canadian Urbanism by having not three, but FOUR males all of a certain vintage and background sharing the stage to spill on-seriously-diversity, affordability and equity in cities.

Stephen Lewis the former U.N. ambassador famously refused to sit on all male panels, and insisted that the way to advance diversity and equity was to ensure that conference panels champion women and diverse voices.It is not enough for panel organizers to say that these were the people in the positions, and that they were male. There are lots of women in those cities at that comparable level too,and they should have been included. And Stephen Lewis pointed out that it is also the panelist’s responsibility to ensure that they are not on all male panels, and if they are, to insist on diversity. That is, after all, what city planning and engagement is all about. The fact that these four gentlemen would still  agree to sit on a stage together on an all dude panel also speaks to a disappointing tone of sensitivity for the inclusion of professional women, let alone diversity.

This should not even be a point of discussion for any event in architecture, design or planning. There are more than fifty per cent women graduating from planning schools, but we are not seeing those voices promoted at planning events. As one of my very well-known European planning colleagues  noted, most of the time men in the profession do the talking while women do the doing. But we need to change that. Our cities are talked about by men and largely designed by men, and that is not representative of who we actually are in the city. The only way to make that change is to recognize the importance of inclusion of women’s voices at every level of planning and at every level of discussion.

It is not good enough to say that we will do a better job. We need to ensure that there is balance and parity now. As author Jay Pitter states: “Effective diversity isn’t just about representation but about ensuring various perspectives have the power they need. This needs to be a basic standard.”

It’s not about doing better. It’s about doing the right thing for the future of planning and our communities. That means including women at every event and every panel.

Published by Sandy James Planner

I am a city planner, author and plenary speaker writing and publishing about current planning issues. The intersect between health and city planning is vital to me. I've worked across North America and the world, and co-edit the Canadian Urban Planning Blog "Price Tags.ca". I am passionate about places and people and creating healthy cities we all want to live in. My TEDx talk is about three neighbourhood heroes that transformed their communities with the "Power of Walking". I am also the Director of Walk Metro Vancouver, and the past chair of the International Walk21 Vancouver Conference. Twitter: sandyjamesplanner@gmail.com Blog: sandyjamesplanner.wordpress.com www.walkmetrovan.ca

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