Tuesday May 19, 2015

'Congrats, you have an all-male panel!' goes viral with help from 'The Hoff'

A collage of 'Congrats, you have an all male panel!' posts

A collage of 'Congrats, you have an all male panel!' posts

Listen 7:39

You don't have to ask a panel made up only of men to figure out that if your panel is made up only of men, you've got a gender imbalance.

But apparently, it really helps if you enlist '80s TV star David Hasselhoff to drive the point home.

That's what Finnish researcher Saara Sarma discovered when she started her popular website that documents all-male panels, all-male seminars, and various other public events featuring exclusively male experts.

Sarma tells As it Happens co-host Carol Off her Tumblr page is a simple concept, featuring photos of men-only panels sent to her by people from around the world.

Saara Sarma, Finnish researcher

Finnish researcher Saara Sarma's Tumblr "Congrats, you have an all-male panel," has gone viral, getting up to 300 submissions a day. ( Jonne Renvall)

"It's all-men experts talking about whatever issues. And then there's a stamp of David Hasselhoff giving a thumbs-up added to these images," Sarma says.

Hasselhoff's image was meant to bring some humour to a subject that many female academics find frustrating.

"I just think it's really funny. It's a personal joke that seems to work for a lot of other people as well. I think he just embodies white masculinity quite well, " says Sarma, who works at the University of Tampere. She says she started the Tumblr page in February, and only got a few submissions. But the site took off on social media last week and now she's overwhelmed with content.

"I've been getting 300 submissions and more are coming in every day."

She hopes her use of humour will open up a discussion about the gender imbalance.

Last Supper

An "oldie but goodie" as Sarma refers to this "all-male panel" on her Tumblr site.

"Once you laugh about it, it empowers you as well."

Sarma says many qualified women are overlooked when it comes to public speaking events.

"They don't get asked to be on the panels,' she says.

Carol points out that often organizers say they ask women, who then turn them down. Sarma says that might be because, too often, women feel they are token additions.

"Many times if I was asked to be on a panel as an only woman, I'd think you are just trying to bring me in to fill a quota and you're not interested in diversifying the whole panel."

She also says men leap at the chance to be on panels while she and other women, "want to be more sure of our expertise."

She hopes that her work will make people think about "manels" as they are sometimes called.

"Maybe through humour this kind of feminist point gets across to the men as well. I don't think I'm going to make a huge revolution with this but I hope at least in my immediate academic circles the men are going to think about diversity more and recognize women's expertise in various issues."

Sarma challenged men in her own discipline - international relations -- to put together an all-male feminist panel. "I'm telling them if they do it I'll make them T-shirts with the "Hoff-some" stamp on it."

You can see Sarma's tumblr page here