I remembered seeing the comment that GenCon had a panel on diversity in gaming with an all male panel back in 20111, but the idea kind of slipped to the wayside for a little while.
But it refocused when Sarah Hans pointed me at plzdiversifyyourpanel last week. As the site says:
This blog’s goal is to create diverse, intersectional panels. We’ve chosen to accomplish this by organizing a list of people who will refuse to be on panels/podcasts/etc which do not include a diverse representation of people who have been marginalized for any reason race, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc.
While that blog is primarily focused at gamers and gaming (though there are calls to bring this elsewhere), among my friends on Facebook, it quickly turned into “we should do this for writing and other fandom conventions”.2
Considering that I’m the programming director for Context 27, and one of those people suggesting we check gender diversity was one of the con chairs for that convention (e.g. my boss), I figured I should check and see how I did.
- I did not assess or factor in gender while making up the schedule.
- I am not counting workshops, single person presentations, or reading slots (shared or otherwise) in this count.
- I have not assessed any other factors such as race, socioeconomic status, religious orientation, sexual orientation, et cetera.
- The mean and modal number of panelists per panel is three.
At Context 27, 42% of the panelists are female. The breakdown of gender diversity in each panel is:
- 2 panels (3.7%)3 that are all-women. Both of these panels are gender specific (e.g. “Skewering the Trope: Tough Women in Literature”)
- 9 panels (16.6%) that are all-men. One of these panels is gender specific (“Skewering the Trope: Tough Guys in Literature”)
- 43 panels (79.6%) that have both men and women as panelists.
This isn’t bad at all, especially since there was no special emphasis or deliberation put upon gender diversity when inviting guests or on co-ordinating which guests would be on which panels.
This is not a reason to rest on our laurels. As Sarah put it, “That’s good, but what about those 9 panels?” While having almost 80% mixed gender panels is important, it is not ideal. Further, other factors of diversity must be assessed… and I suspect that that I didn’t do as well there.
That said, the data point of this convention demonstrates pretty convincingly that it is possible to ensure gender diversity among genre writing conventions while maintaining a high degree of quality. Having more diverse voices is an inherent good for us as storytellers.
And it’s something that those of us who are running conventions must be aware of… and it’s a standard that we must be held accountable to.
1 It’s not clear if the panel was part of the Writer’s Symposium. Regardless, it was not a panel I was on.
2 Yes, it’s a given that a more diverse panel is a better panel for guests and attendees. Go read this if you’re clueless enough to argue the point: https://www.themarysue.com/we-all-benefit-from-better-representation/
3 An earlier calculation I posted on Facebook had slightly incorrect percentages, because math is hard.