The gender balance balance on panels requires concrete action - writes Paola Maniga from The Brussels Binder.

How many times have we found ourselves in the audience listening to a panel which features only one female speaker or none at all? Indeed, several times, giving us the impression that all male panels, or “manels” are the default format for such events. But should this really be “the normal”?

Focusing solely on Brussels, in two-thirds of debates the majority of speakers are men; one third are entirely devoid of a single female voice. This share is even lower for events and conferences within the fields of energy, economics and tech (source: EUPanelWatch). While certain events organisers claim that it is difficult to find women speakers, many are often unaware of their gender bias.

Underrepresentation impedes women from advancing within their careers and reinforces the stereotype that only men have expertise. Every panel that fails to include female experts not only represents a lost opportunity to enhance and benefit from intellectual diversity, but also serves to amplify the pre-existing gender gap.

Speaking engagements help a person to boost his/her credibility and gain more visibility among their peers. In turn this can often lead to additional speaking and job opportunities, career advancement and higher salaries.

Realising that action was required to tackle this issue and convinced that a solution could be found, a group of women from a number of think tanks in Brussels have established The Brussels Binder initiative (www.brusselsbinder.org). The Binder aims to establish an accessible database with searchable fields, which will allow female experts to upload their professional profiles, including areas of expertise, years of experience and publications. The database is multinational and cross-sectorial, to answer the plurality of needs of Brussels’ policy arena.

Since the beginning, the initiative has been widely praised by Brussels stakeholders and attracted much media attention. After having raised around 12.000 Euros through a successful online crowdfunding campaign in March this year, The Brussels Binder is currently working on the construction of the platform and filling the database.

The database will be readily available to the Brussels policy communities and shall contribute new, innovative approaches to policy debates and civic engagement. The Brussels Binder will start as a Brussels oriented initiative, but in the future, it aims to extend its reach across Europe, teaming up with other existing national databases, and clearly with DG CONNECT’s similar initiative.

The Brussels Binder hopes to build a new normal, beyond the situation that European professionals are accustomed to by providing more intellectual diversity at panels and by improving EU policy making and subsequently the image of Europe. In the new normal, as many women as men should be considered and invited to express their opinions in important debates. This will be beneficial to highly skilled female experts whose voice deserves to be recognised in the same way as their male counterparts, users of the platform, who have been struggling to involve women in the debates they organise or attend, but also the greater community, which shall benefit from a broader diversity of viewpoints and new voices in debates on Europe’s future.

The Brussels Binder team encourages people to get in touch to signal experts to add to the database contact@brusselsbinder.org.