MANELS maketh the man.

A manel is an all-male panel and I’m sure we’ve come across far too many of them in our working lives. Despite everything, the prevalence continues, where women’s voices and opinions are excluded.

Manels are everywhere. Women are not. It’s as simple as that. Our contribution continues to be ignored or at best downgraded. The appointees and appointed have not even noticed that we are not in the room with them when the big decisions are being made.

The UK Government is a shining example of this lack of diversity where patriarchy is the name of the game of Boris and his big boys.

In September they were lambasted for their male, stale and pale Cop26 line up, a veritable who’s who and who’s not there of British movers and shakers, coming together to discuss the big issues around climate change. That is after they summarily dismissed the feisty former energy minister Claire O’Neill as president. The Government argues that women are still part of their group, but they are at junior levels, their seat at the top table usurped by the usual old boys’ network.

It’s arguable just how much this kind of manel can achieve especially given its subject matter – when women and children are found to be the most impacted by climate change and global warming, it would seem reasonable to include their participation in discussions on ways to tackle the environmental crisis.

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UN figures show that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and this is exacerbated by the fact that more women live in poverty than men and have less access to basic human rights. All of which needs a gender-sensitive response, and yet the average representation of women in national and global climate discussions is below 30%.

That, however, is still 30% more than in the upper echelons of the UK Government’s Cop26 representation!

Of course, it’s not just confined to the UK Government, manels encroach every corner of our lives, particularly in medical science and tech. It’s the same with a lack of diversity in race, religion, disability – the list goes on. Without representation, nothing can change for the better. So, what is there to be done?

Women need to push the committees that set up manels to think about inclusion and sourcing directories of female experts rather than booking the same old beards for these events. Then there is the setting of clear guidelines to ensure diversity. To secure real change men can also become part of the solution. We need them to actually speak up, to notice, to object to our absence, to refuse to attend without female representation.

The real issue here is that manels are just a symbol of deeper, far more prejudiced attitudes about women in society and culture. The great practical symbol of this inequality is the continuing gender pay gap. It is half a century since a real politician, the “Red Queen” Barbara Castle, broke new ground with the Equal Pay Act and yet there is still so much to be done.

Just last week, Fawcett, the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, released their partnered new report on the approach to gender pay gap reporting in 10 countries around the world. The report revealed that the UK is “a light touch” in the way it asks employers what actions they will take to identify gender pay gaps in comparison to other countries. This pay gap reporting has been suspended during Covid, but in the UK, private companies have not been required to publish their action plans on how to tackle this inequality prior to the pandemic.

In 2018/19, only 50% chose to publish these figures, the other 50% preferring to exploit the lack of regulatory obligation. Without this information, we are fumbling in the dark. Without the key facts and figures, progress cannot be made. The Fawcett report calls for more meaningful pay gap reporting in order to address pay discrepancies and inequalities. But thus far, it’s radio silence from Number 10. Indeed there is as much chance of Johnson delivering for women as accepting Scotland’s right of self-determination.

Unfortunately, the pandemic will only worsen this pay gap given the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on women and our employment – figures from the Office for National Statistics show that because of Covid, redundancies in women are up 79% as compared to men at 23%. More women disappearing from the workforce will have a detrimental effect on breaking stereotypes and crashing through glass ceilings. Without our presence, we cannot participate, we cannot lead. And we’ll all be poorer for this dearth in experience and perspective.

This is particularly pertinent given the pandemic where the outstanding example of effective leadership around the world comes from a woman – Jacinda Ardern. We need more women in leadership roles. We need to be at the top table to help shape the policies that will affect our lives. It’s a no-brainer, and then manels will follow the dinosaurs into the fossil record.