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article imageNIH Director: It's time to end 'manels' at scientific conventions

By Karen Graham     Jun 13, 2019 in Science
Washington - One of the most influential public health officials in the world said Wednesday that he will no longer speak on scientific panels if they don't include women.
Doctor Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health made the announcement in an online statement June 12 during a time when science is in the midst of its own #MeToo movement.
"It is not enough to give lip service to equality; leaders must demonstrate their commitment through their actions," Collins said in a statement, titled Time to End the Manel Tradition.
Collins said he wanted to send a clear message that all-male panels, often called "manels," at scientific meetings and conventions has just got to end. "Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences," he said.
"When I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities," he wrote. "If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part."
Dr. Collins also issued a challenge to other scientists to do the same, writing: " I challenge other scientific leaders across the biomedical enterprise to do the same, reports CNN News.
There is a growing number of scientists who have also promised to decline speaking engagements devoid of female representation. Dr. Janine Clayton, the director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health, provided a statement to NBC News that said, in part: "I have pledged to follow his example, and it is my hope that others in the STEM community and beyond will be inspired to do the same."
It's not just a science problem
The same problem of under-representation of women and other minority groups is also prevalent in other organizations and industries. One very important global conference, the Paris climate conference in 2015. had very few women participants, says Esther Ngumbi, a scientist from Kenya who has spoken out about the issue.
"We are fed up. The lack of women -- whether in peace negotiations, high-level conference panels, or boards -- is alarmingly common," Dr. Ngumbi wrote in an opinion piece in 2015 she co-authored with women's rights advocate Elsa D'Silva for CNN.
"Just to introduce this little bit of friction into the way we think of what an invitation means, and what it means to be included, is a very powerful message he’s sending," said Maryam Zaringhalam of 500 Women Scientists. The organization represents more than 11,000 women around the world qualified to be on the very panels to which Dr. Collins referred.
Dr. Collins is both a physician and geneticist. He has been the director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009 and oversees the work of the largest biomedical research agency in the world.
More about Science, National Institutes of Health, Manels, allmale panels, Women
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