Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says, "Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing" from the lineup at key events.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says, "Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing" from the lineup at key events. AP file photo

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It's Time to End the 'Manel' Tradition of All-Male Speaking Panels

"It is not enough to give lip service to equality; leaders must demonstrate their commitment through their actions," says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The National Institutes of Health is committed to changing the culture and climate of biomedical research to create an inclusive and diverse workforce. The recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequence in Academic Science, Engineering, and Medicine,” identified the critical role that scientific leaders must play to combat cultural forces that tolerate gender harassment and limit the advancement of women. These concerns also are highly relevant to other groups underrepresented in science. It is not enough to give lip service to equality; leaders must demonstrate their commitment through their actions.

Toward that end, I want to send a clear message of concern: it is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as “manels.” 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. Starting now, when I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities. If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part. I challenge other scientific leaders across the biomedical enterprise to do the same.

The diversity of bright and talented minds engaged in biomedical research has come a long way – and our public engagements need to catch up. Breaking up the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) bias that is preventing women and other groups underrepresented in science from achieving their rightful place in scientific leadership must begin at the top.