How many times have you walked into what sounded like an interesting panel on international security, or African politics, or even women’s rights only to be confronted with a row of white dudes in basically-identical suit jackets? (If your day-to-day doesn’t involve attending a lot of panel discussions, you’ve clearly made better life choices than I have. Please don’t rub it in.)
It’s not that white men can’t have opinions worth hearing on these subjects; it just seems unlikely that they would have ALL of the opinions worth hearing. Or that a random draw of folks-with-worthwhile-opinions would yield a homogenous panel.
A recent analysis by a Genuine Math Person reveals just how unlikely it is.
Mathematician Greg Martin ran some probability calculations for his own field, based on the (likely conservative) estimate that women make up 24% of research mathematicians. He found that the odds that a 20 person speakers’ list would have one or fewer women are just over 3%, while the odds that it would have five or more women (i.e. over-representing their population share) are about 54%.
In other words, it is approximately 18 times more likely that women would be over-represented than absent (or virtually absent). For fields with greater female participation than mathematics, the odds are even starker. And, as Martin explains in this Atlantic interview, the obvious conclusion is that homogenous panels cannot be the result of random chance.
In his own words: “any such conference without any female speakers must have come into being in a system that does not treat gender fairly.”