The Leader of One of America's Biggest Science Agencies Just Signed a 'No-Manels' Pledge

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins joins men from many fields, both in the sciences and beyond.
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National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins speaks at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 4th, 2018.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins speaks at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 4th, 2018.

The leader of one of America's biggest science agencies pledged on Wednesday not to join "manels," or expert panels in which all the speakers are male.

"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," Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement. "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."

Collins and the National Institutes of Health are influential in American science. In 2019, the NIH will spend about $39 billion on biomedical research in the United States, with most of that money going to universities and research institutes not run by the agency.

The no-manels movement has been brewing for a few years now, across many fields. In 2013, The Atlantic reported that a sociologist and Jewish studies professor, Shaul Kelner, had started refusing to participate in panels and religious study sessions that didn't include female leaders. At the time, Kelner wrote that, in all cases where he'd brought the issue up, organizers found female speakers and so he joined as well. In the years since, sought-after male speakers in international development, technology, and business have made their own pledges. Meanwhile, groups have touted their databases of diverse experts, where event organizers can find speakers.

Collins wrote that his no-manels stance is part of the NIH's commitment "to changing the culture and climate of biomedical research to create an inclusive and diverse workforce." Lately the NIH has faced some criticism for discriminating against female scientists, in the form of moving too slowly, advocates say, against agency-funded researchers who are found by their employers to have harassed others. (Sexual harassment is common in the sciences, a recent study found, and aimed most frequently at women.) In response, the NIH formed a working group to decide next steps and met with activists. In February, Collins publicly apologized.

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