Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

DMEXCO’s diversity issue: why it should be leading change

By Alex Tait, Founder, Entropy

There are a staggering 19 ‘manels’ at DMEXCO: as an industry we have some way to go towards gender equality

Yes, I’m a man … but hopefully that doesn’t exclude me from talking about the topic. Last week I went through the agenda of DMEXCO, one of the industry’s biggest and most high-profile events.

It is up on their website for all to see. What I found surprised me quite a bit after my own experiences a few weeks ago. (Below, I will explain why I was scrutinising the agenda.) Those listed on the agenda were roughly 70% male /30% female. And at least 19 panels were ‘manels’ (male-only panels)!

Why was I doing this? Some readers may already know, as my actions went a bit viral last month. I was putting a panel together for a marketing conference, and feeling pretty uncomfortable.

With the conference a week or so away, I had some really brilliant people lined up. There was one problem I was acutely aware of, however. The three panelists were very experienced and would be able to talk on the topic until the cows come home, but they were all, well … male.

You would need to have been living in a cave for the last decade to think that, in this day and age, that was acceptable. My two daughters do a good job of reframing the world to enable me to see the various ways in which the world can still be set up against them.

So I put a fairly innocent post on Linkedin, asking if there were any female ecommerce superstars anyone could recommend for the panel.

Then it went a bit bonkers. 15,000 views and 90 comments or suggestions! I was inundated with recommendations of the most incredibly talented people anyone could ask for.

After discussion with the existing panel, one colleague sportingly agreed to stand down and the panel was reconfigured with two males and two females.

After the event I was left with this amazing list of people, and felt bad about not having been able to make use of so many of the other recommendations. So I applied my WordPress prowess to create an amazing site of 70 or so people as a resource for future event organisers at . Have a look.

I’ve made DMXCO aware of the list but they told me the agenda is locked down for this year.

What I believe this demonstrates, I’m afraid, DMXCO, is that in our times we need 0 manels at conferences. To go further, I’d propose a 50/50 gender balance KPI for programmes altogether.

Shouldn’t this target be the norm for all conferences in our industry? It has been said many times before that we need to be more forward-looking in our response to comments about gender imbalance in respect of senior people and the pool of talent conferences draw on.

We need to move right away from an algorithm focused on historical data, which only embeds bias in an ongoing cycle. This of course it has to be said is also just one aspect of diversity too.

Should the people on those 19 manels take part in them at DMXCO in their current composition? What do readers think?

Should a message be sent to effect positive change in the industry?

The people put up on that stage are role models, and that has a significant impact. We need to work harder to demonstrate best practice and show leadership here.