Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Manel Mia: Here We Go Again

I should start by saying two things:

  1. This is going to be more a stream of consciousness, than a structured, polished piece
  2. I have no affiliation to (or any other third-party)


On Wednesday 1 May, I moderated the last panel of the day at Prebid’s Ascent summit in London. Before arriving at the event, it was brought to my attention that the make up of speakers at the summit had been causing controversy. Namely, the fact that only three of the sessions featured women.

I was not involved in one of these – instead, I was a part of one of the so-called “manels”.

This is problem that has long existed in the industry and, though plenty of work is being done to try to create more balance at events, all too often men continue to dominate the agendas. But this, particularly at events like Prebid’s, points to a far wider systemic issue.

Manel No. 5

Before I explore those systemic challenges, I would like to address my role in the event (and another systemic issue).

When approached to moderate the panel, I did have my concerns after scanning the agenda. But, as a mixed race, “Black-passing” man with locs in an industry that also struggles with race-based diversity issues, I also have to consider my own standing.

My “manel” featured (including myself) two men of colour. Now, this also may not have been representative of the whole event either, but it proves that the conversation is a little bit more nuanced than just men and women.

I have always been a strong advocate of elevating female voices – for instance, (not a brag or shameless self-promo) my podcast focused on providing a platform for the industry’s future leaders has overwhelmingly featured more women than men, and there have been episodes where I have spotlighted initiatives such as our Digital Women initiative and Bloom.

People can stand for more than one issue simultaneously, and strive to make this industry a better place from multiple directions. But, for fear of digressing, let me get back to the initial problem that led to me writing this…

A major problem

I brought up the lack of women involved in the Prebid event with the organisers. And they were well aware of the issue.

I was told that Prebid actively tried to have more female representation, asking their members/sponsors to put forward women, but were firmly shut down for the most part.

Yes, there is a responsibility as an event organiser to try to create a balance. But this responsibility doesn’t sit solely with the organiser. There are deeper questions to be answered:

Why do business leaders, which are overwhelmingly male, not have faith in the female members of their teams to speak at these events? Why do they not put their female employees through the same media/speaking training as their male employees?

A mere 10 minutes’ walk away from Prebid Ascent, the Brand Safety Summit (BSS) was ongoing, which appears to have escaped the same criticisms as the former. But should it have?

On day one of the BSS – the day I also moderated a panel at the event – every single session featured at least one woman. But fast-forward to day two, which was happening simultaneous to Prebid Ascent, and all of a sudden you only see three women amongst the 18 speakers.

As I’ve said, I’m not here to advocate for Prebid, and I’m not bringing up the BSS to defend the former (or bad mouth the latter) in any way. I’m simply highlighting the fact that the problem is widespread, whichever subsection of the industry you find yourself at an event about.

This is only highlighted further when you look at some of the “technical” sessions that we see at industry events.

Though there has been a lot of improvement, it remains a fact that those studying STEM subjects are mostly male. As not just an industry, but as a society, we still have a long way to go to make those subjects appealing to young women – or we’re simply going to forever be faced with the same challenges in the professional world.

Outside of these technical areas, however, there really is little excuse for businesses not to be putting forward more women for public opportunities.

There are plenty of incredible women in this industry who should be up there on the stage at these events. Heck, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing a bunch of these amazing people on stages, podcasts, and for articles, so why aren’t more women being allowed to share their voices?

I don’t really have a conclusion to this piece, because this problem is far from being concluded. So, I will end with a question: what are YOU doing to ensure the events you’re part of are providing an equal platform for all?

Comment from Rob Rasko, CEO of The 614 Group, which produces the Brand Safety Summit:

“Thanks for calling this out, we had a few last minute cancellations which shifted our balance over the two days a bit but that’s not a good enough excuse. We cover inclusion in the media industry as a topic at all of our events even when others industry conferences have chosen not to. We believe firmly in driving the points you are making about the future of what we do. Please continue to keep an eye on us, we welcome your feedback!”

New Digital Age, alongside its Digital Women initiative, endeavours to always feature a balance of content from a diverse range of thought leaders from across the industry.