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Sci/Tech quango promises an end to 'events with no women'

Except when its own management get together

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Sci-tech quango Nesta has announced a ban on all-male panels at its events in a bid to challenge the blokeyness endemic in the fields it covers.

The quango, nowadays officially a charity but one which spends lottery money on "innovation" (more here) promised to actively seek out women to chair public meetings and debates.

It claimed the initiative was just the beginning of a drive to "challenge dominant ethnic, class and disability representation in public life".

A statement from Nesta, written by Jo Casebourne and Laura Bunt, said:

Nesta has made a public commitment to end all-male panels at our events and advocate the same for events we participate in. As we host regular live events and publish videos online, we hope this will bring more diverse and representative perspectives to political and social debates and start to make events with no women speakers seem odd and anachronistic.

Tokenism? We don't think so. It's as important as ensuring that organisations' Boards are representative, and at Nesta we're glad that our Board has moved closer to gender parity.

Given the current proportions of women experts represented in public debate it may be easier to think of a man to speak or chair an event than to find a woman. Making this pledge makes it necessary to spend that extra effort to get someone different in.

The announcement comes in the wake of a book by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg which calls for new approaches to gender in the workplace to encourage women to climb up the corporate ladder.

The UK now ranks 60th in the world in a league measuring the proportion of women in government. Just 22.5 per cent of MPs are women.

Nesta itself might be seen as having some way to go on gender equality, regardless of the makeup of its Board. Of the six positions it lists as making up its own senior management, five are held by men (in fact all six are at the moment, as the sole woman - who is rather stereotypically in charge of PR - is on maternity leave and her replacement is a man).

Nesta's top man, Sir John Chisholm, is most famous for having masterminded the selloff of most of the UK Defence R&D apparatus under the name Qinetiq. During this process he arranged a share incentive scheme under which he and his chosen inner circle were awarded 20,000 per cent returns on their personal investments: Chisholm himself pocketed more than £20m, in a process bluntly described afterwards by the parliamentary public accounts committee as "profiteering".

He's plainly regarded as a safe pair of hands in which to place public money. ®

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