That is a very different claim from “if the person has something to say, they’d be on the panel”, the contrapositive of which was “anyone who is not on the panel had nothing to say”.
It’s difficult for me to be confident that good ideas will win as long as institutions exist that prevent certain ideas from surfacing. A panel organizer insisting (explicitly or implicitly) on a panel of all men, all women, all white, all Asian, or whatever it is, is probably diminishing freedom in the “marketplace of ideas” and privileging the bad ideas of one group over the good ideas of another.
Last year I attended a panel sponsored by a “women in computer science” club; on the panel were two men and three women. One of the men made the assertion that the reason all his team members were male was because he worked in a really niche field and no women had studied it. This stuck in my mind not just because it was a rather strong and extraordinary claim, but because the woman sitting next to him worked in a field that had similarly rigorous requirements for mathematical and engineering talent, but also required her to have several years of experience as a pilot.
I cannot, of course, prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion the reason there weren’t more women on the panel had less to do with there being few qualified women, and more to do with there being few qualified women available; perhaps they didn’t have enough time to speak on a panel, being much too occupied doing twice as much work to get half as far.
That example is a red herring. You specified that the fields were similar but had different requirements. I don't think the fields had gender requirements ("if male, apply here" type). That either sounds like different interests or different discoverability. For example, aircraft engineering and aircraft simulation are similar but have very different requirements.
It sounds like we have different definitions of gender requirements, and from that fundamental point of disagreement we may find ourselves unable to align on anything else.
I don’t believe a hiring manager needs to say “it male, apply here”; if the hiring manager, making a subjective assessment of a candidate’s competence during an in-person interview, has any set priors that — even and especially without the manager being aware — cause them to view a woman as less competent than they would a man who said all the same things — then they’ll end up with an all-male team whether qualified women exist or not.
It is of course also true that this will also happen if no qualified women exist, but it is difficult to know which of the two scenarios we are in without some form of control.
On the other hand, suppose we over-correct for my view / the “pledge”, and a woman is added to the panel who has nothing to say. Won’t she then just...not say anything? I confess I don’t see even a potential harm in being as inclusive as possible when the stakes are this ludicrously low.
As far as my example goes, both of the individuals I’m describing have such specific responsibilities that with much further detail their employers, and then their own personal identities, might too easily be deduced. For all I know you literally are one of them. I can only say they worked on drastically different products, but solved highly similar classes of problems. You either trust I know enough about these individuals to know what I’m talking about or not, and I very strongly suspect you’ve already made up your mind.
1) All one on one assessments are subjective to some degree. 2) A spot on the panel is not free. If a person doesn't have anything to say, that person is taking a spot from someone who can. 3) You case is anecdotal. Even assuming it is true, solving a similar problem is not then issue, because I never questioned intelligence. What matters is that different people can end up is same spot taking different paths. 4) Statistics does not support that modern day gender discrepancy is due to some bias. Moreover, there is some overfitting that favors women in early career.
1. Yes this is an inescapable fact of being human, and I can’t imagine removing humans from the hiring process would be anything but terrible in practice. 2. In an academic setting, an informal meetup, or in-company seminar, panel speakers are almost always unpaid volunteers, so a seat at the panel is basically free. I’ll concede it’s not free at a big sponsored conference. 3. Of course anecdotes don’t prove any big claims on their own, but they’re plenty good for *disproving* strong sweeping claims like “qualified women don’t exist” while perhaps also being illustrative of how, say, a man might fail to notice qualified women exist even when one is literally sitting beside him. 4. Overall gender ratios in raw employment/unemployment stats appear roughly consistent with ratios of interest level in the career path; fewer women than men are interested in STEM careers and fewer have them. On the other hand that ratio is still pretty close to 20:80 whether we’re looking at employment, academic degrees, or any stage in between. But the article linked here specifically mentions a panel of 23 speakers that ended up 95% male, which, while far from impossible, is somewhat improbable in a perfectly unbiased environment and should still be corrected for even then, especially when the topic at hand is something like “web development and computer literacy education for children aged 9 to 11”, and can therefore be expected to discuss matters that directly affect 1 girl for every 4 boys! It seems reasonable to insist on proportionate representation in cases like this.
TLDR: Pledge to “boycott” (not speak at) panels you’re invited to, without first checking to confirm that the organizer has invited at least N>0 women (choose a value of N that suits how forgiving you’re personally willing to be; even with N=1 you will almost certainly decline a panel).