Meet the Brussels Binder, a free online database whose main goal is to tackle female under-representantion in policy debates in Brussels. We interviewed Virginia Marantidou, a founding member of the initiative – which will be officially launched on 31 January – and one of the website/database coordinators along with Alazne Irigoien and Natalia Macyra.
The Digital Post: Why a Brussels Binder is needed? What makes this initiative necessary?
Virginia Marantidou: There is an evident under-representation of female voices in policy debates in Brussels. According to EUPanel watch, an initiative that monitors events in Brussels and reports on their gender balance, in 2017 out of 380 debates monitored with over 1700 speakers only 1/3 of them was women. The Brussels Binder aims to address this under-representation.
The initiative started from a group of women who work in various think-tanks and had a first-hand experience of this situation not only as conference participants but also as organizers. We would often reach out to colleagues to suggest to us speakers and experts for a panel we organized and we would get only male names.
It was like we had fallen in a loop, every time the same thing. At some point we would email each other and our female networks for recommendations on women experts, and guess what? There were plenty of them out there.
Similarly, we got fed up with seeing male-dominated or all male panels in Brussels and every time we asked how come there were not enough women or even none in a panel, organizers would answer that they tried but couldn’t find one.
That is when we realized we needed to take action and somehow give visibility to female policy experts but also eliminate the excuse that “we couldn’t find any woman expert to invite” or “there are not enough women experts on this field”. This is how the Brussels Binder, a database of women experts was conceived, as a go-to resource for media and conference organizers.
So what makes this initiative necessary? It stems from the necessity to have gender-balanced policy discussions. Policy debates influence actual policy-making and thus they need to be reflective of the societies they take place in.
TDP: How does it work?
VM: The BB is a publicly open and free online database of female policy experts. It is really user-friendly and very intuitive to navigate. Women experts can register on our website and once they submit their registration, they are redirected to the profile page where they can fill in fields with their current position, expertise, years of experience, short bio, and other relevant information.
They also have the opportunity to upload their publications, videos of their participation in debates and whatever information they think is best in order to promote their profile. Then, within 24 to 48 hours the profile goes through a quality check and it is published online.
I should note that we do not set specific age, years of experience, or areas of expertise criteria as compulsory for someone to be able to create their profile, since we believe that each of us deserves an opportunity to increase their professional profile and in the end your work speaks for you.
Mistakenly, it is usually considered that only CEOs or senior professionals can be experts or can authoritatively speak on a panel, especially when it comes to women. For us everyone should have a chance.
Users do not need to register. Anyone can go online, use the search engine, and filter by various fields. Users can also recommend an expert who will then be invited to join the database.
TDP: What are the activities the BB is planning in the near future?
VM: We have our official launch on the 31st of January. The event is kindly hosted by the Representation of State of Hessen to the EU and supported by Google and FTI.
It will be basically a big party to celebrate the fruition of the project but also to celebrate a community that shares our values and concerns, believes in our goals and supports them. But the main focus after the event is to populate the database, have women trust it as a career promotion tool, make sure that users search yields results and a proper matching takes place.
The end goal is that more women will feature on panels, on the news, and publications in the near future. Last, another goal for us is to have a platform that centralizes information of the various women’s and gender-related initiatives and organizations in Brussels.
TDP: How digital technologies are relevant for an initiative such Brussels Binder?
VM: Digital technologies are providing excellent tools to easily share knowledge, connect people and amplify messages. The BB has benefitted on all these aspects. We started with an online crowd-funding campaign.
This tool did not only help raise funds for the project but also allowed people to be part of it, and by investing their money and time on a common cause it helped forge a community even before we had the actual database. And then we built a tech tool that incorporates knowledge sharing and network building.
TDP: The ICT sector is considered as a laggard in terms of gender balance. From your point of view, what policies at EU level can help fix this problem?
VM: Well although I am not an ICT expert and have not worked in this sector it seems that indeed ICT amongst many other sectors is male-dominated. Specifically the problem is found on the higher echelons of companies. Most major ICT companies nowadays are publishing statistics on their gender balance and diversity, and the steps they take towards more equality and diversity in their people operations.
Still the number of women in tech is below 20% of the total human power in the sector, according actually to Facebook’s “Diversity Update”. It seems that the problem of low participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) starts from an early age in first levels of education.
The reasons amongst others are stereotyping, such as teaching and learning materials permeating gender stereotypes, or girls being less encouraged by parents and teachers to study and follow STEM professionally. Also, lack of role models is another issue, the lack of female teachers in STEM subjects.
Therefore, I think EU policies should focus on a gender-responsive education on STEM, and on promoting mentoring opportunities, scholarships and access to tools that will help young women follow a STEM/ICT path.
Picture credits: fotovision47