Steven H Silver organized the 2000 Worldcon as well as other convention programs. Here is his commentary on Paul Cornell’s initiative.
Steven H Silver: I’m aware of Paul’s idea and certainly have some opinions about it. Not sure I can crunch complete numbers to give you anything specific, although I quickly ran the first few hours of Chicon 2000 Programming (because I have them on-line and the Windycon programs I’ve done aren’t as accessible) and came up with the following:
Of the first 35 Panels…
Men outnumbered women on panels by more than 2 on 8 panels
Women outnumbered men on panels by more than 2 on 6 panels
Perfect parity on 3 panels
Men outnumbered women by 1 on 6 panels
Women outnumbered men by 1 on 5 panels
The remaining items only had one person on them
My approach is to look at the people I have available as panelists, understand their strengths and weaknesses and assign them to panels where I think they have something to add to the topic and will be interesting. I try to avoid using people to simply fill quotas since people’s skills and knowledge sets are not interchangeable.
I have real issues with people tampering with my programs because they (probably) don’t understand the personalities involved, the concepts behind the panels, and the reasoning given for including the people who are included.
Some panels, by their nature, are going to be heavily slanted towards male or female panelists. Others will be slanted because the panelist pool for the convention is limiting. I’d love, for instance, to have a panel on women writers in the comic industry, but first I need a convention which provides me with enough women who write comics who will be in attendance.
Paul’s approach would certainly make me less likely to use someone who feels that they have the right to create a scene and mess with programming. The proper approach would be to contact programming with concerns when the program is set up and open up a dialogue to, perhaps, understand why certain decisions were made, rather than issuing ultimatums.
I spend a lot of hours each time I create a programming schedule to try to get a good balance of people, by gender or interest or experience, depending on what any given panel topic is. For a panelist to unilaterally change a panel indicates that the panelist doesn’t understand what goes on behind the scenes and seems to think that all panelists are created equally, which, if it were the case, would mean that we could simply toss names into a hat and pull them out at random to determine who should be on a panel.
If Paul were to attend a convention where I was running programming, I would most likely treat his request the same way I would treat a panelist’s request not be be put on a panel with Person A or schedule them for a panel before Noon. It would be something to strive for, but I wouldn’t do it to the detriment of a panel. If I had a great panel idea and Paul was a potential panelist and the other four panelists who fit the theme were also men, my choice would be to put together a panel of four without Paul or of all five and worry about Paul becoming a panelist vigilante. In that case, I’d choose the four-person panel. Paul wouldn’t have achieved parity for that particular panel and the attendees may find themselves with a slightly weaker panel in the process.