Disclaimer – this blog is not a personal attack. Nor is it an attack on the institution in question. The example I use in this blog is real and it is symptomatic of our exclusive policy making for profit society. The institution in question, while I feel they were completely lacking in their handling of the situation would probably have fared a lot better if government funding supported their ground breaking attempts at inclusion instead of funding exclusionary events like Energy Ireland, Environment Ireland, the Renewable Energy Summit etc.
I was invited to an energy symposium being held on October 13-14. The organiser invited me upon the advise of a renowned name in climate science. It’s in the west of Ireland, free of charge and bills itself as influencing policy. I made some enquires and decided to accept the invitation. They needed a submission, an opinion piece so I forwarded it in due course. You can read it here.
This was the invite;
John Sweeney, NUIM kindly sent me on your details. I’ve a quick one for you which we thought might be of interest.
As you may know Irish Manufacturing Research (www.imr.ie) is hosting an International Energy Symposium in the west of Ireland, this coming October (Friday 14th). This event will bring together the top 100 most influential people in industrial energy in Ireland, and provide a strategy platform to influence National and International Energy Policy into the medium term.
The organising committee are looking to select a vibrant mix of people across the entire industrial energy sector, and in the industrial expert section we would like to include you.”
Nearer the time I enquired about childcare. Someone rang to explain why I should attend, again mentioning the policy influencing opportunities. I was eventually told that they had failed to secure funding so there would be no childcare or expense reimbursement available. The children were welcome to attend though. Someone else was bringing hers. That just left accommodation as the event started Thursday evening and finished Friday afternoon. I wondered if there was camping. I was let down softly, it was understandable if I couldn’t make it but I could remain in the loop.
This wouldn’t be an issue for the government, corporate or industry attendees who could afford to attend. It’s the opposite of collaboration, participation, shared visioning, community engagement! This only left me feeling more conflicted. All of my principles were in conflict!
I considered my options. I couldn’t pay someone to mind the children at home but I could bring them along. I could find out what they’d miss in school. Should I? I could bring them and make a little adventure out of it. Another participants partner offered to mind the children so between us it could work.
So here is the stream of emails which has resulted in my being excluded from this event despite being invited and my intellectual property being displayed on the website promoting it.
See the link attached for a camping site. Hope that helps.”
So I replied;
IMR invited me to this event based on a reference from Prof John Sweeney, Ireland’s internationally renowned climate scientist. Due to the fact that there is a deficit of female participation at energy conferences and most are in Dublin I agreed to get involved. This event is also marketed as policy influencing which is more of a reason to ensure female participation. I accepted and put together my submission. I now see that there is a major lack of women. Of 100 participants only 9 are women.
There are so many reasons why more women need to be involved when it comes to climate action and energy policy. As with policy and decision making in general. There are also well known reasons why they cannot get involved; the 5 “C”s; childcare, cost, confidence, culture and candidate. In other words society has 5 obstacles to female participation. Consider it that this conference has these obstacles too.
How can we try to alleviate these obstacles?
In accepting your invite I chose to bring a confident candidate to this conversation which flies in the face of current culture. This incurs cost though. I either pay someone to mind my 3 children at home or I bring them with me. It will also cost to travel to the venue.
Passionate about ensuring female participation I considered my options. I could bring the children and camp in Cong. They could stay with me during the workshops although 3 siblings would be a handful. Then I questioned my sanity! Was I really willing to pitch a tent with 3 children for 2 nights to ensure a more inclusive workshop?? Or should I just let existing culture continue and keep the female voice muted.
In the end I’ve decided upon a compromise. I’m willing to address most of the obstacles; candidate, confidence, childcare and most of the cost in order to address the culture. However I’m not going to pitch a tent.
I spoke with the local hostel about a family room. It costs €75 per night and I’d need 2 nights for a variety of reasons. I could drive home Friday evening but that would be unfair on the children having brought them to Cong and not spent quality time with them.
Could you see if you can get someone to cover €150 hostel expenses so that I can participate and IMR can play their part in facilitating the cultural shift towards equal representation? I can pay my own travel.
I received the following response;
Thank you for your informative and thoughtful email. Unfortunately as I outlined last week when we spoke, we simply do not have a budget to facilitate accommodation and/or travel for any of our invitees. We were unable to secure adequate sponsorship for the event to cover these elements of the process. We’ve had a similar conversation with a number of candidates and its deeply regrettable.
This is our first year and its a learning opportunity for us in many ways. Perhaps next year we will be able to secure adequate finance to accommodate you in potential future events.”
So I replied;
I thought one of the corporate attendees may be willing to sponsor it. Did you explore that option?
We’ve explored as many options as was feasible given our own limited resources and the scale of the task in hand. Unfortunately we will not be able to pay (nor arrange for payment of) expenses for any of the invitees to this event this year. Its something we are taking under advisement and will seek to revisit in future.”
So this is participation in the era of the energy citizen. This event went from their being honoured by my participation, to my attendance being my privilege to my eventual exclusion.
I often report on the prohibitively expensive, urban centred energy conferences that bring together government, industry and a handful of NGO non governmental organisation representatives. While the industry and government plan the nations future the handful of NGOs are doing what the can to prevent the corporate takeover of our society and our environment. The balance of power is always with the industry because they have the time, money, people and influence. The media have played their part in society’s permission to dismiss the questioning voice by weighing in behind government, vested interest lobby groups and industry persistent villianisation of anyone in any way questioning the neoliberal capitalist agenda. Labels such as environmentalist, anti capitalist, socialist, feminist are all used to silence very real concerns that for profit agenda would rather society didn’t consider.
October 12th 2016