2012-02-20 01:34 (UTC)
It depends on how you decide 'most qualified', doesn't it? Numerous factors come into play when choosing panellists - in-depth knowledge of the topic, direct experience of the topic, current relation to the topic (ie are you currently working on it), availability, whether the con can afford to get you there, does the panellist bring a new or original perspective to the topic, are they a skilled debater, are they funny, do they ask penetrating questions, can they chair a panel effectively. You seem to be assuming first that it's easy to rank people in order of their qualification, and second that the makeup of panels purely reflects the makeup of the industry.
To digress slightly, many orchestras now do blind auditions - those auditioning do not speak, they enter, play and leave concealed from the panel judging them. Orchestras that do this rapidly start selecting on a more gender-equal basis, when previously they disproportionately selected men. Was this deliberate? Well, probably not, or they wouldn't have gone to the effort of introducing blind auditioning in the first place. More likely, they had subconscious bias that led them to prefer men's playing. And it's entirely possible this kind of bias comes into play when selecting panellists. A gender quota is one way of overcoming this subconscious bias.
How will it help? Well, the visible involvement of women can interest other women and encourage participation, for starters. They can also get men accustomed to seeing women involved. Getting the 'oh God! a girl!' reaction can be very off-putting. Being on panels is also a way to meet and talk to industry professionals, and get your viewpoint out to a wider audience. The industry is sorely lacking in female perspectives.
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