Can Womens' Diversity Be Found via Exclusion or Inclusion?
Conferences and training programs that focus solely on women are on the rise, creating a platform for women to connect; share knowledge, ideas, and opportunities; and empower each other to succeed. Although this focus on women's diversity is one way to enable women to step up and obtain better prospects, it leaves us to question whether the diversity lies in their exclusion or inclusion as a group.
This question is definitely worth answering following a recent comment made by Rahul Sood, general manager of Microsoft Ventures. Sood commented on the Startup Weekend Seattle Women event with the following Tweet:
While I'm a huge advocate for #diversity & women entrepreneurs, having a startup weekend just for women is kinda #pointless.
Sood's statement may not be completely true, but he has a point that deserves more thought. Although such exclusive women-only events may provide the right awareness and positioning to start with, does this form of women's diversity lead to an exclusion of women in a larger platform?
Organizations have long been promoting women's diversity through hiring, promotion, and opportunity ratios with the goal of letting women showcase their potential. This is a more inclusive form of women's diversity, which allows them to directly compete with men—with a slight advantage in light of diversity goals.
It is great to hear about the possibility of Condoleezza Rice being appointed as the NFL Commissioner. This is a strong case of women's diversity that is obviously backed by the credentials she possesses to succeed in that role.
Sood’s comment has been receiving widespread criticism. Shauna Causey, one of the organizers of the Startup Weekend event, says that the Startup Weekend event is not restricted just to women—a male could sign up for it and be accompanied by a female. Causey says that in her experience at mixed technical events with no restrictions on gender, the number of women can typically be hand counted. However, when a women’s-only program such as this is organized, the turnout is surprisingly high.
This leaves us with an important takeaway. Even though diversity is being improved at an industry level through both exclusion and inclusion programs, women need to take the initiative to gradually move themselves up the ladder and embrace more inclusion opportunities rather than hiding behind the cover of exclusion programs. At the end of the day, that is where women can take advantage of the opportunities that exist and demonstrate their potential to the fullest.