TEDWomen: Condescending or good idea?

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Elizabeth Engel stirred up a hornet's nest with her post about the launch of TEDWomen, the latest offshoot of the amazing TED conference. Most of the female commenters seem to agree with Elizabeth that holding a separate TED to look at how women are shaping the world is in effect consigning women to a pink meetings ghetto.

I remember agonizing over a series of articles I did on diversity and meetings a few years ago. One of those articles was a compliation of all the tips I'd heard from all the people I interviewed (and I made darn sure they were a diverse bunch) called 17 ways to be more inclusive. Oh did I get some nasty letters on that one! Particularly offensive was the suggestion to consider the idea of giving minorities their own space to meet within the meeting (which was a tip from a consultant on diversity issues). And I was even more surprised that the objections I was hearing came exclusively from white men (yes, I asked).

I'm still a little raw from that go-round, so I think I'll mostly sit this one out. This I will say: Do I think it's a good idea to showcase the ways in which women are changing the world for the better? Yes. Do I think this is the way to go about it? Hmm, probably not. Jamie Notter is so right in his explanation of why diversity issues are so hard -- those in power don't, can't, really, understand where those not in power are coming from, and how they benefit from their power positions, and how their perception of the world can make even the best of intentions be perceived as condescending to those they are trying to show appreciation for.

It is a wicked problem, as Patti Digh would say. But it's a wicked problem all meeting planners should at least be thinking about: Are your attempts to be more inclusive actually making people feel more marginalized?

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