Diversity, Minus the Tokenism

By Katrin Bennhold

“At TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design), it took about a day to realize that I wasn’t getting the usual pangs of irritation. I had not wasted a minute pondering the gender of the speakers.

Women did not account for half of the 100 speakers, and that is not the point. The point is that at a total of 42, there were enough of them to forget about their gender — some people call this critical mass, which usually kicks in somewhere between 30 and 40 percent.

Why does this matter? For the same reason that it matters to have diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, cultural background and occupation: To attract the best ideas, you cannot afford to deprive yourself of any part of the idea-generating population.

This is tougher than it might seem. “It’s actually very complex to have a gender-balanced program even if you really care,” said June Cohen, executive producer of TED…

… when you invite a woman, she is less likely to accept and more likely to cancel at the last minute, Ms. Cohen said. In her experience, women feel less entitled than men to get up on stage and tend to have more commitments at home and at work, complicating speaking engagements.

Perhaps it helps that four of the seven most senior TED managers are women — and, according to Ms. Cohen, all four have a special antenna “to smoke out” interesting women.”

Read the full article at nytimes.com

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