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Sometimes, I think I should update my LinkedIn job title to “Manel Preventer” which stands for all-male panels preventer. Several times a year, I get requests to participate on a panel of all men at a big conference. It happens in both of my core fields: national security and technology. It happens even when I am not the best person for the job (I know nothing about FinTech, for example, and still get asked to speak on it again and again). Most of the time, I get asked to moderate the panel of male experts (which I usually turn down.)
When I founded an incubator training technology experts on how to do policy, I was warned that I would have a hard time avoiding a similar problem: creating a “mellowship” or all-white male fellowship (Yes, I just coined that term). People told me things like women and minorities wouldn’t be interested in applying to a full-time program. Supposedly, they wouldn’t be able to take the time given family and personal responsibilities. But the most eye-rolling (and sadly unsurprising) comment of all is that they wouldn’t be qualified compared to their male engineer and startup founder counterparts.
Yet, when we launched our first cohort earlier this summer, the mellowship did not come to fruition. We only had three white males in the group—everyone else was a woman, a person of color, or both. While we’re not quite ready to reveal them yet, we can state with confidence our next class will have a similar profile.
We didn’t reach this outcome by elevating specific populations over other qualified candidates. We worked hard to create a fair system, stuck to it, and it worked. Here’s what we learned in the process.