Exclusivity vs. Advancement 

Today my company’s Women’s Initiative program hosted a panel discussion with company executives that was supposed to highlight Women In Tech, specifically in our tech company. (It didn’t, but more on that later.) Before it started I was chatting with a woman I’ve only occasionally worked with. And in striving to keep the conversation going, I commented how encouraged I was to see how many men turned out for a Women’s Initiative event. Her response was that it was nice, especially since the program “feels” a bit exclusive. 

My immediate reaction was that in any effort to promote marginalized groups there is some kernel of exclusivity endemic to that uplifting of the target population. But, I also said that the slight imbalance created by that shift in focus is typically off-set by the privilege that the non-target group enjoys. Then the obligatory flippant, hopefully easy-going, comment was “so they should just get over it”. 
Now, what I meant by that snark is that the passing discomfort of the privileged from momentarily not being the center of attention is trivial in comparison to the significant benefits to the marginalized from being in the spotlight for a time. 
So, two things:
First, shouldn’t that be obvious? Shouldn’t reasonably intelligent adults be able to recognize that creating a group or event or environment that brings light and opportunity for advancement to repressed/oppressed/marginalized populations is, of itself, a noble purpose, and the reduction of oppressive privilege as a result, is a benefit to everyone? I feel like this should be obvious. Granted, the question isn’t always as clean as who holds more privilege between (ostensibly) only two groups. Sometimes variables within each population enjoy different levels of privilege and suffer different levels of oppression, so that you are really having to juggle the interests of multiple groups. For example, all men vs. all women can break down into racial, economic, national, political and sexual orientation demographics among each, in which some women are privileged over other women, some men over other men, and depending on how granular your filters, even some women might be privileged over some men. These variables can be tricky to account for and sometimes complicate the analysis of exclusivity vs. advancement. But, at a high level and in most instances, I think this cost/benefit analysis should be obvious. 
Second, even if the win-win of creating equality isn’t obvious in every micro-instance, shouldn’t the mere fact of a population among us suffering oppression and inequality merit scrutiny, even if that scrutiny is uncomfortable for some? Doesn’t that mean that, instead of defaulting to criticism of a possible negative attribute that might exist with the program to instill equality, the instinctive response should be rather to support and further the cause? I’m all for spotting problems, avoiding risks and preventing the cure from becoming worse than the disease. But that’s not what this type of thinking does. This is, whether accidental or intentional, obstructionist thinking. This type of reaction deflects attention from the core concern to a tertiary side-effect, obscuring the primary purpose with trivialities. It can stop a program or movement in its tracks, if it’s allowed to fester unaddressed before the program gets its legs. That’s what makes lazy thinking so dangerous. 
And here’s a bonus thought:  All intelligent discourse is beneficial. Today’s Women’s Initiative event didn’t address a women-centered topic as initially billed. Instead, it was an executive panel discussion about organizational change and change management, only sponsored by the Women’s Initiative organization. However, it’s lack of a women’s focus did not prevent it from being the platform for critical thinking about deep social issues. I had a much more satisfying chat with a different co-worker afterward that played on the same theme, only from a positive, uplifting angle. And even though I found my colleague’s comment irksome, it put my mind to work, helping me to articulate some thoughts (if no answers) about why activism, even in its mildest, most micro-level form, is critical for the growth and prosperity of all communities. 
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