Token Man founder Daniele Fiandaca makes the case for no more women-only panels

A couple of weeks ago I was at SXSW Interactive, still one of the inspiring events in the calendar. As I am sure you have read, the key trends were very much a build on last year with robots, AI and virtual reality dominating the festival.

As the co-founder of Token Man, an initiative to get men into the gender diversity conversation and to inspire behaviour change, I spent a little more time attending diversity talks. It appears the tech industry is one of the few industries that has a bigger diversity issue than advertising: only 11 per cent of senior execs in Silicon Valley are women which compares to 27.3 per cent in UK creative agencies.

I was enlightened by some great talks. And here’s some highlights.

1. Blind auditions stop bias

I learned about how the top orchestras introduced a curtain during auditions so as to combat gender bias (think The Voice) which led to the percentage of women increasing from 12 per cent in the 1980s to 40 per cent today (a nice culture hack).

2. Women attract women

I discovered how Iris Bohnet of Harvard Kennedy School realised all the art on its walls only featured men so it commissioned a set of portraits of leading women. It has been proven that just seeing a photo of an influential woman can have tangible effects on girls’ behaviour. What's on your walls?

3. Job interviews don’t show who is right for the job

Interviews apparently aren’t a good indicator and lead to natural gender bias. What is better is to focus on job based learning which is far more effective.

4. Diversity training doesn’t work

And, most surprisingly, I learned from Iris Bohnet that there is no empirical evidence to prove that diversity training is actually working. Which means we need to be doing more and creativity in solutions is going to help that.

5. Diversity panels don’t include men

However, when it came to the keynote on diversity, I decided not to partake. Why? Quite simply it was yet another gender diversity topic inhabited solely by women. I appreciate that in the past there have not been that many men willing to step forward and speak out about gender diversity, but our experience from the dozen or so men we have interviewed is that this is no longer the case. My gut is that these men have existed for quite some time but they are only now being asked to enter the conversation.

In the diversity talks in which I am usually one of the few token men in the audience (I had not realised how apt the name would be), the issue of inclusion comes up time and time again as the key to delivering change.

Yet there are hardly any men included in the conversation.

There are many men who want to speak out, who feel truly passionately about diversity. Diversity is about the balance; about all points of view being represented, male and female.

We set up Token Man as a positive force for creating equality in the workplace and if you want to have an all-female panel then that’s up to you (and in a few cases it may still be appropriate). However, if you do want some men to speak, we have launched a ‘database’ of our Token Men who will happily talk about diversity. Just get in contact @token_man.

In the meantime, in the same way I will not judge on a male-dominated jury or speak on a men-only panel, I will no longer be attending any women-only panel events. In the short term no one is likely to notice, but for those women who read this, next time you are asked to join a panel on diversity, I hope you might ask the question: ‘Is the panel diverse?’ And, who is ‘included’? And for those men reading this, continue to find ways to get involved in the discussion.

We believe inclusion is the key to delivering equality in the workplace which in itself will lead to a diversity of perspective and a richness of ideas which is fundamental to thriving in this new age of creativity.

Daniele Fiandaca is founder of Creative Social and the creator of Token Man, which sees prominent women from across the marketing industry interview male figures about their views on gender imbalance and diversity in the industry.

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