Thoughts on diversity

Thoughts on diversity

I was trying to think of interesting people to tweet Josh Spector for his a great website personyoushouldknow. I was surprised to realize that most of the people that came to my mind were white males.

I consume a lot of information. I watch talks, listen to podcasts, read blogs…. So why couldn’t I think of a more diverse group of people? Why couldn’t I think of people like myself; black and or female?

Where’s the diversity at?

I’m mostly focusing on gender and racial diversity, but I believe that diversity across the board is important. Not just for the most vocal groups.

Maybe it’s a change in my consciousness but I’m beginning to notice more and more that things still aren’t as equal as we all hope. It’s been decades since racism became unacceptable socially, and decades since women fought for equal rights and equal pay.

I’m starting to ask why?

Why is it the same faces at the top?  Why is a female superhero always a sidekick? Why are there so few people with disabilities on our screens? Why do Middle Eastern Muslims have to apologise for the actions of a small group of people? Why do we still judge people by the stereotypes? Why is a male boss strong and a female boss a bitch? Why do young black boys smoking a bit of weed get a harsher treatment than bankers who destroy livelihoods? Why do we still associate all the isms with class?

It’s sad to say that even today there’s still a sense of tokenism that pervades our society. We know the stories there cant be two black models with Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. Women CEO’s hired in crisis “look things are changing” then fired when times are good.

At Architecture school I was often the only black person in my year. In many places I work in today I’m still the only one. Most of the time I barely notice. I almost become more conscious of my race when I travel (I spent this summer in Cambodia and having people literally stop and stare open mouthed is an interesting experience!)

In order for us to truly succeed we need diversity.

I don’t believe that the solutions are as big or as hard as we make out. There are already smatterings of change thanks to the knowledge age. We have more power now than ever before to choose. To choose what we take in, what we experience, what we disseminate, who we connect with…..

Look at the rise in feminism. It’s cool thanks to people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. We are proudly declaring we are feminists a changing the militant man-hating image that was so identified with it just a few years ago.

However racial diversity is still a taboo. I was recently at the planning of an event and following from an idea of showcasing more women in the field I brought up showcasing diversity. I could feel the discomfort rise. Someone pointed out that we don’t want to seem angry and moany.

Why is it so hard to talk? 

It’s uncomfortable. It’s much easier to be practice blindness. To say the opportunities are there, people just aren’t taking them, to say stop complaining stop being angry, to pretend not to notice, to blame the media, to let others doing the hard work, to be cynical and say things will never change.

 Most of the time it’s just status quo we don’t need to question it. I mean it’d be stranger to see a diverse group of people on TV or a diverse boardroom.

“I don’t know whether I’m proud or anything. I’m happy that we’re able to mesh together in this ensemble cast and create a wonderful story. It’s Hollywood’s fault, for letting this get so far, that when a black person or a female, or someone from a different cultural group is cast in a movie, we have to have debates as to whether they’re placed there just to meet a [quota]. I also understand, on the flip side, where these other mentalities will arise. ‘He’s just placed there for political correctness.’ I don’t hear you guys saying that when Brad Pitt is there. When Tom Cruise is there. Hell, when Shia LaBeouf is there, you guys ain’t saying that. “ John Boyenga interview. 

It’s no use us just talking within ourselves as a friend of mine says, it becomes a black issue, or a womens issue or a disability issue when it’s everybody’s issue.

So what can we do?

We need to start noticing & start talking.

Sometimes I have to experience something to notice it. A third of a company I was working at was made redundant and I realized that though women made a smaller proportion of the office we made the majority of the redundancies. It was the first time I saw how subtle sexism could be, like putting women in lower contribution positions where we’re easier to get rid of.

But we don’t have to wait till it happens to us or to someone we know. We can educate ourselves on the issues. There’s so much information. And being more aware means we can start to consciously question what we see.

Watching Miss Representation opened my eyes to how awfully women are presented in the media. Now it really bothers me when I watch a film/ TV show and I spot this. I had to stop watching the Walking Dead because it was ridiculous that the women were still doing the washing up at the end of the world!

I can also appreciate when it’s done well. Shows like Master of None, Orange is the new Black, Capital deal with issues of race, gender, and identity in such a human and multifaceted way that is incredibly refreshing.

We need more stories

“White people I don’t think you realize how lucky you are. If one of you is a prick to me, I don’t think all white people are pricks. I’m a bloody representative; Your interactions with me determine how you feel about brown people. It’s all right if I’m in London there’s enough of us to balance it out. But if I’m in bloody Devon…. I’ve got to behave like im C3PO.” Romesh Ranganathan, British Comedian

In her talk the Danger of the Single Story Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains so eloquently why we need more stories.

Multifaceted stories. Portrayals where people aren’t caricatures or tokens like the black judge who doesn’t even speak.

A brilliant example of this is Humans of New York. Brandons latest series on Syrian refugees moving to America has done so much to put human faces to the single story we see in the media. I love reading the comments and seeing how many people across the world are changing their perceptions.

Socializing with people that are ‘different’ from us also opens up our worldview and our understanding of each other. As Jamie Foxx explained in his interview with Tim Ferriss, going to university he met people from all over the world. People whose countries we’re in direct conflict, like Israel and Palestine and they were able to became friends.

Stories and human connections increase our empathy. Our ability to see beneath the labels to the human below and realize we are no different. To see the spectrum of humanity that exists.

It also raises our aspirations; as they say you can’t be what you cant see. Maybe films like Frozen where a generation of young girls connect to the single, powerful queen are making an impact.

We need to analyse our values

“A male hero, at best, lacks the qualities of maternal love and tenderness which are as essential to a normal child as the breath of life. Suppose your child’s ideal becomes a superman who uses his extraordinary powers to help the weak. The most important ingredient in the human happiness recipe still is missing—love. It’s smart to be strong. It’s big to be generous. But it’s sissified, according to exclusively masculine rules, to be tender, loving, affectionate, and alluring … And that’s the point; not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power.” William Marston, wonder girl

We denigrate the value of the ‘feminine’. We look down on women who want to be stay at home mums. We tell our boys to stop acting like girls, we tell women to speak like a ‘man’ to be respected. We say moderate your appearance to be taken seriously. Everything a woman wears comes with a judgment. 

The worlds toughest job.

We devalue black culture. We use words like ‘masters’ to describe Asian art and ‘primitive’ to describe African art. We see slang or patois or any other speech pattern as inferior. We think a compliment is as comment like David Starkey saying black Tottenham MP David Lammy, “sounded white.” Or you’re pretty for a black girl.

We tell immigrants to be a ‘good immigrant.’ We think every culture apart from ours is inferior. We “Exult in the crimes of others and in our nobility of opposing them.”

In the west we’ve created a system that values one way of being above all others. The old white male and all the attributes we associate with that are at the top of our pyramid. We are told to be more like this in order to be valued. Fit this frame so we can like you.

It’s all a value judgment, there is no right or wrong just what we perceive. We are beginning to question this more vocally.



We need more opportunities

The truth is opportunities aren’t created equally. Where you live, your race, your gender, your physical abilities determine what opportunities come your way. It’s not that there aren’t enough capable people across the diverse groups. Research has shown we tend to choose people that are familiar.

I was really touched watching Land Fillharmonic. At the end of the film one of the young people thanked their teacher for giving them the opportunity to dream. She was right. The world would never have met such amazing musicians if the opportunity hadn’t been brought to them.

One way to increase the opportunity pool is with quotas. Norway is the first country in the world to mandate that women account for 40% of it’s board seats.

Then reaction is always that’s not a meritocracy! The quality won’t be as good. It’s as though we live in an actual meritocracy, how many people get jobs because they apply versus because they know someone? On the flip side how many people go to jail because of their race?

We need better access to opportunities

A brilliant example of actually increasing access was a talk I saw at the Scottish Learning Festival. The Duke of Edinburgh Award in the UK is looking at how it can widen its participation and change it’s image from a white middle class boys thing. A school in Edinburgh with the help of Khaleda Noon realized that they had to tailor the programme in order to do this. They set up girl only sessions that ran during the school day instead of afterschool meaning that girls from a ethnic backgrounds could attend. It seems like such a small change but it made a huge difference to who could attend.

We need to do the same thing across the board. Instead of saying we’re not getting a diverse pool of candidates, we need to go back the way and work out where the change is. In order to make a change we need to understand the problem.

That’s one way quotas help it gradually widens the choice of candidates.

For example we have more women than men graduating, so what happens between graduating and reaching high positions? Where do we put women where they start? Do we stream them into dead end positions? Do we penalize them for choosing to have families through actions like firing pregnant women or taking away flexible working. Are we looking at the long term or the short term?

“Dr Ferreira noted that while quotas can achieve gains in the long run, they are associated with costs in the short run.” – Report by the House of Commons Treasury Committee, Women in the City, April 2010

Change can happen.

I believe that we can have a world where;

We listen, observe and connect with open minds, hearts and empathy.

We won’t need to be 10 times as good to be seen

Where “there can be a feminist man, doing good womens work” as Johnetta.

Diversity is sustainable, diversity is beautiful, diversity is innovation.


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