As part of an internal conference at Redgate, I gave an introductory talk on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts publicly.
As a caveat, D&I will look very different depending on who and where you are, so it’s important to know that my considerations are geared towards a Western audience specifically – but many of the takeaways are applicable more generally.
As US American writer Jacqueline Woodson said, “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together”. So one, we are all involved, and two, remember that it’s a learning process.
How can I, as an individual, help?
Because we all need to ‘unlearn’ everything we’ve been culturally conditioned to believe, we can feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. The fact is, everyone has made mistakes and will make mistakes – by unconsciously reaffirming a stereotype or offending someone, for example. It’s important that we try and give it our best.
Here are some things we need to consider:
The power of language
Language is and has never been used neutrally, it has always been a tool of power and domination. Language is the way we create and explain the world. It’s our way of making ‘herstory’ (instead of ‘history’ – The Black Lives Matter movement has adopted this term, as have other famous diversity champions, like RuPaul), but also our way of ‘being’ in this world.
It’s through language, that we describe otherness and likeness, and it’s here that we must begin breaking down barriers and stereotypes. There are some easy ways to start.
- Don’t use derogatory language or slurs
- Communicate on a level that’s inclusive to all – it’s not very inclusive to use words/terms/expressions/references that only half of your team/colleagues understand
- Don’t judge anyone by the level of their language proficiency or accent
- Give your pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them)
- Most of all: misuse language and make it your own!
Sometimes we think it might not be our place to help, but the burden of representation cannot just fall on marginalized individuals. Instead, seek to ally with a marginalized individual or group:
- Promote marginalized experiences and help them get attention in the mainstream
- Call out racist, sexist or any other kind of inappropriate behavior
- Create a welcoming atmosphere of inclusion around yourself, and encourage discussions and meaningful conversations
- Build relationships with marginalized individuals and groups
- Learn about yourself and your own privilege so you can help others with lesser privilege
- Celebrate difference
Where do I get started?
A good start is by questioning norms. ‘Norms’ are everything we’re culturally conditioned to believe as normal, yet nothing about culture, gender, history is ‘normal’. It’s all man-made (another one of those words that suggest only men make/create, suggesting female passivity), so we need to keep this in mind when talking about a certain ideology, a historical moment, and so on.
As an example, as raised in heteronormative cultures, when we hear the word ‘couple’, most of us will automatically visualize a man and a woman. And it’s here that we need to stop ourselves, realize that actually a couple can look very different and that ‘man+woman’ doesn’t need to be the default. We then need to start normalizing different associations with concepts that we might have preconceptions about.
An easy way to start this is by joining diverse communities, activities and immersing yourself in these cultures. Listen to their stories and then think about your contacts and how this might apply to your social life, work life or any other aspect of your life.
It’s from within us that we start the transformation that will help battle institutionalized discrimination. Here are some diversity and inclusion resources that I find very powerful and useful as a starter:
- Orientalism – Edward Said
- Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire – Akala
- Black Skin, White Masks – Frantz Fanon
- A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
- How to get serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace – Janet Stovall
- Lets stop talking about diversity and start working towards equity – Paloma Medina
- On Diversity: Access Ain’t Inclusion – Anthony Jack
Other web resources
- White privilege: What is it and how can it be used to help others? – BBC Newsround
- Allyship – The Key To Unlocking The Power Of Diversity – Sheree Atcheson, Forbes Magazine
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