January 8, 2008

Diversity and Inclusiveness: Answers for Anonymous

One of the great things about blogging is being able to share your thoughts and hear those of others. One of the challenges is that for a variety of reasons, people often feel the need to post their comments anonymously. This post generated some thoughtful reactions from one such anonymous commentator who posed several questions I though were worth responding to. I've decided to post it below in its entirety and then respond to it as opposed to taking only excerpts from it. It's a perspective that raises questions I imagine others might have.

Jeff? I don't get it. I honestly don't. By looking at the collection of pictures I have no clue as to the background of the individuals - unless I start making some peculiar assumptions.

Are any of these folks Gay? Deaf? Blind? (PC terms to the side to make this post more concise) Physically Handicapped? Subject to Depression? Where were they born? Raised? What are their social backgrounds? Religion? etc. etc. In other words, how do we know how diverse they really are?

You make the statement that we cannot continue to feature speakers, authors and experts... who don't represent the demographic makeup of the world we live in - are you communicating that YOU will be cutting back on your speaking? Consulting? Writing? Because based on your photo you certainly 'look' as if you could fit neatly into that panorama of individuals.

I've seen a spate of this type of objections to a lineup of people, and they always puzzle me.

If I took ALL the posts in the ASAE EXEC listserve from the last year and selected out the top dozen MOST insightful comments - then obtained the pictures of the posters - would I then be subject to the same criticism if those top dozen posts came from the same type of grouping as the Assn Trends list? Even though the selection process was totally oblivious to all those attributes that make up diversity?

Without going into my background - I can't afford to be seen as someone who questions something so 'PC' - my upbringing has made me colour blind. I judge people on their many things but not on the things that others seem to obsess over when the issue of 'diversity' raises it's head.

Just wanted to post an alternative view on this issue.
One of the things I believe people ask when people consider being a part of a community or an organization is: Will I fit in here? Does this look like a place where I belong? Can I see myself among others who are a part of the organization or community? Rightly or wrongly part of what informs our answers to those questions are the visuals that are projected, including traditional demographic characteristics including race, gender, age, national origin, etc.

I have no doubt that the individuals represented in the Association Trends article and accompanying photo array have tremendous layers of diversity just as almost any collection of individuals would if you scratch beneath the outer layer. But for me that does not discount the fact that the outer layer still sends an important message. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the story this image tells?

I attend and or speak at about 50 events a year and I can safely say that less than 5% of those events feature general sessions or major thought leader sessions where white males do not comprise the overwhelming majority of those speaking. That does not make those individuals unqualified to be speaking. But I do think in this day and age it does beg the question as to just how hard we are working (as meeting planners, association professionals, and individuals) to diversify the people with whom we interact, consider as experts, or call on to share their time and talents.

Anonymous asks if my criticism would still be valid if the best posts from an ASAE Listserver were blindly selected and still turned out to come from a group of individuals similar to the one pictured. It's a great question and one I hope others will answer in the comments section. If we judge intellectual contributions solely on their merits, the answer probably would be no, right?

But since listserver participation represents a subset of the membership, we might spend some time thinking about who has intellectual capital to contribute, but isn't represented in listserv contributions, and how might we engage them in sharing their talents and perspectives. If expertise is only associated with those who raise their hands (take initiative) we are going to lose out on a wealth of knowledge and insight from others who have yet to engage (for whatever reasons). We might think about who among our membership (or prospective membership) might not feel their initiative would be welcomed and spend time discussing how we are encouraging those not already "part of the family" to become more active participants and contributors. We might analyze how many times the same names are represented over a 2-3 year period among our volunteer ranks, our leadership positions, our magazine authors, and our workshop presenters and the consider the possible implications of what we discover.

And as far as my own choices in this matter, I try to honor the spirit behind a Coretta Scott King quote that I often share in workshops: "I cannot be all that I ought to be unless you are allowed to be all you can be." For me that means recognizing that in many forums, the number of people who have access to contribute and share their story and talents often is still limited. So if I have a "seat at the table," someone else might not get one until I give mine up (or better ... we get a bigger table or add more seats).

So yes, in recent years I have tried to turn off some of the spotlight I've enjoyed as a professional and a volunteer so that it can shine more brightly on others. As a "known quantity" I want to make sure I am not taking up space among the limited number of session slots or author pages unless I have a unique or particularly valuable contribution to make. I make a more concerted effort to partner with others who have significant contributions to make, but whose voices might not yet have been heard. And I use my own volunteer efforts and client work (when appropriate) to make sure issues related to community, diversity, and inclusiveness are being considered.

I know personally I have much more to learn about my own privilege, as well as others' stories about inclusiveness and community. And there is much more I can be doing.

Despite the strides we have made and the concerted efforts of many, I don't doubt that this is any less true for the association community in the aggregate.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yep... it's me again. Thanks for the honest response.

I hate posting anonymously, so I have this deep personal need to explain why. Like yourself, I'm a prominent speaker/consultant. I know for a fact that voicing anything that might be perceived as 'non-diversity' or even 'non-PC' will cost me future engagements. While I'm happy to have heart to hearts on a one on one basis, doing it globally on the internet is too costly - since it is inevitably taken out of context.

I agree with some, not all of what you posted. A list serve, esp the ASAE list serve is accessible to all ASAE members. If someone is part of some neglected segment of the demographic, then they really have no excuse for not participating and having their voice heard. Nobody 'invited' me to participate there - I made a decision to be there. Nobody has ever been told not to contribute - they choose not to contribute.

The same is true of Assn leadership. Many assns suffer, not from a lack of diversity, but a general lack of people, of all and any stripes, willing to volunteer to positions of influence/power. If a person's voice isn't being heard, it's sometimes, not always, because they're choosing not to speak. This isn't a criticism, or a judgment, it's an observation - nothing more.

I don't know any of the people in the assn trends lineup personally, but I suspect that they are on that list because they've made a point of voicing their opinions. I also suspect that many of those not on that list have not sought to be on the list.

Yes, a picture is worth a 1000 words. Yes, a lineup of what appears to be WASPs (no insult intended at any level - just speaking aloud what we're thinking quietly) might communicate "you're not welcome" but if these ARE the people of prominence then we're doing something perverse if we drop 2-3 of them off the list, for others just so, we can 'look' diverse.

Jeffrey, once more, I do agree with most of your postings, I guess I've seen one too many "Oh! here's another list of people and it doesn't match the general demographic" posts lately, and for the most part they seem to be looking for 'visual' diversity and are ignoring that diversity takes all forms and is often not captured in the lens of the camera.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Nobody 'invited' me to participate there - I made a decision to be there. Nobody has ever been told not to contribute - they choose not to contribute."

My reply:

Accessibility is not the same thing as welcome or inclusiveness Just because someone says you're welcome to sit at the table doesn't mean they want to welcome you, nor does it mean you would feel welcome there.

And many hear that invitation as "you're welcome to comes sit with us so long as you play by our rules." Who says the traditional or predominant population's rules are the right ones for the future?

And while I respect your need for anonymity, please note I would only be willing to continue this dialogue "off blog" via phone or email. I'm not sure having a quasi-private conversation in a public forum is most desirable.

Kevin said...

Jeffrey,

Let me be frank. I think your post was a cheap shot.

It's very easy to show a list of faces and say, "where's the diversity?" (and since it's so easy it has been done many, many times).

I would have more respect for you if you actually indicated which specific people in the list you think should have been left off, and who should have been placed in their stead.

Simply throwing their pictures up and calling on "someone else" to make that decision is an easy way to make yourself seem noble without actually taking any real risks.

It's a shame, because you missed an opportunity to make a real point to make a sham one instead.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Kevin:

While I appreciate your perspective my goals wasn't to identify who should be or who shouldn't be on that list specifically. So I don't see my commentary at all as a cheap shot. In fact I specifically note that I believe there is diversity among the individuals represented and that the individuals have insights worth hearing.

My goal was to call attention to the fact that in this day and age we should regularly be asking ourselves if our efforts as inclusive as we want them to be and as our members and stakeholders expect them to be.

Jamie Notter said...

I am sorry to join in late. First, thanks Jeffrey for your great writing on this topic. And Kevin, I disagree that it is somehow irresponsible to challenge the result without getting into the details of the decision. Exclusion is about patterns of behavior and entire systems. If you spend all your time debating the specifics (as many in the in-group frequently demand), you'll never start to address or even see the patterns.

Anonymous said...

The group of people most discriminated against in this country today are white males (no, I am not a white male). People need to get over the diversity and political correctness weights that are bogging down productivity in this country. How much time is wasted in seminars and workshops all over the United States where self-important, arrogant "academics" pontificate about diversity and being PC? This is time better served in accomplishing work tasks, providing customer service, and making tangible contributions to the workforce and society at large. Get over it and stop wasting time on this nonsense!