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.