Chapter 4: Our Diversity Mess
Diversity is what makes us unique. At its core, it’s what makes us different from other human beings, despite having 99.9% of the same DNA. Inclusion is the process by which allow all that difference to flourish, and ensure that regardless of what sex we are, which gender we identify with, who we love or what the colour of our skin may be, we have equal opportunity to thrive.
Exploring diversity can create joy, wonder and positive energy. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – exploring diversity is also messy. It’s messy because there is no coherent answer to what diversity is - where it starts or where it ends. Whether diversity is seen as good, or bad, is often coloured by our own personal views. Diversity is messy because there are no simple solutions and we are making it up as we go along. Our knowledge and awareness are evolving as we evolve which means we often get diversity interventions wrong, despite having good intentions. When we overemphasise difference, or we pit one group against another, we have the potential to drive resentment, frustration and division. It’s also messy because within and between diverse groups there are often competing belief systems.
The path to inclusion requires answering some tough questions. Even the most basic question, ‘Diverse from what?’ has the propensity to divide. It requires understanding why men, and why white men in particular, do proportionally better than others. To answer the question ‘why doesn’t diversity happen naturally?’ requires looking at some of our base assumptions. Is it that ‘we’ are biased? Or are ‘they’ not good enough?
Thinking about diversity forces us to challenge why some groups systematically rise to the top of our society and others don’t. While some of us would like to think that we all rise based on our own ‘merit’, focusing on diversity forces us to look at fairness and equality, something in which most of us believe deeply but of which we also remain blissfully ignorant. We question fairness when we feel we are being wronged or treated unfairly, but most of don’t consciously seek to understand if we are contributing to the unfairness of others.
The answers we find in this space can threaten our most basic instincts. In order to create a more inclusive world for others, do we have to give up power, advantage and opportunity? In embracing inclusion, do we put ourselves at a disadvantage? If we are in one of the groups who have been advantaged up to this point, is it our turn to sit in the inequality chair?
Fuelled by the access to technology, and the transparency it creates, social media-led moments have created un-paralleled visibility of inequality. Like it or not, movements such as #TimesUp, #MeToo, #LoveisLove and #BlackLivesMatter are transforming our world.
We may not agree with everything being posted, but one thing is for certain: technology has not only transformed visibility, it has enabled a collective voice that was once almost impossible to capture. We have an unparalleled ability to share our story far and wide and to find others with experiences like our own. But like many things, that transparency at speed is a double-edged sword. The pace at which social media explodes a topic means that facts are simply not checked. And traditional media journalists sometimes struggle to keep up with social media's unrelenting speed. Accusations can go a long way around the world before any sort of rebuttal is possible. It also means that small mistakes can end up as career-ending scandals. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is irrelevant if an accusation becomes a near instantaneous ‘truth’ via forwards, retweets and shares.
What you do or say can now be seen by millions of people around the world. With that visibility comes social judgement and scrutiny like never before. The list of individuals who have either stepped down or have been fired for their actions or comments is growing. Kevin Roberts, global chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi stepped down after he suggested that women in advertising lacked ambition and were not held back by sexism. Six UK-based bankers found themselves quickly out of jobs after they uploaded a film of themselves acting out a mock ISIS beheading as part of a work-sponsored training programme. At a global science conference, the Nobel prize-winning British scientist Tim Hunt shared his feelings about women in the lab; 'Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.' As a result, his academic career has been significantly curtailed.
Social media is cruel and a trial by Twitter happens more swiftly than in any real court. Whether your behaviour is simply inappropriate, purposefully unkind or intentionally racist, sexist or homophobic, transparency means that mistakes now come at a high cost.
The power and speed of social media is indeed frightening, but not all of the results are negative. It can bind together voices that might not otherwise have a chance to be heard and create unstoppable momentum on topics which have thus far been impenetrable. During the first 24 hours of the meteoric rise of #metoo 4.7 million people participated in 12 million posts on Facebook alone. A significant percentage of those were women who shared personal stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Without the collective energy of the movement, many women, myself included, would have never shared their stories. It is simply too risky to be a lone voice on subjects like harassment. Similarly, #BlackLivesMatter would never have had the same global reach had technology not enabled visibility of the irrefutable truth about the final minutes of George Floyd’s life and millions of individuals sharing their experience of racism as a result. The wake-up call around police brutality, the on-going legacy of racism and the life-and-death reality for Black citizens may have started in Minneapolis Minnesota, but technology enabled it to shine light on global uncomfortable truths. Black individuals around the world have less access to jobs, good housing, education, healthcare and unbiased protection from police. There is nothing extreme or radical about wanting to access these basics without the interference of racism.
Through the simple act of creating visibility, technology is playing a key role in shaping the society of the future. We should be cautious about just how far that role extends, but we should not be apologetic if along with the rise in visibility comes a rise in expectations.
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