My hopes for diversity in 2017 #BAMEed

When Amjad, one of the BAME founders, asked me to write a blog post for #BAMEed I agreed straight away. The team behind #BAMEed are good people and it’s an important topic. – 597 words

So what are my hopes? I have a few but I’ll write briefly about one here.

  • That ‘diversity’ doesn’t become a catch-all term to water down the need for serious work to address inequalities faced by a variety people in our society. This includes people who belong to one particular sub group or a combination.

 

Can diversity still exclude?

A school could have an all-white staff and all-white curriculum but legitimately say they have made steps to address diversity. How? Because they have women on their team.  All positive representation in the curriculum could be of white people and the school could be completely mono-cultural in all aspects but because women were involved or well represented the school could feel happy about representation.

A school could have an ethnically balanced staff and curriculum but still have serious issues related to sexism. Their ethnically diverse staff could be led by an all-male senior team.  The curriculum may only highlight the contribution of significant male figures in history.

A school could be making great strides to address gender and racial disadvantage but may not be a safe place for LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) people to learn, thrive and work.

Diversity as a concept is, of course, important but I sometimes wonder if it’s become a term that is now used to make people in the majority (which majority depends on the particular aspect of diversity) feel comfortable instead of having to use words that they might find unpalatable.

 

“We wish to become more diverse” is maybe a little more palatable than “We are working to become less racist” or “we are working to become less sexist” or “we are working to become less homophobic.”

Additionally, by using the umbrella term “diversity” it leaves majorities open to address the section of diversity that they find most palatable rather than the ones that challenge them or may need the most addressing in their community.

Being specific

So what am I saying? I’d like people to be a little more direct. Sometimes terms can be so wide that they lose meaning. Sometimes this is deliberate- to start conversations that people may find uncomfortable- but to actually achieve anything we sometimes need to be specific. If we are talking about wanted to improve ethnic diversity – let’s say that. If it’s gender diversity let’s set that out as a clear aim.  Alongside that, people in different diverse groups need to recognise where we can have strength as a collective but don’t necessarily need to allow majority groups to set the terms – including what we are called.

Finally, the second part of my original hope- let’s not forget that there is diversity within diversity. Black women exist. Gay Indian men exist. Disabled transgendered people who aren’t white exist. Different groups under the umbrella term of diversity experience life in a variety of ways and some people live at the intersection of a more than one minority- which may make their experience different to the expected standard.

In summary, let’s not dilute what we are trying to achieve regarding equality of opportunity and outcome for different groups by using terms that are so vague, bland and far-reaching as to loose meaning. Let’s also remember that some people, like me, happen to tick more than one diversity box and our experiences are just as valid as those who tick one or none.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What women want

“Having it all means having the same work and family choices that men do. It doesn’t mean having everything you want. No one has that.” – Anne Marie Slaughter. *

While I understand the sentiment of the above quote and am sympathetic to people who agree, for me it’s based on a false premise – that the choices men currently have are what women actually want. They aren’t what I want – let me explain why.

Firstly, I think the word “choices” is key, but often in terms of feminism or any marginalized group, in practice it often boils down to, “We want what they have.” But what if what they have isn’t actually all that hot?

This year it was reported, In 1981, 63% of UK suicides were male, but in 2013 the figure was 78%. The proportion of male to female deaths by suicide has increased steadily since 1981.”  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/19/number-of-suicides-uk-increases-2013-male-rate-highest-2001 Suicide is not a step taken by people happy with their lot in life and, although reported rates of depression are higher for women, it’s clear that men are much more likely to end it all.  Why?

I recently attended an event run by Stonewall to give educators the skills to train colleagues to combat homophobic bullying and raise awareness of LGBT issues in schools. It seems to me that much of what we consider homophobic, sexist and related issues are actually rooted in rigid ideas about what it is to be male or female in our society. Currently what it means to be male seems to involve a stoic and repressed attitude. In terms of work, yes men earn more and have many advantages, but they’re often still defined by their careers and expected to put them above all else. Theoretically men have choices but, in practice, these are acceptable only if they fit with society’s narrow view of what it is to be masculine.

My second reason for questioning the desire to have what men have is that most societies are patriarchal in structure and have sexism built into their very fabric. Does wanting what men have mean we will need to find a new sub group to oppress?

On a personal level, within my own relationship at least, I kind of already have what men have. I earn more than my partner and we agreed that she would work part time so she can look after our children. I am in a senior leadership position and would be unable to conduct my life in the way I have until now without her support. Does this mean my life is perfect?

So what’s the point of this post? Maybe our horizons need to be wider? Maybe it’s not about having what other people already have. I’d argue that what they have is built on a flawed system. Maybe it’s about creating a new system and better choices for everyone.

*I originally came across this quote in ‘Having it all’ by Hannah Wilson