I recently shared, on Social Media, that I would be giving a keynote speech at a large online event. Unfortunately, the best image that showcased 'yours truly' included two other white men. The optics were not great considering that I am an advocate for women's leadership and have signed a pledge to not appear on all-male panels.
There were some women and other ethnicities speaking at the conference and the panel was diverse, but not diverse enough. I called the organizer, a former mentee of mine, and he shared his frustration that he had asked many women, but they refused to speak.
I have faced this same issue before when I have organized physical and virtual events. It can lead to weird conversations like, "We are missing a Black Woman or an Asian man, and we have nobody representing LGBTQ".
In a perfect world, we would have the best person for the job, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, ableness, or sexual orientation. But it is not a perfect world and we need to address centuries of prejudice and bias. This requires us to ensure that we have not allowed unconscious stereotypes to influence our behaviors, but also for those that are underrepresented to feel safe and motivated to put up their hands and volunteer.
My research has shown that women, and especially women of color, are more likely to speak up, or be available for speaking opportunities when:
- They have domestic and child support (hired or from their spouse)
- The environment is already diverse
- They are invited by women
- The invitation stresses their talent or story, and not that they are filling a quota
- They have not had their self-worth destroyed by their upbringing
My diversity of thought and inclusive leadership gets tested every time I step in front of a group to facilitate or coach. It's not uncommon for me to have leaders from 8 to 10 different countries and cultures; some who won't speak up and some who can't keep quiet. Navigating a minefield of sensitivities whilst challenging perspectives is what gets my blood racing.
Surprisingly, many who practice the behaviors of diversity and inclusion are unaware that this is what they are doing, and those that don’t practice these behaviors are under the impression that they are inclusive. The reason is simple – mindset. Diversity and inclusion are a mindset that sees people as people, their differences don’t register, just their contribution.
The mindset of the non-diverse or inclusive is that they see nothing wrong in the following behaviors:
- Being overpowering – not letting others speak, not inviting or other inputs or perspectives
- Discounting – putting down, ridiculing, or ignoring any idea not generated by themselves or their ‘tribe’.
- Obvious Bias – only a select group of people are ever given opportunities to give opinions or make decisions
These narrow-minded and divisive behaviors are toxic and need to change.
Creating the Change for Conferences
The first step is to recognize that diversity and inclusion create value. Value in terms of collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
- Take the pledge, no more 'vanilla' conferences or panels!
- Make sure you actively seek diversity, not as a quota, but as a competitive advantage.
- If your speaker submissions are predominantly from white men, review how you are inviting. Research who you want to speak and reach out personally.
- Make sure that if this is a paid opportunity, fees are equitable
If you want inspiration, that a shift of perspective is possible, I recommend the movie, Hidden Figures. Yes, diversity isn't easy, but neither is going to the moon - and we only accomplished that through diversity.