Progress is about changing procedure as well as promotion - encouraging diversity
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
"We are not on a level playing field, but we are all judged as if we are." Billy Porter said in Collider when celebrating MJ Rodriguez's performance in mogul Ryan Murphy's Pose. Pose is set in the Black and Latino underground Ballroom scene in the 1980s. But Porter wasn't speaking about the 1980s subject matter, rather how today the stars of Pose (the largest transgender cast in leading roles - and they are magnificent) are not necessarily as seasoned as others who are always cast in big dramas - but are absolutely bringing everything to the table - and shining to match their forerunners.
Progress is not just about changing who you promote, but about addressing the procedure to get there.
"We have diversity in exams" claim exam boards as they simply add the names "Sanja" and "Bina" in a maths problem (replacing "John" and "Sarah"); "We have ethnic minorities on our board" claim orgnisations; "We have women in leadership" shout others - and that's great - it really is...but those people are there because, largely, they learned to play YOUR game. They were able to "fit in". They perhaps had to even go so far as denying part of themselves...or worse still, perhaps they never even found it.
Covid19 has given us one big thing - it has allowed us to go back to the drawing board to some extent and re-write what isn't working, but in the same way as "having an extra sanitizer" is not enough and businesses are now introducing social distancing, shift work, remote working as the norm, so too is "promoting another ethnic minority" not enough. You need to take it back a little futher.
When I was studying psychology at A-level we wrote a lot about reliability of the "Stanford Binet" IQ test which was used to demonstate that certain ethnic groups were "just not as intelligent", until someone pointed out that the whole test favoured the "White Anglo-Saxon Protestent Male". Now, of course, with extra support and schooling other ethnicities performed just as well (incidentally, girls weren't even tested!), but progress isn't about getting more people to "join your club" - it's sometimes about changing the rules. But, you also need to be sensible. "Wild generalisation" that it may be, but research has suggested that girls do better than boys at coursework, with boys performing better in exams - but that doesn't mean change all exams to coursework to address the gender gap, or get girls to do one, boys to do the other...but rather either look for different methods of assessment in general and/or even out the balance of assessment style but support both genders in all exam approaches.
This is what needs to happen in organisations.
Those who DO promote diversity (literally) - great, thank you.
Those who support ethnic minorities, women or other often discriminated against groups to succeed in their business - even better - thank you too.
But in the same way as you are re-writing your procedures for health and safety, how about looking at those for practice and promotion too?
Now, I absolutely do applaud all businesses that "specifically support women" or "specifically support BAME staff" in all aspects of their development, but if you want authentic diversity, you need to change the root. For example, don't just train black footballers (or women) to be managers in the FA as it is, but revise what skill sets the FA values and is looking for - and then train (or retrain) EVERYONE to have the opportunity to succeed.
Progress is sometimes starting from writing on a blank page, not editing what's there to accommodate.
That fundamental understanding seems to be what is missing from many saying "I want diversity".
There is a current suggestion that LBC invite Akala to replace Nigel Farage - I agree. It's not just about more presenters talking about diversity, nor is it about inviting Akala to fit into the world of LBC, but it's about the opportunity to reshape the practice of broadcast - to bring in someone who could even teach from within what divesity in practice actually is. In fact the argument even extends beyond providing role models. It's NOT about telling ethnic minorities, or discriminated groups - hey look, you can win in "a man's world" - it's about changing the world itself.
So, in planting the seed of taking action:
1. Don't just review your promotions, review your procedures. Rethink, reshape and replace outdated ideas of what you look for in practice. OK, you "judge on talent" - but what talent are you looking for? Don't train a dog to act like a cat, hire the dog and say, we've got a dog in a cat's world...make the world open to both...the cat may learn something too.
2. So what if it hasn't been done, stand up, show up and do it. If you say you believe in it, start making those changes anyway. (On a very very small scale I have always prided myself on colourblind casting - ie. if the actor could play the part and there wasn't a specific ethnicity, I would cast them; BUT I will now also look for plays which require a more diverse set of actors in age, gender, race and seek to offer opportunity as well...it isn't as easy for me - I know the plays I know...but why do I know only those!? I hope I will learn something about the incredible writing that is out there and be part of giving it voice.)
3. Finally, before you say, but "I have 'xxx' friends" - ask yourself - is that because they "pass" in your world, or because you fully embrace theirs? I know my husband (who is not a Sinophile...there isn't a "philic" word for my actual heritage Perenakan), can eat durian, stinkbean and calls everyone "Uncle" when we're in Malaysia...and he simply feels it adds to the variety in his own world.
Don't rig the judging, EQUALISE the playing field.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt