On Diversity

“I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.”
–Homer J. Simpson

I’m with you, Mr. Simpson. Even if my ideas aren’t all crazy, I understand that as a cisgender, heterosexual, Caucasian male living in the United States of America I have just about every privilege it’s possible to have. People – sometimes inexplicably – pay attention to me. Has this influenced my success in this industry?

I can’t be certain that it has, but there’s no way of being certain that it hasn’t.

What I do know is that, when I needed one, I’ve always been given an opportunity. A new job. Chances to be more technical, and then more client-facing. Did these come faster and more easily because I look the part?

Possibly. But there is, of course, more.

Stepping back to everyone’s favorite unnaturally-yellow three-fingered cartoon dad, people listen to me. They always have. From grade school through today, I was encouraged to speak out, to fill the male role of being strong and assertive. Many of us were, just as many girls are warned about “being bossy.”

The word “bossy” is rarely applied to men.

Where are we as a result? In addition to whatever chances I’ve been afforded there is a comfort in asking for chances, in reaching for them. There’s a comfort in speaking out publicly, born in part by a lifetime of being told to speak up, to stand out. To be heard. Young men and boys live a lifetime being told that they aren’t to be invisible.

Why am I talking about this today?

Homer Simpson pointed out that everyone listens to him. Peter Parker has famously said that with great power comes great responsibility. Being listened to is a power, and giving others the same chances to be heard is a responsibility. It is important for those of us with unearned power and privilege to recognize that and to give others a chance. The world — and, in a smaller sense, our industry — will be stronger for the inclusion of more voices.

Are there women who left the industry after seeing an all-male panel at one too many event and assuming there was no place for their voices to be heard? African-Americans who heard an executive of a major industry firm make a racially insensitive comment at an industry event? LGBT individuals who overheard one too many jokes about trans women and didn’t hear anyone step up to say that such joking is wrong and dehumanizing?

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How many voices has our industry lost to the toxic parts of our culture?

It’s our job to pay attention to the words we use and to speak up when someone missteps. After all, sometimes we can reinforce biases without even meaning to. A respected colleague moderating a panel on AVaaS began a question, “If a technology manager wants to change this, what should he… ”, or something like that. I interrupted the question to point out that we shouldn’t use gendered pronouns for a hypothetical technology manager; the moderator switched to “he or she.” I’d prefer “they,” but progress is progress, even if incremental.

Another step I’ve taken is to join the AVIXA Diversity Council, This week marked the first New York metropolitan area meeting of the AVIXA Diversity Council, co-located with our sisters in the AVIXA Women’s Council and generously hosted by the good folk at Verrex. As a founding member of the Diversity Council and a long-time supporter of women in the industry, these groups are both important to me and are both focused on work which the industry needs in order to remain healthy and relevant.

The Diversity Council mission statement is as follows:

The AVIXA Diversity Council’s mission is to encourage inclusion and promote human, cultural, and systemic diversity in all forms within the commercial audiovisual industry through the utilization of professional networking, educational opportunities, leadership development, and community awareness.

To me, the most important parts of this are the idea of helping people in their careers, mentoring, creating leadership opportunities. There is work to be done, but it deeply depresses me that today, in 2018, we still need to teach the value of diversity. Watch this space for more news about the steps we take to make the industry a better and more inclusive place.

This particular white male will be doing all he can to not be the only one to whom the industry listens.

Image via The Simpsons