On infrequent occasions, I write blogs that do not relate directly to technology or AV. I do this because I feel as though I should stick to the things that I know and have experience with. Yet, there are times when something is so important, I feel like I need to say something. Due to the racial inequalities within the U.S. — which have been highlighted over the past several months — this is one of those times.
I have always lived my life believing that I give all people a fair chance, that I don’t judge based on gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. Over the past few months, I have challenged myself on that thinking. One event stands out in my mind, in particular: A couple of weeks ago, HETMA organized a virtual conference for higher education. One of the sessions was about diversity in our industry. During the live session, Joe Way (chairperson of HETMA) had a revelation — that I don’t think any of the steering committee members had previously — that the entire HETMA steering committee comprises middle-aged (ish), white men. Here we were, promoting diversity as an essential part of the industry, but we had not even recognized that we were sitting on a homogeneous steering committee.
That realization made me start thinking more critically about the difference between saying (and believing) that I support all types of equality and really taking action. It was proof to me that I could not just talk about this belief anymore; I had to start acting on it. So, in the few weeks that have passed, I have read more about these issues and thought more about what actions I can take.
If you are interested in challenging your assumptions and learning about racial inequality, take some time to read “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Yes, it is an academic book, but written in a compelling way that invites everyone to read it. Kendi’s powerful theory is that you first have to recognize and define racism, and then you can define anti-racism. Kendi believes that the answer to “what can I do about it,” is to be an anti-racist.
What are some ways we can actively promote racial equality and anti-racism in our industry? Let’s start with hiring. Very typically, whether consciously or not, we hire people that are like us. These are people with similar backgrounds, certifications, education and more likely than not, the same skin color. Internally and externally, we defend this by believing that these are the people who are “qualified” for the position. We need to recognize that people who are different from us may have different ways of demonstrating their qualifications but are equally qualified. We need to be open, accepting and aware of these differences.
A second way is with industry discussions, trade shows, panels, etc. A few prominent members of our industry have publicly stated that they will not participate in a panel or event that only includes male presenters. From observing from afar, I have recognized that the most productive response this stance is not to disinvite the speaker, but to invite more women to the panel. In other words, taking a stance works! This is a great start and helps promote gender equality — so, let’s do the same with racial equality. Let’s take a stand that says we won’t be on a board, steering committee, panel, etc. that does not include racial diversity and gender diversity. By doing so, we force ourselves to recognize the lack of diversity in the industry, as we did in my example about the HETMA steering committee.
A third way is via representation. Having diverse panels is one way to demonstrate a diverse industry, but we need to continue that representation into the companies themselves. A meaningful way to do this is to highlight the people of color who work in your organizations. When people look to our industry to see if it is a welcoming place, they want to see people who look like them. If all we are showing are the white men, this sends the message that this is an industry for white men, and others are not valued, recognized or promoted. The same goes for the various committees and associations that are part of our industry. Make sure you are committing to diversity, and make sure that diversity is represented. Use social media to grow your network of diverse people. Listen to their input, recognize it and promote it. Make sure your networks are as diverse as you want your organization to be.
Finally, supporting people of color who work in your organization is critical. You may end up working with clients who directly ask or indirectly infer that they would prefer not to work with a person of color. If you allow that to happen, just to keep that customer happy, you do not support the person in your organization. Instead, you should make it clear to the client that if they are not willing to work with your diverse staff, they should take their business to another firm.
I am sharing these ideas with the readers of this blog, not because I am an expert. I am sharing them because speaking out, and more importantly, taking action is the path to a more diverse industry. Most importantly, I would love to see these thoughts start a discussion. Tell me where I am wrong, tell me where I am right, tell us all what we can do in the industry to become diverse and welcoming.