It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that conference organisers are either willfully blind to the diversity of their speakers, or willfully excluding diversity in their speakers. If you look at any L&D conference line up, you’ll be hard pressed to find people of colour speaking. There may be gender diversity, but even that is not guaranteed. Apparently, only white people are sought to speak and equally apparently are the only ones who seem to have a credible voice that people can and want to hear.
Ticket sales are important, you see, and diversity is important, but not as important as ticket sales. And of course the organisers understand that diversity and inclusion are important, but you have to understand that sometimes it’s hard enough to get a speaker on a topic at all, let alone from BAME (Black, Asian and Minortiy Ethnic) community. And they have attendance of people from BAME communities so they must be respecting diversity and inclusion.
So let’s look at this from another angle.
What’s stopping people from BAME communities from having and using their voice? After all, it’s a valid argument to also say that the reason people from BAME communities aren’t present is because we don’t know they exist and that they have a voice worth hearing. By exist I mean that they are working in the profession (although some people will be colour blind to such things and choose not to acknowledge that).
Social media allows people from BAME communities to have a voice, and to be heard. So why aren’t we seeing or hearing from more? I’m plenty aware that the online communities that I’m part of are only as representative as I seek them to be. But I also have faith in my networks to share good content regardless of who the writer is. But maybe I’m not doing a good enough job and maybe I’m trusting that serendipity too much.
It’s not just that social media allows people from BAME communities to have a voice, we also have to acknowledge that people from BAME communities aren’t generally heard in society. So even though there is the facility for it, it doesn’t mean inclusion can happen until we also seek to address how inclusion is genuinely sought after.
We’re hearing too much these days of people trolling others and actively finding ways to harm others online. People get shamed into not voicing their opinion for no other reason than they aren’t white. There is too much tarring of the same brush and it can take just one negative experience to stop anything positive from occurring again.
So I’m vowing to take an action that whenever I’m asked to be part of a conference, and I don’t see that there’s good enough diversity of speakers, I’m going to ask why. If I don’t get a healthy answer, then I’ll have to consider if I want to be part of that line up.
And also, I’m very interested in helping people from BAME communities in L&D to find their online voice.
I recently did an interview with Kim George as part of the online programme, Learning Now TV. She asked some good questions and helped me to articulate what I’m writing about today.