Optics aren’t lasting change, they’re just optics. Changing the way something looks is really just skimming the surface, but it can be a tempting solution for an arts industry grappling with the opportunities of integrating diversity into the fabric of organisations.
Diversity is more than finding someone with different coloured skin who thinks the same way you do. It’s more than a diverse group of people around the table who’s individual role is solely to represent themselves in attempt to catch all through one individual voice.
In a complex, connected, globally thinking world, diversity is as much fuelled by empathy and curiosity as it is about representation. We have the opportunity to create organisations where leaders are not seeking approval from diverse groups to validate their own world view, but listening and designing solutions that embrace diverse and connected viewpoints and approaches. Coming to the table with respect and recognition means more than championing endorsement as the pinnacle of diversity.
Part of me is writing this and ducking, but the thinking is backed up by some serious work that has been done recently through a partnership lead by Diversity Arts Australia, and it confirms that when it comes to decision making it’s a step too far for the majority of arts organisations.
Do you strive to be the kind of organisation that attracts smart, driven creatives, arts managers, boards and leaders and gives them the space to make brave and intelligent decisions?
Diversity isn’t a theoretical practise, or a matter of optics, it’s a fundamental shift. Its also an acknowledgement that the person brings more to your organisation than their race, sexuality, disability or gender, and that there are intersections and diversity within each of them. It’s also about being comfortable being led by someone who is in a minority among their peers.
I get it, I don’t mean to stress you out, these times are ridiculously pressured, funding is tight.
Here’s a couple of things you can do to make your workplaces more interesting and embracing of diversity, and align even better with what you’re trying to achieve… and a couple of pitfalls to avoid while you’re travelling on that road. So if you’re a decision maker or a person of minority brought into an organisation and feeling a little bewildered, there’s some provocations here for you too. If they seem familiar, it’s because they are.
1. If you find yourself in an organisation being shepherded to a corner and only being heard on issues to do with your immediate race/sexuality/religion/gender/disability then nothing has really changed. Break the silence by inputting something extremely clever and devastatingly well informed about a new topic. Bring back up if you need to. People’s reactions will tell you a lot about how embracing the organisation really is.
2. Social media optics are not systemic change, nor are they the pinnacle of your journey, so please put aside any idea that you must choose the person that looks the most ethnic/gay/Indigenous/disabled. Let it go. Choose the people who are right for you with the full and transparent knowledge that diversity and diverse view points are extremely good for your organisation.
3. Don’t be that conference that invites equal amounts of women on a panel but has a moderator that directs all the questions to the male panelists. Just don’t.
4. If you’ve been approached to be on a board or on staff because “you’re fabulous”, but deep down inside you feel like it’s token and the person approaching you can’t think of any of the work you’ve done then it’s probably not going to be the funnest place to be you.
5. Don’t be the Non Indigenous organisational equivalent of the person who overshares with zealous glee every single moment they share with their First Nations friend on Instagram. It makes you look weird.
All sassiness aside… most importantly try to keep moving forward, don’t become paralysed. Start from a place of integrity by embracing a life that is diversified because you’re curious, you want to understand and you can see that there is injustice, limitations and discrimination in the way things are currently.
Don’t just alter the colour on the TV set, change your perspective and watch your organisation and the people in it thrive. Because diversity is good for every eco-system’s survival.