Updated: Aug 22, 2022
Dear straight, white, brethren, it's going to be 2019 in a few days and I wanted to catch you before you decide on all your resolutions to try and convince you to add one more - to be a better diversity ally in 2019.
Let me begin by saying that, as a straight white dude, you are not a bad person but, let’s be honest, you could always be better. Me too, for I am also a straight white dude. Like anyone we have good days and bad days, sometimes even terrible days, days when nothing goes right and it seem as though the whole world is against us. But, no matter how bad those days seem, it's likely that someone else is having a worse one and that they are probably less straight, less white and less dudish than you or I. This is what we call privilege, the unearned right to an easier life on the basis of sexual orientation, skin colour and gender a.k.a. being a straight, white, dude. Basically, we don’t have to put up with the same shit as a lot of people but, having never been subjected to said shit, we don’t always notice it and even, sometimes, feel kinda sorry for ourselves. In 2019 I am asking you to recognise this and use your privilege to become a diversity ally.
What is a diversity ally? It's simply someone who recognises when their own privilege is giving them an advantage and uses it to help someone else. Let me give you a couple of examples. Recently I was asked to chair the second day of a conference on content and storytelling; I agreed over email and asked the organiser to send me the agenda, speakers, etc, when possible. A few days out from the event I got the final agenda and I was most disappointed, can you guess why? Dudes as far as the eye could see! Not all straight, and not all white, but 100% #awkward. The media and marketing industries don’t lack for female executives and talent so it was simply unacceptable that none were represented.
I called the organiser (a woman) and asked her what could be done but she said the agenda was set and the brochures printed. I said to hell with the brochures we need to get some diversity in here, and refused to carry out my chairmanly duties until at least one woman was added to every panel and guess what? She did it.
I was privileged to be asked to chair the event but should have taken my role more seriously from the outset to ensure the agenda never made it to the printers with so many dudes. Hence, when my employers at the time, Beach House Pictures, asked me to assist in the programming of their annual Beach House Workshop I made it my mission, from the outset, to try and achieve gender balance throughout the event.
At first I was met with resistance, not from the dudes but from the women I approached to speak. Powerful, talented and accomplished women whose default response to me was that they probably weren’t the right person to speak but they could find someone who was. “No!” I hollered down the phone, "I need you! You are the one that put in the work, that made things happen, that got the job done, I want to hear from you!" Straight, white, dudes never say no to a speaking opportunity. They are convinced the world needs to hear from them and that what they have to say is very important, which it often is, but there are other important perspectives we need to hear too. So I pushed on, coaxing and cajoling these amazing women to share their stories and though I didn’t achieve perfect gender parity across the two day event I got pretty damn close.
Now, I can almost feel your eyes rolling and your tongue tutting at the awful, virtue-signalling nature of this article, “Look at me,” it seems to say, "aren’t I just so woke and wonderful?!”, but that’s really not why I’m writing this. I’m writing it to show just how easy it is to be a better ally. Just a moment’s thought, a minute’s consideration of your own privilege and how it could be used to benefit others is all it takes and it literally costs you nothing. If you are asked to speak at an event, contribute to an article, appear in a video, just ask the person in charge who else is taking part and if there’s no one different from you then simply suggest someone, hand over their phone number or email address and insist they be invited to the party.
Wishing you all the best for a happy, healthy and diverse 2019.