After my last article, I’ve had a few interesting conversations with people about the competitive spirit that plagues diversity conversations. Quite a few interesting points came out and I would like to address a few here.
First of all, a more competitive friend of mine pointed out that this competitive spirit could be beneficial. He pointed out that by realising the differences between us, we learn to recognise what people can do best and also where the most support should be going. The latter point I will address in more depth later, but as for the first point, I just don’t think it is worth it. The almost Darwinian approach to the survival of the fittest, with the most cut-throat person with the most diversity points getting ahead, does not seem worth it. It also doesn’t mark me as a way to start appreciating diversity. It perpetuates the idea of a ‘tick box’ diversity approach, fuelling tokenism and failing to actually recognise the intrinsic value of all kinds of diversity. Also, I still believe that the way we will move forward is working together to recognise and appreciate differences between us, not using them in a fight to the top.
More importantly than this ‘survival of the fittest’ approach conversation though was that fact that some people are frankly more diverse than other people. The friend who pointed this out to me did not point this out to support competition between us, but instead to point out that some people really do have a much harder time of it than others. If you look at my last article, I open it by talking (rather sarcastically of course) about ‘diversity’ and ‘privilege’. When those two things are weighed against each other, those who really struggle are really brought into focus. If you take the gender pay gap, this becomes quickly obvious. (I’m going to use US statistics here as they are a lot clearer than UK ones at the moment). In the USA, women still make only $0.79 for every dollar men make in 2019. There’s an immediate shortfall in wages, just for being a woman. However, if you add another ‘diversity point’ onto that and talk about a woman of colour, this drops another five cents as POC women earn roughly $0.74 for every dollar a white man earns. So, if you’re a woman, you’re missing out either way, but if you add the privilege of race, you’re better off being a white woman. Now I’m sure that’s no surprise to any of you, but this is quite an obvious example to point out a much more important point. The more ‘diversity points’ you have, the higher the likelihood is that you have less privilege to push you through situations where diversity isn’t appreciated.
Let’s take my example again from the start of the last article. As I said, I’m gay, but I’m gay in a country where it’s legal, and in fact illegal to discriminate against, so there’s the privilege of living in the UK where I am protected. But let’s take a point with a bit more nuance. I went to Oxford, so what does that mean. It means that though I went to a state school and am LGBTQ+ and a POC, the privilege that comes with the name of such a prestigious university is going to push me a lot further ahead. I worked hard to get to Oxford and it was no easy task, but I can’t ignore the privilege I had to get me there. It was a conversation I was able to have, both at school and at home; it isn’t too far away from where I live; I had the opportunity to go and visit it – all these small privileges start to tip the scales much more in my favour than someone who may be just as smart, and just as diverse, but without these opportunities.
Does the underwrite what I was saying in my last article? No, of course not. But what it does do is start to bring a lot more necessary nuance to the conversation of diversity. This does not mean we need to in-fight and try get at those who are more/less diverse in a Darwinian fight to the top. It does, however, mean that we must be aware of how our diversity and privilege weighs up, and take into account the numerous institutionally-embedded struggles someone may have had to face to get to where they are now. We don’t need to fight, but in learning about diversity, we must appreciate the differences between us to try ensure that the playing field is as balanced as it needs to be to ensure everyone a fair shot. And that may mean that some people may have to overcome a lot more discrimination than I do. But still, no fighting, just more and more appreciating for us to do!
“Differences don’t just threaten and divide us. They also inform, enrich, and enliven us” – Harriet Lerner