Recently I opened up the Creative3 conference in Brisbane and for the first time in a while, I was actually nervous about speaking in front of a live audience.
My chosen topic was the importance of diversity and inclusion in technology, and I was nervous for a whole heap of reasons.
Taking on a big, emotive topic like this doesn’t come without a cost. I’m a passionate supporter in this space but I’m not an expert, so talking about it on stage in front of hundreds of people made me anxious to say the least.
At the same time, I have a deep-seated need to do this. I’m a female leader in the technology industry – let’s just say I have battle scars of my own, this is personal.
Of course I hoped to inspire others in the room to recognise that there’s work to do on creating a more diverse and inclusive community in technology, but the real reason I had to do it, was for me.
For all the moments I’ve been ignored, talked over, interrupted, harassed or sexually assaulted….I needed to do this.
For all the times I’ve listened to the stories of other women, people of colour, disabled and LGBTIQ friends who’ve faced far far worse than I ever have in terms of discrimination, I needed to do this.
It takes courage to speak up, but in my experience every time I do, I get galvanised to keep going.
A blind gentleman in the room felt empowered enough to speak up and asked the other conference attendees to come and talk to him and not ignore him during networking sessions. A gentleman of colour thanked me for talking about the topic of diversity and said he felt more welcome at the conference as a result. A member of our fabulous LGBTIQ community thanked me & Fishburners for backing the same sex marriage vote, saying for the first time they really felt welcome in our community.
And that was just at the conference.
Post conference I’ve had lots of people reach out offering to help or letting me know what they’ve changed as a result of the talk.
My favourite story was actually from one of my fellow guest speakers. As I took my seat after finishing the talk, he showed me an email he had just written re-briefing his recruitment agency for a vacant role in his team. He specifically asked for the candidate pool to be 50:50 gender split, and for the names to be taken off CVs so he could review the candidates with less inherent bias.
A few days later, he then shared the follow up email from the recruiter who reported back saying this was the first time they had ever been briefed like this and that they would be recommending all their clients do the same going forward.
Diversity and inclusion is going to be a hard issue to crack. I’m no expert on what the solutions need to be. But of one thing I am certain – we will only fix this by talking more openly about the topic and by every single one of us doing what we can to fix it.
I am really proud that at Fishburners we don’t just talk about diversity and inclusion but we live it everyday, each member signs up to our code of conduct and we encourage members to tell us whenever they feel threatened or uncomfortable. Fishburners will always be a safe place for our members to bring their whole selves to work regardless of race, sex, orientation, disability or religion.
Please, if you see bullying, discrimination or harassment, call it out, make sure it doesn’t happen on your watch, have zero tolerance.
If you run an event, make sure you set expectations to speakers and attendees alike on what behaviours will and won’t be tolerated. Also, make sure you do your homework on your speakers, whoever you put on stage is ultimately someone you are endorsing.
If you have been bullied, discriminated against or harassed, please report it. I know it’s terrifying, but we need you to speak up – I promise there are a battalion of awesome people who will believe and back you. Your courage will be contagious.
And finally, for those of you who’ve been at this longer than I have and are battle weary, lean on me. As I said at the close of my talk at Creative3 “my optimism wears heavy boots and is loud”, I’ve got plenty of fight left in me yet. Let’s get this shit done.