Alterconf Toronto 2015 – Inclusion Before Diversity: Putting Self-Care First by Ivana McConnell

– Thanks very much for having me. I apologize in advance this
is only my second talk ever. So if I start to talk
at the speed of light, just wave at me and I will slow down. My name is Ivana. I work as an Interaction
Designer here at Myplanet, which is one of the
sponsors for AlterConf. As soon as I saw the event I knew that I really wanted to talk here. I had to look though some
of the topic ideas that the Conf had listed. This one
really jumped out at me. I like digging into comparisons to see, especially comparisons like this one. I wanted to see what effects
inclusion and diversity have in our work places, because
the steaks are pretty high given the emotional impact
of both of these things. The impact that they
can have on self care. I started wondering if they are, if these two things
are mutually exclusive, or if we can use them to
somehow reinforce each other. And what I like to do sometimes
is start with definitions to give us kind of a jumping off point. Inclusion – the action or
state of including or of being included with a group, so
there is no surprises there. Diversity – We’ve seen this a lot, the state of being diverse;
variety, difference. This could be based on
culture, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, anything we
perceive as being different. Obviously, we all know this. Diversity boosts creativity because of all the different approaches. A diverse group thinks
through problem differently, bings up novel solutions and, you know, we can ask interesting
questions of each other, and challenge each other,
and build the solutions into ones that are far greater
than the sum of their parts. Diversity needs role models. I am not here to innumerate
all of the failings of Silicon Valley, because I’m sure we’re, and tech companies in general,
I’m sure are pretty familiar with I’m in that, those
homogeneous groups, they sort of tend to reinforce
each other and hire people who are like them, and
they become insular. We are also aware to the
fact that we need to provide opportunities for minorities
to be role models. As someone who self learned
their way into tech and fell ass backwards into a
career that I really love. A role model would’ve been so helpful. To look at someone in a place of power or influence that was like me,
that I could identify with and being like, hey I can do that. I shouldn’t see a lot of that
and it would’ve been great. Tech then needs people
who are different from the norm to stand up and draw
attention to themselves and show that being in
their place is possible. We need big organizations to
be a part of these movements, to provide support for
the women and minorities, in their ranks to step
into the spot light. And increasingly this is happening. Companies, my own included,
are encouraging people to step forward and come
to events like this one and talk about their experiences,
both good and bad. However, it is really
important that we balance. We are coming back to this now. Both inclusion and diversity,
because in my opinion, true diversity is only
valuable and safe once there is an inclusive foundation. Otherwise, self care can suffer. This balance has a name it is called, optimal distinctiveness theory. I got a degree in psychology,
so this is me using it. Optimal identity, we
like knowing who we are, we like certainty, that
certainty makes us happy. Optimal identity
encourages balance between inclusion and uniqueness. We have a deep seeded emotional
need to be an accepted member of a group or groups. This is crucial to our identity but it’s easier said than done. But on the other hand we
also feel unique enough, we want to be different enough. It is okay to be part of a minority, but we don’t want to
be constantly aware of being part of that minority. I really want to certain draw
attention to the italicized part of the definition there, looked to. Always being looked to can
be dangerous, in a way. The road to hell is paved
with good intentions but, when our employers and
others in the tech community encourage us to be role
models, they may be actually negatively effecting our
self care because that encouragement can exacerbate. In my case, an impostor syndrome, reinforce self-stereotyping, and creates pressure to
be that representative that you don’t necessarily
see yourself as. It’s funny if this responsibility
rests upon the minority. We end up being what we
think people want us to be. This can effect our
self-esteem and our self-image. It becomes more important
sometimes to be a role model than to be
ourselves which, is where that, where the impact can take place. So just a few examples,
speaking of Scottish Thunder, this is my wife, she is Glaswegian, I love the accent, it’s brilliant, I lived in the UK for a number of years, while we lived there she
won an award for being the UK’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year, she make fighter jet
radars. It’s like a bad ass. I don’t know if she knew
what she’s talking about, but it’s great. As a result of winning the award, she did a lot of speaking as a result, this is her giving a talk at
the Sequoia House in London for the Institution of
Engineering and Technology to some of the most influential
people in STEM in the UK. That’s a DeLorean behind her. That was one of her slides. She did lots of talks in
schools to try and get more women and more girls
into STEM professions. To tell them, “Yes you
too can build a radar and put it in a fighter jet and
watch it fly and it’s great.” She loved being a role model
for young women, but she said to me often that it
was exhausting and it was difficult because everyone,
with the best of intentions, everyone was constantly was pointing out what was different about her. That can get really, really tiring. This picture, I don’t
even know if you can see, that’s me, there, in the Ritz with the fabulous hat and the mushroom cut. I was born, actually, in
the former Yugoslavias, I was born in Bosnia. I was raised in Croatia
and then moved to Canada. Then eventually I went to
Scotland and where I met my wife. This is us at our citizenship ceremony, in the Ritz. (Audience laughs) Representing, look c’mon,
but I have a lot of trouble answering the question where are you from. It’s kind of my default response is, how much time do you have? This, anyone remember this guy? Yeah? Wherever I went I didn’t want
to be the little foreign kid. I always adopted the
language or the accent of wherever were from,
or wherever we stayed. Because I didn’t want
to be the different kid. The first thing I learned was, the first English word that I
assigned meaning to was Mum. It was if I needed to take
homework home I would say Mum, because it meant it had to go home to Mum. I was always aware that I was foreign. The reason I’m showing Wishbone is because that’s how I learned English. I would watch this little
show and then whatever story he was reading I would go and
get the abridged version in the children’s books and I would read it, and that’s how I learned. I played sports, I played hockey, because that is what
people do here in Canada. Canadians, they play hockey. (Audience laughs) It’s just what you do. In
Scotland I played rugby. Anyway I can find to blend
in, that is what I did. I didn’t want to be
identified as the foreign one. That kind of, trying to avoid it, that sticks with you for a long time. I didn’t want to be a role model, I didn’t want to be diverse, I just wanted to be included
and this desire for inclusion should be taken into account
when we ask people to be role models, be it in
tech or anything else. Oh there we go, one more time. This is the center of the talk, when should we become role models, and what can our sort
of tech employers do to, about that too. The short answer is when we’re ready to. We can’t force people to be
role models before they’re ready to so because when we
do this we draw the focus onto that which is different about them. For me it is you’re a woman, you’re gay. It can be well intentional on behalf of tech companies or work places, but it can have the opposite effect. After all I am reminded
everyday that I am gay, that I don’t quite fit into peoples boxes. I personally, I don’t
like being shouted at for being in the wrong washroom. I tell people, they say to me, “Oh, this is the woman’s bathroom.” I go, “I know, thank you. (Audience laughs) Thanks for pointing it out.” Sometimes I don’t want to
exacerbate my differences more than people do on a daily basis. This is what I want to emphasize. We focus on inclusion before diversity. Tech companies should make
employees feel as though they are part of a group
before anything else. Because doing other wise can result in a lot of unnecessary stress. We don’t necessarily want
to be reminded of our differences within our work group. Be it based in gender, culture,
ethnicity, anything else. It is the responsibility of our work place to make us feel protected. To provide a platform for role
models, not an expectation. Even saying something like we want you to be a role
model for other young women isn’t the right thing
to say, I don’t think. Anyway, something like, we’d like to enable you to be a role model if that is something
that you are ready to do. That doesn’t set out the expectation. We should practice patience,
there should be no pressure. All we can do is tell the
stories that brought us to where we are and be okay
if it doesn’t resonate with everyone because it doesn’t have to. This acceptance takes time. Sometimes, I know I believe
that everyone should somehow relate your story otherwise somehow we failed as a role model. If one person in the group
doesn’t feel the same way. This isn’t true, it doesn’t
have to, and that’s okay. Encourage people to
represent themselves as well, not a group. Because again, we come
back to self-stereotyping and that whole optimal identity theory. A perceiver will come to see
themselves in a way consistent. Like, with stereotypes
rather than themselves. I may drift towards what I
think other people want to see when they see a gay woman rather than just talking about my
story and how I got here. And if I do do that, if I do
drift towards that stereotype it can, and has before
compromised my identity, my self-esteem, and my mental health. Once we’re included, we
will seek to stand out. Or we may seek to stand out. Because constantly being reminded that I was different impacted
my image of myself. That was difficult. I never wanted to be a mentor
or a talker or anything to draw attention to myself,
like the way I’m doing now. Through support from my
wife, my family, my work, and just the passage of time, I am only now feeling like
I have something to say. I feel included enough to share and that inclusion is integral. Jumping straight, like when tech companies jump straight to diversity,
they miss the point. They just draw attention
right to those differences. That’s dangerous and
inclusion must come first. We need to allow people to
form those optimal identities and prioritize their self care. And this will make them
even better role models. Because then we’ll be aware
enough of our differences to be proud of them, but protected by the
groups that we represent. I think we have some way
to go in that respect. I look forward to playing my part in it. Thank you very much I
appreciate you listening. (Audience applauds)

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