The power to change anything lies with those who have the privilege, agency and resolve to take change on. Change is no small feat, and if we consider the implications of a shared history of subjugation and oppression on our ability to represent our own community, change seems nigh on impossible. Even typing that sentence makes me reel backwards.
But change is necessary. Today, young people are pulling away from brands and organisations that do not represent them. Ambitious professionals are becoming acutely aware that diversity and representation have less to do with a company’s bottom line and more an indication of implicit and systemic bias. Because if you thought that the only reason you ought to be more diverse in recruitment and representation is because of the business case, then you’re wrong – and it’s certainly the wrong messaging.
You see, when you speak on the business case for diversity, what do you think a person of colour hears? When you justify the need for diversity on the bottom line of your business, I can’t help but think of my body, my being, my humanity reduced to numbers, to profit, to lining the corporate coffers. I don’t think I need to tell you what springs to mind for a person of colour when his value is calculated in pounds and pence.
When I walk into a room, I scan for people of colour. When I get invited to an event, the first thing I do, before I even read the contents of the invitation, is look at who the speakers are. When I browse a website, I browse for people of colour. So on and so forth, each day of my life. I’m so used to not seeing myself represented, that I now refuse to be a part of something that doesn’t speak to me. You don’t think my experience as a gay man of colour is important? I’m not coming to your event, reading your magazine, visiting your website or buying from your brand. The only thing I have left is the money I (don’t) spend as a means of communicating my frustration at the woeful lack of representation in, literally, every facet of daily life.
A lack of comprehensive representation is rampant in all industries. As I’ve said on panel discussions and in talks I’ve given, it boils down to two things: a communications problem and a lack of investment from organisations in programmes that help lift up those in lower socioeconomic conditions.
Crucially, if an organisation like InterComms is not able to comprehensively represent our community, nor the brilliant minds within it, we won’t be able to challenge the media and communications industries to bolster their representation either. One could argue that if we have more positive queer role models (outside of white gay cis male) at the forefront of our media organisations, we might then see a much-wider net positive impact – not least on young queer people who need to see that they can be and should be the faces and spokespeople for the organisations of their choosing.
Just look at the dire lack of queer black voices and faces in the media on the anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality… How soon everyone forgets it was a trans woman of colour who threw the first brick that incited the modern gay rights movement.
InterComms has the potential for greatness and there are a number of incredibly talented people serving on the committee. I’ve joined as the first person of colour because it’s important for me that we can properly challenge the media and communications industries to bolster their representation. White people cannot do it on their own, despite everyone’s best intentions. Historically, change has come from the great work of people of colour working alongside and as part of the institutions excluding them; just look at the leaders of the feminist, civil and gay rights movements.
Our voices are our most powerful tools, and for those of us in positions of privilege, who have the means, access and opportunities to effect change, we must. My voice on its own, though, is not enough; we need a chorus of queer voices of colour, singing in concert and as loudly as we can. If you’re a person of colour working in marketing, media and communications, I’d like to hear from you. Please do get in touch: [email protected]