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Gender diversity means nothing without inclusion

Having a quota for women and minorities isn’t inclusion if you treat them as outsiders.

By Jane Caro
Jane Caro is an advocate of inclusion.

Many years ago I appeared on a TV panel show. There were usually four men and a chick on the panel – sometimes me, sometimes someone else. We used to joke among ourselves about rotating in the mandatory “chick’s spot”. I’d brought up the lack of female panellists with the producers on occasion and, one day, for the first time, I was sharing the desk with two men (plus the male host) and another woman. The producers had paid attention!

But I noticed as we sat waiting for filming to start, the three men had a very blokey conversation about footy. Me and my fellow female panellist sat silently as they talked over our heads. Did we feel included? No, we did not.

There used to be an annual advertising awards event dedicated to the year’s best newspaper ads. It was run over a weekend as part of a conference, and I was a regular on the panel. It was a lot of fun, mostly, but there was always tension between the women delegates and the men. Women were often the butt of the jokes. It was always made clear to me that we were there on sufferance, rather than our merits, even if we sometimes won awards. I noticed the same barely disguised aggression towards the few openly gay men in the industry, too.

The last year I ever attended, one of the very few female creative directors in the advertising business (there remain almost none) made a very moving speech about her day and how hard it would be to fit in having children with her incredibly demanding job. She was acknowledging that unlike her male counterparts, she had to choose between career and family.

With some honourable exceptions, the male delegates reacted to her speech with hostility. Having children was “a lifestyle choice” and entirely a woman’s problem, we were told. The fact that many of the men holding this view were frantically trying to bed as many pretty young creatives as possible, while they had a wife at home minding the kids, escaped them. For self-declared smart men, they missed a lot.

“Being included and feeling included are two quite separate things.”

I liked her speech but, as the mother of two, I wanted to let some of the young women delegates know that it was possible to combine a successful career in advertising and a family. I got up and said so, citing my own career and those of a few of the other women in the room.

I was cut short. “I don’t think we would say you’d had a successful career, Jane,” opined one of the men on the panel – a man, I might add, with far less of a track record than me. (Oh, for the towering confidence of a mediocre white man.)

After 35 successful (by any measure) years in my industry, did I feel included? No, I did not.

Being included and feeling included are two quite separate things. I suspect that’s why the majority of new businesses are started by women. Sooner or later we get the message we are not wanted.

Inclusion is not about grudgingly allowing a few chicks and/or Indigenous/Muslim/Asian/LGBTQI/people of colour a seat on the panel, the management committee or the board. It’s not about driving numbers, although that matters. You cannot feel included if you are not actually wanted.

Inclusion matters because those of us who are outsiders (basically anyone who isn’t white, male, Christian, under 60 and, probably, with a private school education) have different views of the world. That richness of diverse views and experiences matters. We’ve all heard the stats on how diversity in management increases a business’s profitability and even share prices.

Indeed, one of the reasons I won awards in advertising creative was because my gender and feminism gave me a different way of looking at things. I saw the world in a way the majority of blokes didn’t see it. My perspective wasn’t better or worse – it was different.

We need difference. It makes life more fun and interesting and it makes businesses better at their business. We just need to make a little effort to make the different feel, well, less different.

Jane Caro runs her own communications consultancy. She worked in the advertising industry for 30 years and is now an author, journalist, lecturer and media commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @janecaro.

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