An open letter to my children about the gender equality thing

dillon-mangum-383677-unsplash.jpg

This week I've been thinking a lot about the industry I'm creating (we're all creating) for my children.

For our children.

Every decision I make, every client I work with and every expectation I set, meet, exceed and don't meet, influences the shape of this industry. And if my (our) children ever work in this industry, it's my (our) responsibility to ensure it's fit, healthy and ethical for them to take it over.

I wrote them a letter about a recent experience where I was invited to speak on an all-male speaker event — and I share this letter with you today.

An open letter to my children about the gender equality thing.

 

To my three beautiful children,

This is a letter to you from the past. You don’t read my weekly journal now, in 2018. You’re in primary school and you have other concerns. More pressing matters I'm sure.

But sometime in the past, I wrote my thoughts down weekly and people actually tuned in to listen.

Yes, I know. Go figure.

One day, you might reach this little corner of the internet and I hope that you recognise a familiar face with a familiar voice and realise that your father had something interesting to say at some point in time.

It’s Tuesday August 14, and the year is 2018. You’re all much older than you are now so forgive some of the tone in this letter but I’m sad and upset; and I know you’re mature enough to appreciate the context.

We’ve come a long way with ‘the gender equality thing’. One of you coined this term over dinner recently — it's a topic we spoke about often together.

We can be heartened that we have come a long way. There are more women in leadership positions in our industry than when I first started in the pre-internet years. The Prime Minister of New Zealand was the first world leader to take maternity leave while in office, and fabulously said a big ‘fuck you get over it’ to anyone that had a problem with her breastfeeding her child whilst at work.

Our business alone is made of five women and one male — quite telling, in a male-dominated industry.

There are more women in tech than there have ever been and yes, there is still work to do here but we can be pleased that we've made some movement on this issue in the last twenty years.

We have come a long way, but I’m saddened that we still have a long way to go.

I don’t know yet what your chosen career paths will be and part of me I must admit, secretly hopes that you won’t chose a vocation in the industry I’ve made my career in. I secretly hope you all forge your own paths, chasing your own passions and finding your own destinies whatever they may be. I secretly hope you move on to solving bigger, more complex and more purposeful challenges.

But, as I spend time toiling at running a business and hoping it isn’t running me, I see it as a responsibility of mine to ensure this industry is good enough for you, just in case you do choose it.

Just in case you experience it at some point in your own future and see the ripples of the actions of this generation.

And if you do choose this industry then I have work to do. We all do.

Last month I was approached by one of a handful of industry bodies inviting me to speak about leadership to their paying audience.

Being invited to speak is both humbling and an honour I never take for granted. To be considered is wonderful and more so, to be able to share my thoughts with people and in turn provide some kind of value, is a privilege.

A privilege I hope the three of you have in your careers, because to teach what you have learned to a captive room of people is one of the most fulfilling acts of your career.

Unfortunately I turned this opportunity down and am saddened, not that I won’t be speaking, but that we have so much more work to do on, as you call it, ‘the gender equality thing’ amongst other ‘things.’

I was to be one of three speakers at this event, all three of which were male — and this was the very reason why I opted out. I provided a long list of female names whom I would've been proud to have replaced me on that speaking engagement and respectfully declined.

As you can imagine this made me incredibly sad. Having volunteered my own time over the years to organisations such as these, it was disappointing to see that an equal and diverse industry voice was an after thought.

It was disappointing that the reason, when pressed was ‘we didn’t know any women’ — that the criteria for speaker selection was:

1. Choose people you know.

It was disappointing to think back when I was a younger Designer trying to navigate a career path I found an industry that lacked leadership and representation. I was a child of working-class migrants with a long surname and an Anglicised first name. My identity was confusing and the industry I was walking into was white, male and private-schooled. An industry filled with an obvious lack of, and much needed presence of female leaders. A collection of tribes and clans, rather than a thriving eco-system, feeding and nurturing itself.

I was also sad because equality isn’t simply about removing men and putting women in their place but as ‘Emma from Harry Potter’ once said in her ‘He for She’ speech to the UN that “men need to better understand that they are an integral part of the gender equality issue” and we still need to hear their voice too as well as hold them accountable to ensure they're doing their thing to move us all forward.

I understand it's difficult to run and manage such organisations. I understand how difficult it is to maintain principles and quality across a national forum of volunteers.

Albeit, our industry bodies must put together diverse lists of speakers that better represent the industries they lead — our industry voice isn’t male, nor is it solely female. It's diverse, inclusive and non-gendered.

The voice of our industry is a vast blend of differences that need to be celebrated — cultural nuances and ethnic points of view, a mix of abilities, skills, experience and opinions.

Our industry's voice has brown skin, white skin, and surnames that some people find too hard to spell when they don’t try hard enough. It's a multi-gendered and a multicultural voice.

Our industry voice is gay, disabled, indigenous, experienced, young, old and wise.

At the very least, our industry bodies need to show enough leadership to get this right, because our industry voice is all of those things and more — and every industry event must personify this voice and at the very least be inclusive of it.

I hope when you enter your future industry, the doors are wide open to anyone and everyone and these silly, non-inclusive, invisible barriers crumble.