Catalyst Producer Siana Bangura summarises April's Inclusive Tech meetup, and reflects on the importance of moving from passive 'allyship' to active comradeship.
** The original version of this blog post was published on Medium and featured as part of our inclusion-focused newsletter **
Every season has its round of buzzwords and en vogue ideas, their fleeting popularity ultimately being the path towards rendering powerful ideas meaningless at best — and at worst corporate wish-wash!
‘Inclusion’ is no different of course, often used in tandem with ‘diversity’ — concepts we are all obsessed with talking about, but are still not quite managing to do particularly well, even when our ‘hearts are in the right place’ and we have ‘good intentions’. I used to enthusiastically take part in these conversations, hopeful every time something (that felt) cataclysmic would take place, feeling that perhaps ‘this time’ we’d edge ever-closer to living, working and thriving in a society that felt truly equitable.
However, now, it’s fair to say I — like many others — feel quite spiritually drained and tired! Tired of talking, asking, explaining, demanding, reminding, ‘teaching’. Whether the issue is race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, or indeed any other axes of identity, anybody with lived experience of marginalisation feels caught in the tension between needing to take part in order to have your voice and experiences pulled towards the centre, whilst also wanting to throw your hands up and say ‘I’m out — get on with it yourselves!’.
Confronting issues of inclusion at Catalyst
During my time in post so far as one of the Catalyst Producers, I’ve met a lot of interesting people, heard A LOT of interesting conversations and made many of my own observations. So although it was with some hesitancy that I decided to volunteer to organise April’s Catalyst Meet-up event, I did it anyway because I saw an interesting opportunity to convene a conversation that could potentially push the people in the space to sit in some (or a lot of!) discomfort and lean into it so that, as a Network, we could work together more meaningfully and build deep(er) relationships in the process.
Some of our many talking points included how we move from talking all the time to taking necessary action in our organisations and spaces we’re part of; how we learn to be individually and collectively accountable for ensuring our work meaningfully includes people from all backgrounds, experiences and walks of life, not as tokens, but as essential to the core of our work; and how we redistribute the power our identities and/ or positions afford us.
It was also a pleasure to be in conversation with: Zoe Amar (Digital expert and founder of digital agency and social enterprise Zoe Amar Digital), Shanice Blair (Community Manager at Agencies for Good), Nish Doshi (Community Manager at Data Collective and Data Kind UK) and Tessa Cooper (Founder of Collaborative Future).
The conversations were indeed thought-provoking and at times difficult to hear, particularly as Zoe courageously spoke about her first-hand experiences of men in the sector abusing their power. Her testimony, alongside the experiences shared by our other speakers, certainly left everyone in the space feeling impacted and keen to figure out what concrete actions they could take next.
When it comes to events of this nature — especially when all or most of the speakers are marginalised or minoritised in some way, shape or form — it’s important to be hyper-aware that they can quickly fall into becoming a trauma-fest. The awful dynamic of people with lived experience of an issue doing the labour of ‘teaching’ those in the space more socially powerful than them (often for free!), and unlocking trauma in an unhealthy and unhelpful way for others to consume, can quickly replicate itself.
However it is also true that there is power — and liberation — in telling one’s story for themself. I know the abundance of solidarity and love in the space left us all feeling more empowered to play our role.
Moving from passive ‘allyship’ to active comradeship
And on this idea of solidarity, it was really important to me to emphasise the need to shift conversations like this from talking about a very passive form of ‘allyship’ to a far more active form of solidarity and comradeship. What are we truly willing to sacrifice to ensure society is more equitable and that we truly live by our values? I ran a workshop last year on ‘Allies & Building Power’, with the focus being on reclaiming loaded terms like ‘Accomplice’ and ‘Co-Conspirator’ and seeing them as the stage we aspire to get to in our change-making efforts, whichever part of the ecosystem we are working in and whatever our contributions are.
This feels really relevant to the conversations we’ve been having at Catalyst recently as part of our Initiative Leads Experiment, especially as we continue to endeavour to ensure our work not only reaches but has at its core, a diverse range of people, with a diverse range of lived (and learned) experience.
Why does it even matter?
I spent the start of May thinking a lot about meaningful solidarity again as I spent some time in Edinburgh at a Public Inquiry into the killing of Sheku Bayoh. What does this have to do with anything, you wonder?
Aside from being the focus of my documentary film, ‘1500 & Counting’, spending time with Sheku’s family, loved ones and his legal team was a stark and moving example to me of (re)distributing power and going to the very ends of the earth for justice, for love, for fairness, for accountability. It was an example of doing things that have never been done before, never been seen before, and signing up for the marathon and not the sprint.
It also left me driven to keep ensuring all the work I do is purposeful, in service to communities that are marginalised, and always (re)distributing and shifting power.
We must aspire to ensure efforts towards ‘Inclusion’ are rooted in a deep, lifelong commitment to eroding the barriers for those most directly affected to surmount, be willing to keep showing up time and time again, putting ourselves out there, and having the stamina to keep going.
Following the April Meet-up, I shared some useful resources with attendees, which I am reposting here so they are more widely accessible:
- The brilliant Zoe Amar wrote this brilliant and brave piece on why tech for good needs to be more inclusive
- Producer Ellie penned an update on our Initiative Leads collective governance experiment with notes on power, leadership, and more about our Initiative Leads Circles Experiment
- This piece by writer Natalie Morris on gal-dem on why ‘Box ticking is a symptom, not a solution. Genuine representation is only going to be borne from providing real opportunities, not through a symbolic display of sham diversity’ — note we’re most certainly moving away from inaccurate terms such as BAME
- And on that, some reflections on why BAME has had its day from writer Alex Mistlin
- Wonderful interview with Disability Justice Advocate and Writer Lydia X. Z. Brown on Autism and Neurodivergence
- Black Feminist Scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the term ‘Intersectionality’) on the urgency of Intersectionality (TED Talk)
- This classic essay by Kavita Bhanot on the need to ‘decolonise and not diversify’
- This piece by Tess Cooper on more inclusive hiring practices and onboarding
- A very specific example, but a good read on ‘The femtech revolution: what it can teach us about digital inclusion’
- And if you were particularly affected by anything shared at the event last week and need a safe space to talk to someone, a list of helplines can be found here on the Mind website