Director, Courageous Inclusion, evosis Limited.
We chose the title Identity, Voice and Power for this year’s NTL community day because they are the three key elements of a generative engagement model. It was designed by Royce Holiday and Mary Nations, specifically for use in diversity and inclusion work which takes into account complexity (its part of human system dynamics theory). To find out more about the model visit https://www.hsdinstitute.org/resources/generative-engagement.html.
This model resonates with me personally and professionally. Often issues of diversity and inclusion can be over-simplified into one or two dimensions. The real picture is that we are all a complex mix of identities including elements of privilege and disadvantage within each of us (admittedly some have more of one than another). When we can be honest with ourselves and each other we can converse as human beings.
My purpose on this planet has recently become clear to me. “To enable the evolution of the human race so that everyone inherently values, and has the skill, to be truly inclusive of each other’s diversity”. In response to my personal identity and our current UK and global context, I am finding my voice and stepping into my power.
From my early childhood, it was clear to me that I didn’t belong with the ‘in-crowd’, and without understanding why ‘they’ realised too. During my twenties, I overcome my internalised oppression to ‘come out’ as bisexual, an inherently intersectional identity in which I experience prejudice from people including some lesbian women. I was in my thirties before I overcame the stigma surrounding mental health, to admit I experienced depression and seek counselling. Now in my early forties, following an accident at home, I have acquired multiple, invisible disabilities which give me new challenges to overcome. Now I experience prejudice both from some able-bodied people as well as some of the other spinal cord injured people who are wheelchair users. These are the parts of my identity, which inherently reduce my ability to have a voice and power. These are the parts of my identity where society (sometimes unconsciously, often structurally) acts to silence and disadvantage me. When I allow this oppression to become internalised, I feel I am not enough, less than, I am silenced. It takes away my voice and power because of my identity. I still struggle to fight this oppression and speak my truth.
Simultaneously, I have been exploring the privileged parts of my identity, I am white, British, cis-gender (identify as the same sex I was born), educated, middle-aged, have economic means and can travel. I have found exploring privilege to be a different, but related journey to that of the marginalised parts of my identity. My experience of being the only white person in a garden in India, prompted my identification with the experience of people of colour, initially from their ‘out group’ perspective. I was scared. I’m used to being ‘the only’ and the impact it has, I just hadn’t experienced it because of my skin colour before. This wasn’t the most important learning from this event from me, though. It was a few years before I was able to open up to my privilege in that situation. I was a white, British person in India. I had economic power, no fear of law enforcement and the freedom to speak to a musician family, who as members of an ‘untouchable’ cast no one else in the garden would be permitted to talk to. I had a voice and power because of the privileged aspects of my identity.
The learning I have achieved has enabled me to develop a voice and power which radiate from all aspects of my identity. I now feel compelled to enable others to achieve the same for the benefit of our organisations, humanity and world. In our current UK and global context, I believe it is necessary for the survival of our communities, humanity, and our planet, that we all strive to value our diverse identities, hear all voices and use our power to create social justice. Also if anyone needed more of a reason to achieve this, the business case for inclusion in organisations is growing in strength (see https://www.evosis.co.uk/our-blog/courageous-inclusion for a summary).
To achieve social justice I think it is essential for us to find spaces where we can have conversations which through reciprocity and authenticity (as referenced in the model). I’m excited that this year’s NTL community gathering will provide a space for us all to explore the inherent complexity of our identity, voice and power, our impact on others and how we can use our collective identities, voice and power to achieve social justice.