Tomorrow marks the last day of Black History Month in the UK. On social...
For the rest of the year, we will be sharing a series of blog posts to the themes of diversity and representation.
We all know that representation matters. Time and time again, it has been shown to be one of the barriers to entry in fields that are found to be lacking in diversity. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a quote attributed to Marian Wright Edelman, American civil rights activist and is often called upon in conversations about the importance of diverse representation. Whilst it’s true that there are many black and minority ethnic success stories who have defied this adage to become a ‘first’ themselves. It’s also true that in almost many cases, they were witness to someone in a related field who helped expand their idea of what was possible. For Gerald A Lawson, who invented video game cartridges in the 1970s, his aspirations were shaped by George Washington Carver becoming a respected inventor and educator in the 1930s-40s. Crucially though, that quote is a product of its time. A time where minority ethnic communities were proactively segregated (in the US), women were still largely absent from the workplace and too little consideration was given do neurodiverse or disabled professionals. In a time when (ostensibly at least) equality is assured, is representation still so important?
Arguably representation is more important today than ever before. Through social media and businesses pushing their digital presence, we all know much more about businesses we interact with, be it as consumers or employees. Fifty years ago, happening upon someone that looks like you, having achieved something you had never considered, would inevitably expand your horizons. Today, with so much information so widely accessible, the reverse is true. Realising that there are no board members that look like you or no CEOs with your social background might change your perspective for the worse. An anecdotal example I often draw for is the experience of telling a 12-year-old that Barack Obama was the first black President in the US. The reaction? Not awe or inspiration, but horror, “what so there has never been another black President? What about in the UK?”
Today’s world is smaller than ever before, corporations are more transparent, and information is everywhere, all of the time. In this world, representation isn’t just inspirational, it is fundamental.
The technology industry is known to struggle with diversity. A challenge that is often attributed to education, because we need more qualified candidates entering the tech industry to achieve anything resembling representation. Yet it would be dangerous to suggest this is the only issue, or that the lack of diverse tech graduates exists in a vacuum.