I was so excited to be invited to participate at the SHE Conference, Oslo, 2020.
But something and someone was missing…people who looked like me.
My name is Dr. Yvonne Thompson CBE, a mother, a grandmother, wife, author, and a confident, accomplished entrepreneur of over fourty years. I have operated at the highest levels of business leadership, chairing boards in both the private and public sectors, all the while being in the minority twice, once as a woman, the other, as a black woman.
SHE Conference has the reputation of being one of the largest gender diversity women in leadership conferences in the world. How inspiring it was then for me, to be welcomed, on stage to over 2,000 women and a few brave men in the audience. I felt privileged to be at such an event.
My Superpower: Invisible Protective Cloak
Standing in front of over 2,000 inspiring women, I felt the collective warmth of sisterhood as I nervously navigated my presentation. However, I also felt the need to unleash my superpower invisible protective cloak to envelop me; that personality that I have learned to adopt after all the years of being the only person who looks like me in the room.
After the adrenalin rush of my speech, on my flight back to London, I questioned myself about why I would need my “Superpower Invisible Cloak” during a gender and diversity conference? It was then I realised that I—even at this conference—was still twice in the minority, black and over 65!
Make the world better, one woman at a time.
SHE has a massive global platform attracting a fine array of fantastic speakers, all with relevant, inspiring anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom on how they have made the world better, one woman at a time. Coupled with the excellent stalls and fringe events, SHE also generates a sizeable global following, yet its success could be a barrier to greater inclusion.
Rightly or wrongly, we are all tribal to a degree.
Our identities are calling cards, and we gravitate to those who look like us or those who we know. It’s the politics of identity. It can be positive; where women from one section of global society patronise an event on mass. Or it can be an obstacle to overcome; where women from minority communities consider the optics and feel that the event is not for them and so they stay away.
In a shrinking global world, common ideologies are what bind people together. SHE can continue in its current form indefinitely and still increase its global reach for women. Nevertheless, black women and other minority women may continue to need their superpower invisible cloak to assimilate, during which; SHE has the opportunity to facilitate an even more inclusive event.
SHE Community’s ideology in bringing together more diverse women so we can all learn about the unique intersectionalities between race, culture, and age. As a speaker and a signed-up member of the SHE ‘alumni’ I throw my hat in the ring to be the first to offer help and assistance in this regard, for if SHE wins in this regard, as women, we all win.
The Difficult Dialogue
In order for us all to be equal, we all have to sit at the same table, at the same time, hearing the same thing, learning the same things, sharing each other’s challenges and learning from each other.
When we can sit across the table from each other as women, we should have the “difficult dialogue” and get “comfortable” with the “uncomfortable” conversations, learn and grow together is when we will see the meaning of equality and diversity in the true sense.
World Lockdown Happened
My talk at the last SHE conference was about the benefits of Diversity In the Gig Economy, agile, and remote working, whilst not forgetting the wealth of knowledge that “silver surfers” still bring to any country’s GDP. I began to doubt I was in the right place.
But little did I or anyone know a week or two later the world would start locking down because of Covid-19, with little or no option but to work from home. The majority of businesses managed to pivot, and take their businesses online. On the other hand, some have not.
One thing these challenges have made clear is how, resilient, creative and determined we are; and how much better—not bitter—we are when we come together as the human race.
Pursuit of Equality
The pursuit of equality, diversity and inclusion is not an easy undertaking. I amongst others across the UK have been staunch supporters of this aim over the last forty years, yet there are still times when we think we are going backwards. The drive to increase black and minority audiences is a must for all organisations. I hope I can help those at SHE improve their reach into some of those black and minority communities globally going forward.
I’d like to congratulate SHE on a brilliant conference in Norway this year, and along with the spotlight on Africa as a fringe event, I look forward to seeing more black and minority women participating in future events…without having to check their real self in the cloak room or having to use their ‘Superpower Invisible Cloak’.
My talk at SHE started and ended with a quote from Greek philosopher Aristotle,
“I’m not here to teach but to make you think.”
I trust this article has the same effect.
My call to action to the SHE Community is to BE BOLD, and be the change you want to see. Diversity in its real sense.
Dr. Thompson is the Founder and President of Wintrade Global Women Entrepreneur’s Network. She is also an ambassador for the World Business Angel Forum: www.wintradeglobal.com