Warde Kardaal, YouthSpeak March
Gender diversity in organizations is often discussed in terms of the benefits it brings to the group. One needs only to look at the progress of the last few centuries to realize that the increase of rights and inclusion for previously oppressed groups, including women, has tracked closely with the increase of wealth, prosperity, and personal flourishing in the world. That is progress your organization can and should take advantage of. What is lost in that discussions though are the costs of a lack of gender diversity in an organization.
It is not uncommon to see humanist groups that are underbalanced when it comes to gender, if not throughout the organization, at least at various levels of it. Of course, not all disparity is by choice, men are more likely to be irreligious than women. That does not mean, though, that men are more likely than women to join a humanist organization, just that there are more of them who are humanists.
So why don’t more groups take steps to ameliorate this issue and recruit more women or include them in their committees? For one, it is hard to understand that you even have a problem, if for example, your group’s social media pages are lively and your meet-ups are well attended. Furthermore, the benefits of diversity are a hard sell to a group that is struggling to run as is, or is currently running at a good nick. The benefits of diversity alone may not be enough to persuade a group to pursue it, either for the benefits or as an end in itself. Because of this organizations should move away from discussions of diversity as positive, and instead begin to view a lack of diversity in an organization as a loss, something that is hindering the overall effectiveness of the group.
As humanists, we look to design a world that is blind to all socio-economic statuses. A black woman from Sussex should have just as much of a chance at getting a high-paying job or enrolled in a prestigious university as Filipino man from Manila. This is obviously a noble endeavor and one that is brought up in discussions of gender and race disparity. So, why give preference to increased diversity and why treat a lack of it as a loss when our ultimate goal is to remove the effects of such differences altogether? The answer is simple, lived experience.
The lived experiences of women and men are different. They may overlap and bear the occasional resemblance, but it is undeniable that living as a man and living as a woman is different. And the cumulative effects of a lifetime and generations of being a woman has meant that the lives women lead are different to those lead by men. It is that lived experience that gives them a unique view and unique skills on issues that humanist face, especially, but not limited to, those issues that affect them.
Humanists want to do what they can to help other and reduce the amount of harm suffered in the world. But what can a group that lacks gender diversity do to make the conditions of women better? If they wish to be effective, they will find a solution that will actually benefit women. Which will mean they should draw upon the experience of their group, but what if their group lacks women? It is here where we begin to see the costs of a lack of gender diversity.
Men obviously can wield their privilege in a way that will help those around them. But they must know how to wield it most effectively. With a lack of women comes a lack of information on how to help those women, and thus a lack of effectiveness. You group is not doing as much good because it lacks the experience to know what will help. Not having women has cost the group.
This doesn’t mean men should be viewed as knights in shining armor. Instead your organizations should be viewed as bully pulpits from which your organization can wield influence. If that pulpit only advocates from one viewpoint, i.e. the viewpoint of men, it we be viewed as less relevant concern issues that affect people who do not come from that viewpoint. Again, if your groups are not allowing women to stand on that pulpit and express their views, your group is limiting the issues that it can effectively campaign for.
Also of concern to your organization should be a lack of feminist thought. Feminism is similar to humanism in that it seeks the equality of all people, but feminist thought is not always limited to issues concerning public equality of the sexes. Feminism has also brought new insights into how mainly masculine ideas have reigned supreme for ages.
Consider communication and persuasion, these issues were long handled in stark black and white, one wins the argument or one loses. This combative model of communication was augmented and arguably improved when feminist communication theorists put forth that it is unlikely to change any individual’s mind over the course of a conversation. Yet, one can make them aware of and issue and perhaps move them along a spectrum toward agreement, a concept now known as raising consciousness.
When it comes to inventorying your group, this should be dealt with as a known unknown. There are areas where a female perspective is obviously important. What are less obvious are those areas where the inclusion of female voices could revolutionary to the way your organization operates. There are opportunity costs to not actively including women, the true extent of which are not completely knowable.
The benefits of adding women to your organization and giving them representation at all levels of it are both great and many. But thinking about increasing gender diversity should not just be about the benefits your organization can or cannot opt into. Central to any conversation on the matter should be how a lack of diversity is holding you back.
The views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the policy or views of the IHEU.