Buzzword: Parity

TL;DR: Thoughts on gender and racial parity. I have many. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres shared this message over the weekend:

I wholeheartedly believe that parity is an admirable, if elusive goal for any organizing body that does community work. After watching this video, I’m struck with a few thoughts: 

  • I understand that Guterres is the UN Secretary General, but I feel it unfair for him to declare that “I made parity our central reform objective.” It’s not an effort he champions on his own.
  • I’d love to see a not-cis-male UN Secretary General. Nothing against Guterres, but there are definitely capable and qualified people who I think would champion a more thorough interpretation of parity. Basically, why isn’t the UN aiming for more than male and female parity? What about those who don’t identify within the gender binary?

Sidebar: Notwithstanding the above, it’s still encouraging to see this happen, and a solid step towards including more perspectives, experiences, strengths, and thought processes. It also is important to recognize that UN Women does an enormous amount of work to empower women.

I think about this in relation to community organizations I’ve encountered. As a young woman of color, I easily check two major diversity boxes based on appearance alone. I can honestly say that I have been offered (volunteer) community leadership positions because someone, somewhere, wanted to make their board look more diverse/increase representation on their board. 

The overwhelming, vast majority of the time, I take issue with this approach, especially when I weigh the opportunity with these questions:

  • Am I passionate about the organization’s cause?
  • Do I feel some level of alignment with the organization’s stance on said cause?
  • How does the organization intend to exchange ideas and implement strategy? Do I have a place in that?
  • Do I feel like I can add value to the cause? Will the organization value what I have to offer?

The trend has been “yes” to the first two questions, and, after some research, “no” the the last two. Thus, I’ve only said yes to one such offer, but I already had a good, long relationship with the organization, and my being young and Chinese was a footnote toward their achieving gender and racial parity. I can live with that. 

Now, there are folks who will say yes to any opportunity with the intent of jumping in and making all the things happen for the reason they were invited. To which I say, more power to you.

Diverse voices enrich our collective experience. Give opportunities to those who deserve them, and yes, give more to people who have been marginalized and underrepresented. But don’t assume or simply look for token participants. In the end, listen and collaborate.

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