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The Conference Diversity Index

September 22, 2006

Conferences involving public funds and public policy are still too often devised and conducted as though the vast majority of the population were white, male, able-bodied and middle class.   The time has come to start measuring in some way the extent to which this limited approach offers the general public value for money. This is the twenty first century. We in Britain live in a democratic and accountable society run, on the whole, by people who are serious about ‘getting it right’.

How come, then, that I find myself so frequently incensed by the line-up and arrangements for public conferences on critical matters? The answer is simple: conferences about pressing civic matters are still very largely (not exclusively) organised and presented as if the entire planet were inhabited by able-bodied white, middle class, men.

Democratic underpinnings?
There are of course many excellent conference speakers and delegates who happen to be able-bodied, white and middle class; but theirs is not the only perspective or understanding which matters. It therefore follows that policy developed largely on the basis of this perspective will probably be weak or even downright unhelpful (and the evidence of this abounds…. just choose your own example.) So check out the next conference on any matter of general public concern:
Does it have significant diversity in its speakers and and their positions? For gender? For age? For ethnicity? For influence?
Is the agenda helpful in terms of recognising and giving weight to the diverse perspectives within its given community of interest? Do the topics listed for discussion demonstrate this clearly? Do they include specific consideration of possible future action on diversity within the theme being considered?
Is it accessible to everyone? Does it offer a significant number of places for sensible prices (say, the cost of two meals, perhaps £20)? Is it near a train station on a main line (especially if it’s more than local in its remit)? Is the venue easy to navigate for those with mobility and related problems? Assuming the issues under consideration are not privileged in some specific way, will the end-point papers be published on a free, publicly accessible and openly advertised website?

Where’s the action towards inclusion?
The Fawcett Society recently calculated that, at the present rate, it will still be four hundred years before men and women are equal in terms of their influence in the corridors of power.
This is simply not good enough. Not at all. Not now, let alone in several hundred years.
I have decided therefore to take one small step for diverse-person-kind, and begin work on a Conference Diversity Index, which will be developed to indicate, however, impressionistically, just how much value and weight might be placed on various publicly funded events about matters of public concern. More diversity of involvement and experience, more value…..
I know a few conferences coming up on Merseyside which may prove to be of interest; and no doubt you know of others.

This is my website version of the article ‘Can I have a speaker that reflects the community? Too white, too male and too posh. It’s time conferences had an injection of diversity’, published in New Start magazine, 27 October 2006, p.11

One Comment leave one →
  1. Total Cynic permalink
    October 15, 2006 12:35

    Maybe you should start with working out what would be the absolutle minimum quota to be acceptable to all types of People so that we could have ‘diveristy in practice’ benchmark.
    You could start with a definition of ‘representative’ and let us know what social-economic-credo-gentic chrateristsics we need to take into account to find a diverity tipping point. Should teh chracteristics be objective? Should they be outwardly observable? Who should define ‘included’? The included, like you and me, or the excluded, like, erm… where are these people when you need them?
    I suspect what you really mean is lets have broader clique in the power-block, so there are more people like you so that your struggle is not always so uphill. The problem is Hilary, that the powerful will always define reality in terms of there own experience. Just like you do, and just like you would oif there are more of your type.
    [Well, ‘Total Cynic’, we shall have to wait and see what you think when I get back with the next instalment of this, which will be the working out in more detail of how such an Index might be applied. Not sure that many of those I know think of themselves as a ‘type’, except perhaps that we like to see ‘progress’ and ‘fair play’ in some sort of positive alignment….]

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