Creating Conversations For A Diverse And Inclusive Community

Acknowledgments

Many colleagues collaborated on this post. I wish to acknowledge the contributions and input from Lindsey (Vic) Hogg, Jeremie Gluckman, Jill Finlayson, Lisa Piera, Julie King, Regina Njima, Jody Medich, Jeff Rogers, Kris Robinson, Dr. Tiffany Vora, and Dr. Paige Wilcoxson.

Introduction

As a member of the Singularity University (SU) global community—whether as staff, an expert, a mentor, or a participant—you have a critical role in carrying out SU’s mission of educating, inspiring, and empowering leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s global grand challenges. Given that SU’s community comes from very diverse backgrounds, and that SU’s success lies in facilitating collaboration and co-creation across diverse groups of people, this statement represents our organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. While we have previously shared our Rules of Engagement with the SU community, here we’ve sought ways to empower each of us to help everyone feel that they belong and are a crucial part of our mission…to craft conversations accessible to all.

Belonging

As leaders, it is critical that we create an atmosphere where all of our participants feel that they belong in our classroom and are valuable assets in helping achieve our mission. Our role is to not only express our viewpoints and to convey knowledge—but to do so in a way that is well received and results in feelings of empowerment. It is therefore important to remember that based on their own backgrounds and experiences, participants may interpret your words, actions, or presentations differently than you do.

At SU, we believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that our presentations, activities, and conversations are as accessible and empowering to as many people as possible. Here we share our insights based on past experience as well as our suggestions for creating conversations that are accessible to all.

Creating content that values everyone

When preparing to contribute as a member of the SU community, explore these questions:

  • Do your examples, slides, and videos consistently depict a diverse group of people?
  • Are women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other populations portrayed as powerful leaders and innovators, or are they depicted as only victims or perpetrators of problems?
  • Are people portrayed in non-traditional gender roles and in non-sexualized ways?
  • Do your examples and content take a global (rather than USA-centric) perspective?
  • Overall, does your content empower everyone to see themselves and others as powerful leaders and innovators?

Sourcing citations and references

As you review the sources underlying your positions and suggestions, and as you prepare to communicate those sources, explore these questions:

  • Do you refer to a diverse group of people as experts and authorities in both your citations and your commentary? Many members of the SU community have insights into their own communities that enrich the conversation space.
  • Do you give accurate credit, especially to marginalized groups of people who are often written out of history? You can often find this information through additional research, reaching out to colleagues from diverse backgrounds, or joining associations or groups focused on diversity efforts.

SU Leadership Forum

Leading empowering conversations

While jokes and humor can help you connect with others and make your presentations and conversations more enjoyable, they can also backfire, making certain audience members feel excluded. Consider whether you may be making demeaning jokes or comments—whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you have access to video of a session in which you have participated, by reviewing the video you access an impartial reporter of what actually happened in the room (in contrast to what you think happened). For example, at SU we have witnessed jokes about how women depend on their husbands for money, jokes about cheap labor in the Philippines, and the use of profanity and political commentary for the sake of humor. This behavior can be highly offensive to audience members—and also does not reflect SU’s values. Consider the words you use, why you are using them, how others may interpret them, and how to best make your point to everyone in the room.

Creating power dynamics

Being on a stage or at the front of a room positions you in a place of power and authority. This power dynamic may be further amplified if you are also from a traditionally empowered group. Consider how this dynamic plays out. For example, your words may be taken with more authority or credibility than you intend, or your words may be silencing to less-empowered groups of people. Here are suggestions for creating dynamics that are inclusive and accessible:

  • Focus on asking questions and listening to the opinions in the room rather than only sharing your own.
  • Encourage participants to collaborate through brainstorming and problem solving rather than through arguments and debates.
  • Solicit ideas and questions through written or online systems as well as hand-raising. It is also important to ask and answer questions in a manner that is sensitive to social power dynamics. For example, there is evidence that if the speaker ensures that the first audience member who asks a question is a woman, female participation is significantly increased throughout the question and answer session.

SU Leadership Forum

Addressing inappropriate comments from others

In a collaborative setting, there’s never just one person speaking. If someone makes an inappropriate comment, it’s important to address that comment in a clear fashion that responds to the severity of the comment and its effect on other community members.

When possible, we suggest assuming that the person had overall positive intent. Inappropriate comments can arise from clumsy speaking, unease with the language, unfamiliarity with cultural norms, or a lack of awareness of the need for sensitivity around the issue under discussion. In these cases, consider responding with:

  • “Let me address a slightly different question ….”
  • “I’m going to rephrase your question as ….”

For more blatant or intentionally aggressive comments, consider these responses:

  • “I find that comment inappropriate and ask that we speak to one another in respectful ways. Could you rephrase your comment more respectfully so that we all feel comfortable participating?”
  • “That comment does not reflect SU’s values, could you please rephrase it?”
  • “I am uncomfortable with that question/comment and I am not going to respond to it.”

On the other hand, if someone challenges you as having made an insensitive remark or behaving in an insensitive way, it’s important to remember that regardless of your original intent, it was upsetting to the other person. That person may have had vastly different experiences than you, leading them to view your words or behavior differently. In that case, it’s helpful to respond with empathy and understanding (rather than defensiveness); ask how you could have spoken or behaved in a way that made the person more comfortable. Ultimately, we strive to create an environment in which all participants feel comfortable and fully engaged.

Speaker at SU Leadership Forum

Navigating sensitive topics

Exponential technologies have been used to exploit certain groups of people, which is a serious issue that requires thoughtfulness on your part. For example, are you speaking about topics such as “robot brothels” or “robot prostitutes” or “robot slaves” in sophisticated ways? Many medical technologies are only designed and tested on people of one race or gender, and artificial intelligence often draws from a set of data with gender, racial, or disability-related bias already incorporated into it. Are you aiming to understand these challenges and encouraging your community to innovate for all?

Further, many topics related to exponential technologies, artificial intelligence, and the singularity can contradict or challenge various religious beliefs. Are you creating a conversation that will be engaging and inclusive rather than off-putting? Are you having in-depth discussions about the ethics of technology as it relates to power structure and marginalization in society, what is right and wrong, and who decides what is right and wrong? Are you sharing stories of how traditionally marginalized groups have used exponential technologies to create social change?

Today, many countries and groups around the world are experiencing highly polarized political landscapes. SU’s global community, as well as individual programs and sessions, often include people with very diverse views. Consider how to present your political views in a way that honors your perspective but also nurtures an environment in which people who disagree with you will still feel comfortable being in the room or participating.

Conclusion

This post captures the culture that SU is committed to upholding: one that is global, diverse, respectful, inclusive, intellectually rigorous, and forward-thinking. To support this culture and to identify opportunities for improvement, SU has created a process for reporting incidents, both within the organization and within programs. Our experts, staff, and partners are committed to processes and culture that align with SU’s values.

As a member of the SU community, you have a powerful voice on a global stage. You have the opportunity to lead and to serve as a role model. Thank you for committing to co-creating a world in which everyone belongs and contributes at their highest level. Want to stand with us and share your commitment to SU’s values? Take our credo.