Permission to Speak on Diversity

I recently attended the Women in Education pre-conference to the uLead conference in Banff. This is the first time I have attended either. In the excitement of learning and as a new tribe was being formed around me I signed up to add a blog post for a #ulead #womened #digimeet.

Now its 2:00 pm on a bright sunny day (a rarity lately on the west coast!). My kids are playing outside, and boy do I ever want to join them because this is scaring the heck out of me. Maybe I’m scared because it’s a new tribe I am jumping into, maybe it’s because I haven’t blogged since last summer, maybe because the last time I wrote about women in ed leadership I felt exposed and was not prepared for the backlash.

So, with a bag of chocolate blueberries, a cup of coffee and my new tribe pushing me to be 10% braver and get a post out by 4:00, here we go!

Now about that post on women in ed leadership. It was a collaborative effort with some amazing women ed leaders that I have always admired: Jessica Johnson, Melissa Emler, Heidi Hutchison, Kaye Henrickson and Tia Henrikson. Titled, Where are the Women Keynote Speakers? we attempted to attack the problem of why the pool of keynote speakers in education were so dominated by our male colleagues despite the fact that education is a field predominantly of women.

After much work and reflection, we collectively pushed “post” and put it out there. Well, there was some support, and I’m sure in hindsight mostly support, but it’s always the naysayers comments that stick the most.

We delved in a twitter questioning, then discussion, then argument, then full out attack with a few who questioned that in a blog post about women, why did we fail to mention the lack of diversity as well. Despite my fellow authors asking for guidance, support to understand the concern, they were shut down with the conclusion of  “If you don’t understand the problem, there’s no point in enlightening you.” One comment thread in particular hurt:

Why were they saying this?! “(W)hite cluelessness”, peple rareley consider race unless it impacts them.. I’m brown!.. Now my name may indicate that I am a woman of colour, but I never put myself out there as one. So was I “brown” enough to respond? I became uncomfortable as I knew the other women I wrote the post with weren’t women of colour and I couldn’t hide behind them… I was it. It was MY job to defend the post. Then my name was thrown out there, basically making the point that, well we do have Iram as an author, and she’s a woman of colour.

Ack, no! I was not ready I didn’t know how to respond and I realized that I have spent my whole life hiding from my colour. I’ve worked hard, tried not to make waves and keep my head low. How was I to respond without fueling this fire even more. Why is it my job, why is it not okay for “white” voices to participate in this conversation. So I didn’t, I just ignored it and have felt very guilty about it since.

Those feelings,unfortunately and fortunately came back as the women in education pre conference went on. I kept looking around and quickly realized, I was the only woman of colour in attendance. I began to feel like I stuck out, my colour was showing, but who am I, the one who hides from her colour to bring it up? And was it even an issue because what I was listening to and the conversations we were having rang true to me. However, I couldn’t help not feeling awkward and that hit me hard. So with a hesitant and brave heart on to twitter I went.

I was glad to bring the the issue up, and I am grateful for the graceful and supportive response from Hanna Wilson. It gave me goosebumps to have attendees question the lack of diversity around them as the conference progressed. Thank you to those who did so. It is important to have diverse voices in conversations about education.

I have a lot more reflection and baggage to unpack in this area, and I am now ready to do so. I will be attending both conferences next year and hope that more diversity will be represented both on and off the stage.