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InfoQ Homepage Presentations Finding the “I” within Inclusion

Finding the “I” within Inclusion



Wade Davis and Karen Casella explore some of the history of I&D, its historical relationship with both over and underrepresented groups, and how to find yourself within I&D.


Wade Davis is vice president of inclusion strategy -- Product @Netflix. Karen Casella is director of Engineering at Netflix, previously leading architecture teams at eBay & at Sun.

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Davis: I want you all to write down the names of seven people who you engage with consistently. Meaning, people who you text with, you talk on the phone with, you email. Anyone who you engage with consistently who is a non-family member. Again, people you text, you talk to, you email, you consort with. I know it's tough to see people during COVID, but anyone who you engage with consistently who is a non-family member. Write down the names of those seven individuals.

Persevering Through Humiliation

While you all are writing down those names, and please write them down on the left side of the paper, vertically, I want to tell you all a story that frames this talk. This morning, which is my usual habit, I woke up about two hours earlier than my partner to meditate, to read, or to watch a talk by someone whose work in the world is impacting the world. Earlier this week, when I was building this talk, I was listening to a conversation between the famed civil rights leader, Bryan Stevenson, and the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the new book, "Caste," Isabelle Wilkerson. They were sharing stories.

Bryan Stevenson, who has argued in front of the Supreme Court, he told a story about how he was defending a client in court. While in court, he was demeaned by someone. In that moment, he had to maintain his composure, and smile through his own humiliation. I thought, what's the cost to oneself when we have to smile through our own humiliation? Then I thought back to this talk. I asked myself, how many of you have ever asked yourself, what's the cost to me, the aggressor, when I humiliate, demean, discriminate against, or more commonly, what's the cost when we make others invisible? Let us be more precise about what I mean when I say make others more invisible. I'll use women for an example.

Gender Inequality

In the country of Sweden, a country believed to be one of the most progressive countries on gender, there was a study done on all of their history books. That study learned that only 13% of the stories told were about women. In America, there are currently 5913 statues, and less than 400 of those statues are of women. Of those less than 400 statues, more than half are fictional characters. They aren't even real. They are goddesses or ladies of liberty. Currently, in the fortune 500 companies, there are more men named James, who are CEOs, than there are women. There are also more men named John, who are CEOs than there are women. All of the U.S. presidents and vice presidents have been 100% male. 77% of the House of Representatives are male. 78% of all U.S. mayors are male. The 25 leaders at the top of our highest valued companies in the U.S., there are no women. The top 25 ranked universities only have 5 women at the head, and none of those women are black.

Why It All Matters

The question you may be asking is, why does all this matter? I think that Winston Churchill summed this up the best when he said, "History is written by the victors." The work of diversity and inclusion is up against this history. I want to be clear, I am not interested in blaming anyone, as my idol, James Baldwin, said, "There is no one to blame." I want all of us to see the challenge before us in creating equality of opportunity, and fairness, and equity within our organizations. This history creates a world where the over-represented and the under-represented don't see their futures dependent on each other, but they are. The young, the old, the weak, the strong, whites, blacks, men, women, LGBTQ folks, heterosexual folks, we all depend on each other.

A great challenge is to understand how. We will never understand how we depend on each other, if we don't get to know each other intimately and personally, which takes me back to your piece of paper. Now that you all have it written down, hopefully, at least five names of non-family members who you engage with consistently, I want you all at the top of that page, horizontally, to write down these categories. I want you to write down gender, race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, college graduate, makes 40k-plus per year, and disability. Across from each name, fill in that person's information. Let's say you have Tasha there. Write down Tasha's gender, just put male or female, or trans, or non-binary. For the race, write down what the race is. You could just put a W for white, and M for whatever. For age, just write down the name. If you don't know someone's age, or some of the categories that I asked, just take a guess, but fill in across each one of those individuals.

The Concept of Race and Stereotypes

My partner, he is a male. He identifies as a man. He's gay. He was raised upper middle class. He would consider himself well educated. I thought he was white. He is also non-American. Because I believed he was white, like other white Americans, I treated him as such. I placed all the assumptions that I held about white people in his lap. Thankfully, during one of our early dates, he said to me, "I know that you see me as white. Maybe even in America, the world sees me as white. I am French first." That hit me like a ton of bricks, because I never imagined that his nationality, his ethnicity trumped the identity that I put on him. I never asked him, how did he see himself? I didn't think that his ethnic identity could trump his racial identity. That's even more interesting because I personally don't even believe in the concept of race. What that moment highlighted was my lack of engagement with people who are non-American, and how that lack of engagement left me with an absence of cultural context of him, and potentially many others outside of my American context.

I offer that story as an opportunity for you to interrogate your list and see where you may lack certain cultural competence and understanding about certain groups of people. If your list is all male, or all able bodied, or all heterosexual, or all black, what cultural competency do you lack? How does your lack of cultural competency highlight how you may and more than likely live in stereotype? Therefore, who you may be unintentionally harming or creating distance between, because in order to truly understand others and locate the I, within inclusion, you must also interrogate the self.

Beneficial Oppression Is Harmful

I want to use a quote to highlight what I believe should be a guiding principle for those of us who are in the under-represented groups, and the over-represented groups about how we come together. This is a quote by the Australian indigenous activist, Lilla Watson, who said, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let's work together." This quote articulates what I believe is the most important and yet most terrifying component for those in the dominant group, and in the minority group who believe in and want equality of opportunity, along with equity, and fairness. Because ultimately, for those in the majority group, you will be fighting to end something that was created in your name, or something that was created in your interest and your benefit. I believe the only way that we can begin to understand how to end any form of discrimination is for those in the dominant group to understand more intimately, how any oppression that you benefit from, also inherently harms you. When you interrogate your own identity and history, you will start to see the benefits and the harm of any form of oppression.

The Majority Status

Many of us are well versed in how our majority status benefits us. Many of us have never dared to understand how we are harmed by it. If you identify as white, how does anti-blackness and racism harm you? If you identify as a man, how does sexism and misogyny harm you? If you are cisgender and heterosexual, how does homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia harm you? If you're able-bodied, how does discrimination against disabled folks harm you? That's your work. For minority groups, yes, the oppression you experience does hurt and harm you. I don't want to minimize that. Yet, your pain is what you must use to connect you to others. Suffering is universal. We cannot really love without experiencing suffering. One doesn't get one without the other. To expect the absence of suffering is somewhat immature. Regardless of whether or not you're in the dominant group, or the minority group, you must understand that this is more than an intellectual exercise.

To interrogate all of what I've mentioned above, requires a personal and emotional investment, because it is not obvious. It takes a willingness to give something up. One of the many things that you must give up is your power, and your name. I will attempt to make that more real. For example, for those of you who identify as white, in order to end racism and anti-blackness, you will have to give up the identity of white. With that identity, you will ultimately give up power because whiteness at its core has no real import beyond power. You must figure out, not just why, but what and how. You have to ask yourself, why do I identify as white? Where did the term come from? Why, when, and how did my ancestors who came from France, or Ireland, or Poland, or England, or Italy, come to America and name themselves white? They were not white before they got here. That may sound like a riddle. I'll use myself again, to make that interrogation of the self, more real.

The Power of Identity and Naming

When I was a little boy, I learned that the world offered me certain advantages, certain access, certain forms of power, and therefore, certain levels of safety. Because I not only identified myself as a boy, but the world confirmed that identification and allowed me to name myself as a boy and as male. I use the language of allow me to name myself as a boy, because there are many people who have named themselves as male or as a man, and because of certain nefarious reason, the world declines their identification. Having the ability to name oneself is about power. That power often extends to give you the ability to name someone else. When I do the emotional and personal labor of interrogating the self, interrogating being labeled, and labeling myself as a boy, I think about all the freedoms that came with that. As a boy, I can remember my sister, and the other girlfriends that I was friends with, I can remember them being told to cover themselves up, or to put some clothes on, or to close their legs, cross your legs, to smile, or to look pretty. There was a hyper-policing of their bodies, of their identities, of their expressions. That hyper-policing was a restriction of their bodies, their identities, their expressions, because I don't remember anyone ever telling me to smile more, to close or cross my legs, to put a shirt on.

On its face, that may seem only harmful to girls. When I look deeper, I can understand how I was harmed as well, because in order to constrict or restrict the identity of another, the world must also constrict the identities of me. It was my job to find out how, to find out what, and to find out why. This work requires us all to interrogate our standards, our values, because your behaviors, not your words, or your ideas, are the real indicators of what your real standards and your real values are. The policies, the norms, the practices that exist in your homes, and in our workplaces, are the real indicators of our standards and of our values.

Interrogating Real Standards and Values

I won't give you all the answers about how to interrogate those standards. After doing the special seven exercise, all of you can see some work that you need to do. Because there's a cost to having a homogeneous group of people who you consistently engage with. I intentionally didn't ask you all to list your family. Because by virtue of them being your family, there's a good chance that they will already be somewhat similar to you in certain categories, so they don't add a lot to your cultural competency. This is the work that is important. Because after you do it, you will no longer ask the oppressed group, what can I do to help you? That question highlights a level of innocence that no one should have. Folks in the dominant group don't deserve the power to at once be the oppressor of the minority group, and then double down their burden by asking them, what should you do to end their oppression?


After gaining a greater understanding of the self, and your relationships with others, you will learn that if you want real change, you have to risk something. Change doesn't happen without great risk. As we as a society, we can't move forward without great risk. For those of us in the dominant group, when we risk something, when we give up something, we will gain so much more. We will gain ourselves. We will gain our humanity. We will become so much closer to each other.


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Recorded at:

Feb 07, 2021