Diversity Counts

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I can’t stop counting.  I feel like Rain Man.  One, two, three white men to my right.  One white woman and a white man on my left.  At the other table: six white men and two white women.  Later, another white man and an African-American woman join us.

I should stop counting.  What am I trying to prove? Don’t I hate math?

I’m not supposed to care about this.  We’re supposed to be beyond all this, gender and racial politics, right?  I’m neither a sociologist nor a census-taker.  Why am I graphing the race and gender of the room like a graduate student doing work “in the field”?

The food is amazing.  “Prepared by one of the iron chefs.”  Jose Garces.  Latino, I think to myself, realizing I can’t not think about broad social constructs during this dinner.  I concentrate on his expertly prepared chorizo and the perfect cauliflower side dish.  I ask one of the men to pass me more salad.  How often can you get perfect shoots of asparagus in the middle of a snow storm?  I hope it’s not cliché to be a woman asking for seconds on salad.  I don’t want any of the tenderloin, but I make myself take it because the men pile it on, and I don’t have a golf game.  It tastes like raw power.

Speeches are made.  The men who seem so different than I am in ways I can only trace with my index finger give tributes to the guest of honor.  Everyone is brought to tears for the goodbye that has brought us together.  They speak of friendship and loss and memory.  If I close my eyes, I can forget that there are less than ten women in this room, half of them plus-ones, and all of them kind to me during the cocktail hour when we mingle on the mezzanine floor.

In truth, everyone is kind.  Interested in what I do now, how many kids I have.  Boys or girls? Everyone asks.  One of each, I say, knowing that it’s the perfect answer. I’m interested in them: their general counsel jobs, their scions who have joined the family business, their aging parents.

It may or may not be true that the people who visit our table come to talk to the men.  Maybe they seek each other out because they are from the same generation (the one above me), or they know each other from “work,” or have met in rooms like this before.  I don’t approach anyone at all and recognize that’s part of the problem.  It’s definitely not the solution.

I finger my name tag to be sure that everyone knows who I am and how I belong.  Just in case they’re wondering.

It’s weird that I belong here.

I’m definitely not supposed to think that. I’m supposed to be so filled up with my accomplishments and success and good fortune that I would never allow such a traitorous thought.

When everyone’s looking for their coats, I put aside my field work and extend my hand over and over.  I let myself shine.  Corny, I know, but true.  I drink it all in so I don’t wake up with regrets about how I should have stood up taller, or “been myself”, or made more connections.

The next morning I find LinkedIn requests in my email.  I accept them immediately with a stroke of a key.  It’s just that easy.  If I could just stop counting.

23 thoughts on “Diversity Counts

  1. Hey, Mama, I don’t know why you count, but I know why I look around and count. It’s because I’m afraid and I need to know who poses a threat. And I need to know how I’ll demonize them if they turn out to challenge me. I need to know how they are different so I know how and where to attack.

    I find that when I’m able instead to figure out what I’m afraid of, I know what I need courage to face. Then I can summon that courage and pay attention to just being me. Their attacks, even if they were to come, are really meaningless to me. Until I give my power to them.

    I don’t think I’m the only one.

    • Right. There were certainly no attacks– Every single person was amazing and gracious and kind and interesting and smart. Including me. I’m still figuring out what I am afraid of…most of it has turned out to be smoke and mirrors, but you’re right about the notion of threat. Thing is, if the “threat” is a systemic, blind spot that I can only get at with the raw data of numbers, I’m not sure what to do. And if I’ve made it to the room, don’t I owe the next generation to make the next dinner even more representative?

      On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:15 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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      • Of course not. The source of your fear is old. And the reaction is fight or flight, both of which would be inappropriate to any attack that could have come.

        Can you consider living in a world where your life wasn’t being threatened? What if noone thought you didn’t belong? What if you knew you belonged and others welcomed your presence? I’ll bet that’s actually closer to the truth.

  2. ick. I hate situations like this so much that I know it’s what prevents me from doing more. I KNOW I can “be” more than what my “job description” entails, but, I just can’t handle the socialization, the self-doubting that comes along with more. I’m not sure if that even makes sense, but I really appreciated your internal take on something that would scare the crap out of me. I’d find any and every reason to keep my ass planted in the chair or run in the bathroom and hide so the fact that you got up and started to shine is just awesome and I think you’re well on your way to overcoming your fears.

    • Believe me, I’ve foregone many a dinner, reunion, cocktail hour, etc., all in the name of “no effing way.” But I am learning to step out. I have more courage than I used to have, in part, because I want more,but I am fumbling about.

      On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:53 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  3. I don’t count, but I do get uncomfortable when there is too many of one type of person in the room. Not sure why. Too many men? Too many white folks? Too many of one type makes me nervous, maybe because I don’t like standing out…
    In any case, this post made me think, for which I’m grateful. We should think more.

    • The counting thing was a new twist on my former “just noticing.” I think if I can channel my thinking into positive action, I will be in better shape. Working on that too.

      On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:58 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  4. 私は自分の考えを持っていますし、
    自分で判断つかない事は人に相談したり
    聞いたりします。
    私は基本的に料理が好きです。
    人の意見も大事だと思います。
    どうも、失礼しました。

  5. I had little to no diversity in my world until I went to college, so I notice. I don’t count numbers but I do take a rough estimate of the demographics of a room, especially where it is work-related. It’s my “are we walking the talk?” assessment.

  6. I count too, mostly because when I go to work events or gatherings like this I am trying to disappear into a corner so I don’t have to make polite conversation or network with people I don’t know, which is basically torture for me. I love that you got up and talked to people, and have those LinkedIn invitations to prove it.

  7. Boys or girls? Everyone asks. One of each, I say, knowing that it’s the perfect answer.

    Is it? It’s kinda weird. I got that result, and two of my sisters got that result– the youngest just completing that pair a month ago with her baby boy. The gender order is *almost* the same except younger sister #2 had a boy first.

  8. In my last job, I used to have to attend a trade show once a year. I could never get up the nerve to approach anyone, even though many were people I talked to on the phone weekly.

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