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Issue #6: On Diversity

A couple of weeks ago, my friend (I hope he's alright that I call him that) Mustefa wrote a short ess

James Costa

April 4 · Issue #6 · View online
A batch of thoughts, resources, and motivation from a friendly digital agency owner delivered every Monday at 6am ET.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend (I hope he’s alright that I call him that) Mustefa wrote a short essay on the topic of diversity. In it, Mustefa perfectly breaks down the issue of diversity (not just in technology, but universally across industries), and outlines solutions for us all. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do today. And again tomorrow. Today, I want to (try and) bring my voice to the conversation. I want to note that these thoughts aren’t perfect and I’m trying to learn from role models around me so that I can be a better ally. My hope is that some of these reflections relate to others and helps bring even more voices to the conversation.
Diversity isn’t something we like to talk about. Whether you’re a person of colour (PoC) or white, male or female: we’re all nervous about discussing diversity because of the polarizing nature of the conversation. We seem to lump it in the topics that we try and avoid with family members around Thanksgiving such as politics and religion. When we do talk about it, we tiptoe. We’re nervous about what to say and what not to say, and don’t want it to impact our work, our lives, or our relationships.
As a white male, I’ve had insecurities discussing diversity publicly (or doing anything more than a retweet, a like, or similar). Growing up as a first generation Canadian in a predominantly white area, I was taught by my parents not to talk about race or gender. Sure, I had friends of different ethnicities growing up; but we never talked about diversity. It was never something I as a white male had to deal with, so I never learned the language or what to keep an eye out for.
In the last few years, I’ve found myself listening to conversations being had by extremely courageous friends who are advocates for diversity. I always felt a want to say something but never knew what to say. What made me more nervous was seeing people being called out for saying the wrong thing. While I wanted to be a good ally, this fear of saying something wrong and being hated for it made me feel paralyzed with fear. I felt bad for being a white male. I felt bad for using my privilege (however unknowingly) to my benefit. What do I know as a white male? What can I say or do? If I say something publicly, will I be looked at as commoditizing a topic?
The truth is, I still don’t know what to say. I don’t have an answer, but I’m learning. (Super anticlimactic, right?) My point in all of this is that we need to take a bit of a jump. We can’t be nervous to learn in public. We’re going to fall, we’re going to make mistakes: but I truly believe that if we do so with good intentions we will have opportunities to correct them. Further, we have opportunities to engage in discussion or action that we don’t always notice. We blame our problems with diversity on not having enough diversity in our applicants as opposed to finding different pools (I’m particularly guilty in this), or not knowing what to say as opposed to standing up for others.
I’d like to give a virtual hug to a few of the many people who have helped me reflect and talk through this in the last couple weeks. Adam, who helped me realize my privilege. Sami, for taking the time to help me feel comfortable with having the conversation. Mustefa, for continuing to push this topic and inviting me to the conversation - that was truly the spark I needed. If I didn’t have these people to help me stumble through talking about this, I wouldn’t be talking about this today. I encourage you all to surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to push you, that you can learn from, and ultimately give you perspective.
This is a fundamental issue that transcends industries. As business owners (but ultimately as people) we have a responsibility to make things accessible to others. We need to keep having these discussions and learning from one another so we can make true change. The answers to this problem aren’t turn-key: they require effort. The solutions start small, but we should always push each other to do more. We shouldn’t be nervous to say something wrong, we should be proud we gave it a shot. We should listen twice as much as we speak, and ultimately engage in respectful dialogue.
This isn’t something we need to do for marketing purposes or to make ourselves look good. This is something we need to do because we’re all people who deserve the same respect, opportunities, and dignity.
P.S.: If you have a moment and enjoyed this week’s issue, I’d really appreciate your support sharing this newsletter. Whether it’s a forward, a Twitter post, or going door to door and proclaiming the good news, it would mean the world to me.

Thoughts from Slack
The Toronto Agency Owner community has a Slack channel where we share thoughts, accomplishments, upcoming events, and ultimately support one another. If you’d like in, just reply to this email and ask (nicely)!
This week, we asked the community: What does diversity look like to you?
Lee Dale (Say Yeah!): “In order to help diversify our non-diverse industry, we have to start by providing opportunities to children and youth, so our current goal is to fund YWCA Toronto’s Girls’ Centre in the east end of Toronto, and then find a way to open another centre just like that one in a different neighbourhood.”
Sami Sadaghiani (Playground): “We were having trouble getting non-caucasian applicants for a long time and had to change our approach. We now actively seek out people from different “bubbles” throughout the year and contact them directly when we have opportunities for them. We’re now 50-50 gender wise but have a lot more work ahead of us until we are truly diverse.”
Stephen Meggitt (Filament Lab) also shared some resources that were too good to not include here (thanks, Stephen!):
Good Reads
Why Salary Transparency Didn't Eliminate The Gender Wage Gap At This Startup
The Importance of Hiring Junior Designers
How to Create a Client Intake Process
You’re hired, but first, some rules
Inspiration for the Week
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” ― Max de Pree
In Closing
April Fool’s has to be one of my favourite days of the year. It’s a day where we can all take a second and laugh (or get frustrated that Duolingo didn’t actually come up with a pillow that would help you learn new languages while you sleep): something I don’t think we do enough of, these days. In case you need a few laughs to start your week, here’s a great roundup of some of the winners of April Fool’s day this year.
If you have any questions or I can help you in any way, all you have to do is respond to this email.
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