You may have noticed that yesterday’s linkspam post was heavy on Ophelia’s articles on the Global Secular Council. I haven’t had a lot to say about the council myself. I definitely agree with Ophelia on the diversity and basic communication problems that their launch displayed. They promise us research from big names, but their website just has a bunch of Secular Coalition for America publications and high-gloss photos of people who mostly aren’t the folks who did that work.
Will the people in the glossy photos do great work under the Global Secular Council banner? Hard to say. There are some people on that list who have done truly impressive work, but I find it a bit odd that they didn’t hold the launch of the website for the release of work from at least a few of them. I’d like to believe they had the time for that between dinner and going live. There had to at least have been work those people had done that they were willing to repurpose under the GSC banner, right?
Not as of launch, no. But maybe they’ll start producing their own content soon, something more than a blog, since that’s what they’ll need to influence government. They’ll have to produce in order to survive. Big names only bring in so many donations before people want them to do more than have dinners and get their pictures taken. This is particularly true when the parent organization has been the subject of financial mismanagement rumors for several months.
[Nope. I don't have anything but rumors on this one. They've come from multiple directions, which suggest they've gotten a lot of traction, but not necessarily that they're true. I have no idea what happened with SCA's finances, if anything, but that doesn't keep the rumors from making fundraising harder.]
So they’ll get productive, or they’ll sink. They don’t want my help with the first and wouldn’t need it with the second. Initiatives start and die every day. If SCA has some real challenges, they also have some outstanding assets, at least in potentia.
Speaking of those challenges–the lack of diversity, the huffiness and counterattacks in the face of criticism, the poor understanding of basic concepts revealed in that discussion–pulling those posts of Ophelia’s into one place finally made something click for me.
I was reminded of something I’d tweeted from Barbara Ehrenreich’s talk at Women in Secularism.
Barbara Ehrenreich recently invited to an atheism & science think tank a bit short on “ladies” to contribute on “women’s health”.
It didn’t stick well with me at the time, because my main thought was, “We have atheism and science think tanks?” That was aside from CFI, of course, which I’ve labeled as a think tank before. I figured Ehrenreich was too straightforward to take a swing at CFI at their own conference without naming them, so I was stumped.
Then all this happened. Do I know that it was the GSC that invited Ehrenreich? No, but the description and timing sure fit.
I went back and looked at Ehrenreich’s bio. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have taken the quotes off “women’s health”. It’s not an unreasonable request for someone who served on the boards of organizations like the National Abortion Rights Action League. Nonetheless, it seems odd to have someone like Ehrenreich working for you and to limit her to a single topic.
The other bit of that though? Here’s a piece of free advice for whomever is doing the invitations for the GSC: Don’t ever tell someone from an underrepresented group that you’re inviting them to help improve your representation.
No, I’m not telling you to lie by omission. I’m not telling you to cover up something that’s best not raised in polite company. I’m telling you inviting someone to help improve your representation is a crappy thing to do. Hell, it’s probably not even what you’re really doing anyway.
When you notice that your gender or other ratios are badly skewed, not at all representational of the community you claim to speak for (whether global or merely national), it’s a signal that your process was flawed. Maybe you’ve subconsciously been thinking that thinking in tanks is “more of a guy thing” or “more of a white thing”. Maybe the white men who fit your mission just get so much more press that they’re more easily called to mind when you’re brainstorming. Maybe the definition of “big-name atheist thinker” has been historically constructed in such a way that it largely excludes the thinking women and people of color do.
Or maybe you’ve had to take most of the outspoken feminists and anti-racists off your list for one political reason or another, and that made you shy about including marginalized people.
Whatever the reason, the fact that you’ve come up with a list of atheist thinkers and policy people that doesn’t include Barbara Ehrenreich should tell you that your process didn’t work right the first time. Your problem isn’t that you “don’t have enough ladies”. Your problem is that you left amazing talent on the table because your process failed you.
If you want to say that to Ehrenreich, go ahead. “I can’t believe we haven’t already asked you.” Easy. Complimentary. Infinitely better than “Oh, hey. We’re short on ladies. We noticed you’re a lady.” Because that’s not why you’re inviting her. The fact that you were temporarily blind to her merits is not and should not be her problem.
You want to talk about gender ratios or racial homogeneity? Sure, but save it for after your invitee’s response. Once they’ve said yes or no, tell them you’re working on blind spots. Ask whether there are obvious people you should invite whom you haven’t. Ask whether there are less obvious people you might not realize are perfect for your mission. Then ask those people appropriately.
If you want women and/or other ethnic minorities to be more than tokens in your group, don’t tokenize them in your very invitations. I promise, you’ll get much better results that way.