Start with Love

The following is a transcript of a speech given by Nadia Gathers, Development and Communications Assistant. It was given at the Annual University Innovation Fellows Meet-Up at the Stanford d.school.

I want you to imagine a time in your life when you felt included. For me, this example is simple. I’ve gone to 6 schools over my educational career, and making new friends wasn’t always my forte. Inclusion was the feeling I got when, in each new cafeteria, I was finally asked to sit at a lunch table. It was the feeling of belonging.

Now think of a time in your life when you felt excluded. Again, my example is simple. In high school, a boy in my class said I “wasn’t even pretty for a black girl.” It wasn’t the insult that stung the most, but rather, in the hearts and minds of many of my peers, I was irreconcilably different.

We have all experienced both sides of this fence. Some of us have spent more time on one side than the other. But I’d bet we’ve all felt the feeling of exclusion at one point or another in our lives.

In my role with CODE2040 and the University Innovation Fellows, I bring these feelings out of the dark and into the light. As the head of communications for an organization seeking to advance racial equity in technology, I’ve been in rooms where I felt welcome , and rooms where I was, overtly, the outsider. It is my goal to ensure that this ecosystem accurately reflects the world I see when I look outside my window. Still, the main thing I spend my time working on in this role isn’t filling brochures with non-white faces for recruiting- it is sculpting the spaces and language with which we build inclusive movements.

So what do we do?

These problems are complex, and exist within a history of bigotry and hatred that continue even today. In such cases, there are no quick fixes. Instead, these are things I take with me to work every day:

  1. Lead with empathy. The core of every inclusive movement is mutual respect. I may not have been where you’ve been, but I can empathize with your humanity. In practice, this can look like the exercise we did at the beginning of this talk- imagining a time where you felt the pain of exclusion, and moving forward with that as your foundation.
  2. Move past tolerance, and into vulnerability. Conversations around gender, race, disability, and socioeconomic status can be quick to trigger the best of us. So, what does vulnerability look like in practice? At CODE2040, it means I openly admit my struggles with mental illness. I update my team with my progress and I give others the opportunity to voice their own. This can be risky, and it can be painful. But showing your cards as the professor or manager or any number of positions of power can give others the space to do the same.
  3. Words mean things. The buzz words used in the valley can give even seasoned vets a headache. For example- we often hear of “failure” being celebrated and encouraged. Many of us can’t fail. At home, there is no one to catch us. Instead of using phrases like “failure” try using words like, “create, re-assess, and re-build.” Translation can be simple, but effective.

It is important to remember that these are starting points. They are the constitution against which you build an inclusive nation, and they need to be serially revisited and reestablished to make a difference. The work is never done, but it is necessary.

You have the opportunity to bend the arc of the future towards inclusion, should you decide to. I ask you to decide, not because it makes economic sense (it does), but because it is the right thing to do. Start with love, inclusion will follow.