We’ve been organising SheSaysMCR for 5 years now. Over those 5 years we’ve been on a bit of a journey. What started off as a team of 8 running an event once a month, is now a team of three running an event once a quarter.
Change is good, and quarterly events work for us to get great speakers, build a community and set themes that mean something to the audience.
The third event of 2019 was focussed on #Inclusion and what that means to different people. SheSaysMCR organisers, myself, Mahnaz Yusaf and Shu-Ling Li, were talking about the dangers of being in “like minded environments”. It’s a term that’s used to hire, build communities and try and be inclusive. But, what it actually says is “to be included, you need to think and feel like us”.
That isn’t okay.
Inclusion is about understanding our differences and making a space where those differences are embraced and used to bring creativity and sense of meaning to different situations.
So, with that in mind, SheSaysMCR’s third instalment had three incredible speakers and here are my biggest takeaways from each talk.
Emilia Kolbjørnsen — Marketing and Events Manager and Community Manager of Manchester Girl
Emilia opened the audiences hearts and minds with a breathtaking video that addressed different perspectives and understanding of what inclusion means.
Emilia told her story. No one else's. She spoke about her experiences of exclusion; the polar opposite of inclusion. She told us about moving across the world, travelling near and far and how different cultures responded to “the tall, blonde white girl.”
Moving from clique to clique, trying to be a chameleon and fit into what her friends wanted to be and not who she really was Emilia was on the brink of suicide. She was strong enough to get help and through a journey of self discovery, reflection and self care she left us with a pledge:
No more living in “generation maybe”. No more half committing, no more waiting until something better comes up. Let’s commit to the people we love, commit to plans, commit to sentiments and commit to emotions. Let’s hold ourselves accountable to build relationships and to let people rely on us — so that they are included and valued.
To never ghost.
Don’t ghost people. Just don’t. Emilia told us about her experiences which people she considered friends, who just stopped replying to messages. That was it. there was no explanation, no alternative, no closure. If your friendship moves on, that’s fine but at least let people know what’s happened.
To give people your full attention.
When you go out with your friends, family or whatever it might be — give yourself to the present. Include yourself in the conversation. Don’t get your phone out, don’t live in two realities. Be present and let people know you care about what they’re saying.
Dr. Chisom Emecheta — Founder of Into The Pink
Chisom took people away on a journey to Nigeria and back. She told us about bearing the weight of her parents hopes and dreams on her shoulders, and the blessing that it was to do so.
But, more importantly, Chisom broke down her theory of inclusion and it’s importance to everyday society; in three (super logical) steps:
People on the periphery are our inspiration and our reason to push innovation
Using statistics and bell curve graphs, Chisom told us how services and products are often designed for the average person. These are the people who sit in the middle of a bell curve, they are the median. They are usually, white, middle class me. As you move towards the left and the right of the curve, you have the outliers — the people on the periphery.
It’s the people on the periphery who inspire us to innovate. They’re the people who keep us going, who keep us evolving, who keep us pushing the boundaries of the possible.
Without people on the periphery, we wouldn’t have the prosthetic limbs that we do now. We wouldn’t have pushed technology to better serve fit and healthy people to have the limbs that they need to live fulfilled lives. Without designing for the periphery, we wouldn’t have pavements with dipped curbs — so that wheelchairs can access cities. But, now, so can bikes, push chairs, people with visual impairments etc etc etc.
Wants, needs and desires
Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Chisom opened her talk out to the floor. She asked attendees to share their wants, needs and desires. As a group we shared our deepest, darkest and often dog themed aspirations.
Chisom was making the point that, unless we, as society, are able to meet our basic needs; we can’t progress up the hierarchy to achieve our personal wants and desires. If are needs aren’t met, we fall into survival mode.
When we’re in survival mode, it’s easy to take advantage of us. It’s easy to exclude us and it’s even easier to cater for the average and push out to the periphery.
Needs must be met. Not just to survive, but to thrive.
See others as humans, not stereotypes
When we look at someone else, we need to see them as a person with needs. Not their colour, title or what they’re trying to do.
When we see people as humans, it’s harder to ignore their story. It’s harder to exclude them and it’s harder to push them out of the way to focus on yourself. Recognising each other as humans is crucial to inclusion.
Chisom ended her talk by saying:
“ Inclusion isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s fundamental to our survival, happiness and evolution.”
And last but not least we had:
Emma Preston — Inspirational Speaker and Best Selling Author
I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible Emma’s story was. Leaving me close tears, Emma took us on her journey of self confidence and motivation. Her positivity and genuine zest for life left a long lasting buzz in the room.
She told us about how she’s gone from bad to worse to okay and how she’s now on the rise to recognise her full capability and potential.
A week after a cancer prognosis, on the day she left her job and a month before she takes a flight to Las Vegas to find her dream job; Emma was telling us about her experience of being true to herself. From telling his wife (when she was Andrew) that she was a cross dresser, and then finally telling her that she was transgender to having a best selling book that Emma has to pull from shelves — Emma told us her story.
Leaving no stone unturned and bearing her truths to us, Emma left us wanting more. Emma left us needing more and knowing that we all have a voice, a story and a way to help other people tell theirs.
I can’t do it justice, all I can say is reach out to Emma and get to her speak at your events because it was truly life changing.
And there we have it. Three very different takes on inclusion, three different stories and three different perspectives.
One thing stood out though, inclusion isn’t going anywhere. We need it to innovate. We need it to understand. We need it to survive.