Gemma Treharne-Foose Gemma Treharne-Foose Share

The pale, male chronicles: improving our diversity and gender balance

04 Feb, 2018

You might have already seen our board member Nick’s take on our journey to become a more inclusive place. Well as Community Manager for GlobalWelsh, here’s my take on it.

With the advent of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in the press there’s more focus than ever before on the voices of those who have been ignored or overlooked.

These include women, children and those from BEM backgrounds, those who have been victims of bullies, people who have been harassed, humiliated, coerced or undermined in the workplace. For the first time, people are finding the courage to challenge the status quo - even if as some say, their own credibility is questioned and their characters attacked.

In Wales, the ripples of increased levels of scrutiny over inclusivity have even called into question the practices of theatre makers.

I am amazed to say that I have known a surprising amount of people professionally that openly scorn the seemingly tokenistic way some organisations tackle inclusivity and gender balance. They think that men have rightfully earned their places ‘at the top’ and if women were talented and hard working, then there’d be more of them at the top too. It’s a question of life choices, they say.

I can only assume that these attitudes are the symptoms of ‘LaLa syndrome’ - a syndrome where people periodically stick their fingers deep in to their ear holes and shout ‘la la la la la, we can’t hear you’ because they don’t want to listen to the real, lived experiences of others. They haven’t personally encountered the same barriers - so that means they are not there, right? Try telling those in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis or in the Black Lives Matter movement that racial barriers and structural racism don’t exist. Denying the presence of these barriers is a convenient cop out for people who have never had to endure the same hardships. We need to pay closer attention.

In feminist circles, white feminists are asked to expand their world view too - to consider how their actions help to break down the barriers for others in society of different races and sexual identities. Intersectionality asks white feminists to consider their privilege and to acknowledge it, that unless their feminism represents other voices and experiences - it is basically useless.

So while I come from a family who have been the recipients of state benefits and from a valleys town with a bit of reputation for heroin addiction in the 90s, I can definitely do more for others - and as a Welsh speaker, recipient of Objective 1 funding (as was) and with a scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, I’ve still had more doors opened for me than perhaps if I’d been born a different race / with another sexual orientation or even in another part of Wales.

I’m no stranger to male-majority environments. I grew up the only only girl with three older older brothers, I crawled through mud at Brecon Army Barracks and on rugby fields as the only female in my cohort at college. I then traipsed after more male politicians than you can shake a stick at as a press officer. I also marched with my Mother (an anti domestic violence campaigner for many years) alongside friends and colleagues of hers from Welsh Women’s Aid and learned that when you hear firsthand some of the horrific experiences other women have had - it will never ever leave you.

So what then of our all-male board? How does this all chime with the current environment and what are we doing about it?

We can’t be so thin skinned that we fail to take a criticism or see a problem. But as a woman who has been talked over, ignored or undermined in many a meeting in some of my former jobs, I don’t think an all-male environment is an ideal way to be in 2018. To tell you the truth, I personally don’t think it’s good enough. Luckily I work with 5 gentlemen who are working with me to take action and do something about it. I wouldn’t be here if all I was hearing were platitudes and half-arsed promises.

In the very first board meeting, my first question to the board was “What are we going to do about the lack of diversity on this panel, then?”. Now that I don’t work for a giant corporate blob, I don’t have to pussy-foot (excuse the pun) around and risk being seen as some sort of subversive employee. It’s literally my job to ask awkward questions - and I relish it.

I see our situation as both an opportunity and a risk. At the moment, the majority of our audience and Facebook/Twitter fans and followers are men between 25-45 with an interest in business and current affairs. But based on the raw data alone, we’re not being one-dimensional or reductive in the types of stories we tell and the opportunities we pursue. We can’t forget or sidestep the contributions and potential of the harder-to-reach - and yes, we must do better.

As one journalist said to me when I briefed her on the future direction for GlobalWelsh: “It’s a bit….male isn’t it?”. I was taken aback for a second. But yes...it’s up to us to open our eyes, listen and do more. Our board members are really keen on this phrase: “Wales is more than you know.” I would second that. My Wales won’t look or feel the same as their - or yours. That’s why we launched the #MyWales campaign when we revealed our crowd-building drive last year.

So our search for more board members from all backgrounds continues. We’ve also posted a call-out about it on our website - and we’d love for you to contact us if you have the desire or propensity to nominate yourself, volunteer or recommend another person or organisation to help us on our mission.

With the help of others, we've developed a long list of those we think would be an asset to our board, with the right experience, skills and global outlook that will guide us on our mission to join together a million people with an affinity for Wales.

We have identified those who are vocal supporters of GlobalWelsh and embody the kind of optimism, business acumen and world class qualities we know will inspire others - people like Anne Boden of Starling Bank and Laura Tenison and we continue to reach out on a monthly basis to new prospects.

Not everyone has the time, the will to join our board or the capital to become of our patrons - but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying.

Back last year, one thing kept coming up when we were asking our board and community members to define exactly what Wales/being Welsh meant to them. The word grit/grittiness came up again and again.

I like that. For me, grit also includes standing up to accusations of being a bra-burning, lefty snowflake from toxic news outlets and people with a negative mindset. Grit as I know it is standing together and not being ashamed to admit “Hey we’re not perfect - come and help us get it right”. It’s acknowledging that we need to better, keep improving and moving forward.

This is not the community for people who only want to look back and focus on the negative. But if you want to help us move forward - why not join our board, our community or become a pioneer and help shape the kind of community you want to see?

 

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