I was asked to speak about diversity on a design panel that lacked diversity

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Author’s note: I am not writing this article to attack ADPList.org. This article’s intention is to educate folks on the importance of diversity for the design community via my personal experience.

ADPList is a global community of mentors and learners, on a mission to democratize mentorship for all. I’ve been mentoring up and coming designers on ADPList for over a year now. I’ve enjoyed each session I’ve had and the mutual benefit that mentoring provides for the mentee and I. I’ve helped folks break into the design industry and have been able to refine my leadership skills while doing so.

When ADPList asked me to apply to speak at their BeMore Festival, I was a little hesitant. I’m not a big fan of public speaking, even though I’ve done it on many occasions. I know how necessary public speaking can be to truly advocate for topics that I am passionate about so I decided to apply for this opportunity.

When I applied for this opportunity, I was asked to state what I would speak on. My exact words were, “The importance of diversity for the design community, the teams we work on and the products that we build.”

A few weeks passed and I received an email stating that I was accepted to be a panel host for a panel on the importance of diversity for the design community.

I was a little surprised to see the term panel host. I was asked to speak but now I am being told to host.

It felt like a degradation of my voice.

I decided to look into who else was on the panel. My thought process was that I may have been the least senior positioned person on that panel, which would make sense as to why I would be the host of that session and not a speaker.

I found out that the panel consisted of 2 white men and an Asian woman. The two largest racial demographics in product design.

This didn’t sit well with me. What do I look like as a black man asking those individuals about diversity? How can someone who is in a represented group, fully understand the importance of representation for groups that aren’t being represented?

That’s like asking me, an African American man, what is it like to be a single mother of Hispanic descent. I can empathize with the experience, but there are many things that I simply can not know.

My therapist shared a story with me on a social exercise that a friend of his participated in. A group of individuals began in a small, tight circle, and were asked to take a step back if a question applied to them. Questions around one’s gender, race and life experiences were asked. At the end of the exercise, those in the middle of the circle were primarily white individuals while those on the outside were primarily people of color and those of disenfranchised groups. A question was asked at the end of the exercise, who do you think has a more complete view of the circle, those on the inside or those on the outside?

I’ve consistently been the only black designer within school curriculums and the work places that I’ve been apart of. I’m hearing up and coming designers tell me that they used to never even consider being a product designer because they didn’t see any black individuals already doing it.

On ADPList, I ran a search for African American designers and no results came up. I ran a search for black designers and designers with the word black in their name came up. How is this democratizing mentorship when I can’t even get in contact with those of a specific race-gender group? I call this out so that those at ADPList can do better.

A photo of the adplist website showcasing zero search results for african american designers
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The systematic power imbalance due to a lack of representation & inclusion is astounding to me. African Americans are consistently not giving opportunities in many fields and are not receiving the credit that we are due within them. This has been a historical issue that is interconnected to the residual effects of slavery and segregation.

I’ve always had to be above average to even be considered for opportunities. Being good at design, wasn’t good enough.

During my internship at Uber, I was told by designers around me that I was doing senior level work as an intern. I wasn’t getting paid or acknowledged like a senior designer though. I went to a startup post Uber and during the interview process, I was told that I had the best design challenge that they’ve seen to date. When I joined that team however, I was told that I hadn’t been with the company long enough to work on projects that I expressed wanting to do in a new role and showcased having the skills for. They told me that they didn’t trust me, after hiring me.

I could go on and on about my experiences and how alienated I’ve felt because of them, but I am more interested in solving these issues for those who are going through similar experiences and for those who have yet to come into this field.

Capitalism is built upon, and thrives off of the concept of people capitalizing off of other people. This only leads to inhumane acts taking place everyday in order for the system to sustain itself. This happens in many direct and indirectly subtle ways. I’m not here to do that. If you resonate with anything in this article, I’m happy to chat with you and can be reached here.

I reached out to the folks at ADPList and shared my concerns with the panel, but didn’t feel like I was fully addressed or provided the insight that I asked for. I declined to speak at the festival but encourage folks to still attend. We are all learning how to coexist with each other which means that mistakes will be made. That’s a good thing. We get to learn from them. ADPList has a beautiful mission and I appreciate the strives that they have taken towards it.

Thank you for stopping by and giving this article a read.

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