Browse Category: Diversity

Offline Social Networking Reveals True Diversity (Or Lack of It) — Ask Boston World Partnerships

In this new world of social networking, one can argue that outreach has become a much easier endeavor, and hardly warrants much more than a positional title; we’ve all seen the “Outreach Coordinator” and “Community Engagement Director” job titles listed on so many websites and business cards (particularly in the non-profit industry), but whether or not these professionals make it a point to step “out” of their offices (or online networks) and do some actual OUT-reach is still a mystery.

These days, with the click of a mouse, you can send out over 10,000 invitations to youth, LGBT leaders, marketing professionals, performing artists, political campaigners, students, and the list goes on and on. With a cyber range of that many users — and the convenient existence of dense networks such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others — it’s easy for marketing and outreach professionals to fall into the trap of assuming that their communications will reach and resonate with, well, everyone. But this simply isn’t the case. A vast number of users in your network doesn’t necessarily imply diversity online, or offline.

Boston World Partnerships Excels at Connecting a Diverse Group of Industry Professionals

Take, for example, my mini professional networking adventure this week: On Monday I got my first taste of networking events hosted by Mayor Menino’s social citizen initiative, Boston World Partnerships. The organization has done an AMAZING job on ensuring industry diversity — the professionals I met spanned across a variety of sectors such as technology, pr/marketing, finance, venture capitalism, non-profit, clean energy, etc — and, I must admit, an equally good job of getting women and some people of color to turn up at events. I attribute the success of their outreach strategy to not just their expert use of social media — link sharing contests, twitter, blogging etc — but to the active use of their diverse portfolio of industry “Connectors” to bring people together offline at their events! [Learn about the industry- and social network-specific professionals that the BWP continuously recruits to help spread the word about the organization here.]

Upon arrival to the BWP as a first-timer, it was nice to have a connector introduce me to a few really cool people, including a PR Connector who promised to get me marketing advice for my consulting practice, a fabulous fashion designer who still refuses to design an outfit for me because he “doesn’t make clothes for the female body” (haha!) and a  smart, political campaigning Latina I shared a “Yay — another woman of color!” moment with. She let me know about this amazing program that trains future democratic leaders to run for office which I may actually apply to in the fall — woohoo! I do think the group could (and should) do some work around LGBTQ-inclusiveness (we are, after all, in Massachusetts) in terms of recruiting connectors that could serve as links to the gay business community, but I was generally content with the evening’s turnout.

The YNPN’s Diversity Fail: A Case Study for Volunteer-Run Social Change Organizations

On the flipside, Tuesday’s Young Non-Profit Professional Network’s event was a bit of a let down. Perhaps I expected more of a multicultural crowd due to the very nature of the social-justice-centered network, but regardless of my failed assumption, it’s never fun to be one of the only people of color in the room, and at this NPO-Connect sponsored Karaoke Event, I was one of three. Yes, three. I counted. The friendly African-American lady that introduced herself to me as I was making my escape also confirmed this number (and then we shared a somber, commiserative moment). However, aside from the low POC count and the bad food (cold mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers), the venue’s social climate was open and warm — I walked into a white male quartet karaok-ing to Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” — and the event attendees represented  a variety of job functions in the non-profit sector. All this made my short time there a little bit less awkward, but I wondered if this fun, free-for-all format would prove useful in the long run. I had been inspired to attend this event based on the organization’s mission to “promote an efficient, viable, and inclusive nonprofit sector that supports the growth, learning, and development of young professionals,” yet I left the event having engaged in minimal conversation — many people seemed to already know each other, and with almost no new meaningful connections. Moreover, without an online RSVP/attendee list available, I couldn’t even mine the attendee list for any potential contacts when I got home. Grrr.

Somehow, in spite of the Boston Chapter of the YNPN’s large mailing list and several-year tenure, the event had a less than impressive turnout of mainly liberal white professionals. The chitter-chatter of of business-card-swapping yuppies (typical of most networking events) was almost non-existent; across the room, eyes remained transfixed on the karaoke stage as the YNPN staff and board members performed pop song after pop song in an attempt to liven up the crowd. Entertaining, yes, but not useful by any means. I left shortly after speaking with a board member about getting more involved with the group, specifically in the area of event planning. It was a nice group of people, and I do hope to get involved eventually, but ultimately, I’d regretted leaving the comfort of my couch that evening. And now here I am, blogging about the not-so-great experience I had. Fail.

My Pro Bono 2 Cents…

Incidentally, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who asked me what diversity consulting had to do with event planning or program development. My answer: absolutely everything. The kinds of events an organization chooses to host (and how often) will inevitably draw out patrons of a particular profile over time. Pricing, location, sponsoring organizations, and of course media advertising channels (including social media), all play a major role in determining the offline success of your online marketing strategy. And like every good non-profit marketing strategy, the persons responsible should begin by first considering their target membership base, and then working backwards.

In the case of the Boston Chapter of the YNPN, I would recommend the following:

  • Add sector focus to your monthly event programming (e.g. March: Women’s Issues, April: Schools and Education, June: LGBT and Equality etc); this would create more efficient networking (and mentorship) opportunities for your members, and align more closely with your organization’s mission.
  • Take a cue from Boston World Partnerships and consider partnering (monthly, or on a case-by-case basis) with Connector Organizations (vs. Individuals) that would be responsible for increasing their network’s reach to different sectors, multicultural groups, and peripheral service providers to create and sustain diversity.
  • And lastly, jump on the social media bandwagon. Take out Facebook Ads, use Twitter hashtags to start (and continue) conversations about your events, leverage RSVP and link-sharing tools such as eventbrite to make it easier for your members to connect with each other etc. There are tons of great uses of social media to grow membership: pick one. Wait, do you have a twitter account?

And how will you know that any of this is working? Well, you could ask your members — send out a survey. But the truth is that there is no better test to whether or not your online outreach efforts are working than the attendee, registration, or donor lists you’ll collect via your offline event programming.

I Keep Forgetting That Cupid is a “Colorblind” White Boy

As always, Valentine’s Day weekend was jam-packed with red and pink themed parties designed to seduce the in-love and broken-hearted — mainly new couples, single hetero-ladies, and guilty spouses — into spending big cash in the name of commercial “Love”. However, at almost every event I attended, Cupid seemed to shoot out of range (or not at all) as far as LGBT people of color were concerned. I keep forgetting that Cupid is an immature, “color-blind” white boy. But even if side-stepping the casualties of V-Day weekend may well be a blessing in disguise, it’s no excuse for mainstream to blatantly ignore people of color and LGBT folk.

I’m sure most of us can recall at least one moment during which we realized that major businesses had already hired Cupid to begin spear-heading their annual “Make Sure Your Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Suck” campaigns, right on cue after New Year’s Eve and just before the first web trailer of this year’s white star-studded Valentine’s Day movie flop (wow). You may have stopped by at CVS to grab a pack of gum only to be obstructed by barely-floating heart-shaped balloons in the tacky-candy aisle; perhaps the increasing amount of sexist blood diamond commercials and romantic getaway packages (complete with mid-winter tanning bed deals) that interrupted your TV show eventually clued you in; or, like me, maybe your weekly (aimless) stroll through the “home design” section of your favorite department store was cut short by a plethora of hideous Valentine’s Day furnishings e.g. red plush pillows going for $45 a pop (e tu, Target?).  It wasn’t long before every media channel was red-hued, and the nationwide groans began.

Gratuitous ads, elaborate storefront displays, candy aisles, smartphone Apps, and over-priced restaurant menus seemed to beckon every ditz to “Let Loose”, “Forget about Him” (ha!) , and “Find the Perfect Gift for Her!” even if you were single (or broke). [I give Cupid props. Seriously, you’d think a new religion or non-denominational “Way of Life” would’ve been birthed around this pseudo-holiday by now.]

However, in spite of the on-cue messaging, the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day seemed a little frostier than usual (and I don’t think this was just due to the blizzard-that-never-was). So, no doubt, the recession played a major role in re-loading the average hater’s ammunition; I heard complaints, everywhere. Facebook friends, cabbies, professional networkers, idle storekeepers, even Photographers – aren’t they usually responsible for getting other people to smile? – scrooged away un-originally about the pointlessness of Cupid’s holiday. I heard the played out “Why celebrate love just one day of the year – what happens on the other 364 days?” rhetorical question, blunt variations of “I think it’s over-commercialized and stupid!”, real-talk confessions like “It’s a recession, and I’m broke,” and a new personal favorite, “I have no Valentine so I’ll be avoiding my mom.” Fortunately for Cupid, people hardly ever walk their talk. So despite the buffet of reasons for the V-Day mascot to hand in his bow and arrow, a sudden spike in “positive” status updates right after humpday provided the much-needed momentum to coax almost everyone I knew to leave the “Anti-” campaign and join the “Merry” V-Day party.

The LGBT community in particular was no different — we too boasted a fairly busy social itinerary during Valentine’s Day weekend — but with a slight twist; in Queerville, it almost goes without saying that supporting (or worse, promoting) capitalism will earn you harsh judgment if it’s not done philanthropically i.e. alongside some popular cause. You don’t need to follow the news on TV, print, or twitter to know that Americans are currently group-thinking towards “Saving Haiti” these days, almost on the same scale they usually rally around issues that affect poor and/or starving African children… Oh that’s right, the media’s depiction of the country’s “recent” catastrophe essentially calls for the level of humanitarian response Americans have only ever bestowed unto starving African countries: Infantilize, play Savior, then join a Facebook group like the concerned citizen you are. And I’m not just talking about white people; people of color have been doing this to Africans for years.

Incidentally, and in true queer fashion, there were of course a number of V-day events that promised to donate a significant portion of their proceeds to Haiti relief efforts, homeless shelters, liberal political candidates, and other buzz-worthy causes in return for your generous RSVP. It’s a brilliant strategy really; help queers overcome their guilt or embarrassment about participating in traditionally-hetero V-Day activities even after they’ve been conditioned by the liberal movement to be anti-capitalist… and make some money at it, too. Ah, the complexities of being a rebel. In any case, I was both lucky and unlucky to attend several events like this; lucky because, well, queer options are better than no options, and unlucky because queer options usually means I end up being used as brown garnish in a white beantown crowd.

Since queer Boston frequently subjects me to (seemingly inviting) all-white spaces, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the “pulse” of every event’s promotional communications before donating my RSVP. V-Day weekend was no different, particularly because I had an out-of-town guest and ladyfriend with no patience for diversity fails. So I began my assessment as follows:

Lesbian Nightlife’s V-Day Celebration at Pearl (Friday Night): Cupid didn’t even bother to take aim in this instance. The night’s main feature (and performance) was by “popular” lesbian singer, Lori Michaels. I had no idea who this woman was, but apparently she routinely calls herself a “diva.” I took one look at her MySpace page and new that this would not be the event to party at with my posse of brown and mixed-orientation friends. It would be too white, too loud, and too lesbian. No diversity fail, just a “Next” with no bad feelings. What you see is what you get with LNL, and that’s okay. We would save our energy for Saturday and Sunday.

DykeNight’s Second Saturdays at Machine: This V-Day extravaganza hosted by long-time nightlife philanthropist, Kristen Porter, was also generously running as a fundraiser for the DykeMarch. Based on my past experiences with DykeNight events (the name says it all), I was pretty sure that this party would draw a large crowd of white lezzies that would wanna celebrate V-Day, sweatbox style; the club would be sardine-packed and the DJ would play mainly white pop music, with the occasional “salsa” song (i.e. Elvis Crespo’s “Sauvemente”… yeah).  Based on this, could I overlook the lack of cultural diversity? Suuuure, though it’s not like I ever had a choice – I live in faux-progressive Boston. I’ll cut DykeNight some slack for their age diversity, but Cupid may be losing  sight of what’s important by focusing mainly on this older crowd; he routinely misses the mark when it comes to showing Asians, Blacks, or Latinos any love.

Cupid Coming Out party at the W: The thing about being a community connector and professional token is that you have to socially netWORK before you make it to the fun party of your evening. So before me and my brown V-Day posse could settle for vanilla-fun at Machine’s Second Saturdays, we had to drop by a fundraiser that I’d been invited to. In the spirit of holiday philanthropy, Spirit Magazine had generously donated promotional power and the “Featured Singles” (which included yours truly) from their February issue to Community Servings’ singles auction to feed the homeless. QWOC+  Boston had partnered with Community Servings on our “Community Organizing Fair with Mayor Denise Simmons” during QWOC Week 2009, so I went, in part, to return the favor, and also because I was curious to see if the turnout would be different from what I expected. It wasn’t. And though I hate to do this to Community Servings, the event was such an epic fail as far as diversity is concerned that I’d be remiss not to spell it out.

  • Diversity Fail #1: The tickets were $35 during a recession. Better than GLAD or Fenway with their  $100x dollar tickets, but there goes your younger crowd. I doubt that there was anyone under 30 in the room. Maybe they didn’t want any youngins, but  youth are the future. FAIL
  • Diversity Fail #2: There was no music playing. I mean, NONE. Where was DJ Mocha (the featured DJ)? I thought this was supposed to be a paaaartaaaaay! Were there audio issues? The only sound I heard was of the chitter-chatter of white gay men holding stiff martinis. FAIL.
  • Diversity Fail #3: There was no real food. And just in case you missed the lesson from the first fail, I’ll get straight to the point; non-white cultures essentially revolve around good food (not celery, carrots, and bread buns  — think rice, spice, and MEAT!) and upbeat music (not “easy listening” or “lullaby” music, we need something we can sway to and put us at ease about being surrounded by so many white people). If you’re going to pass on one, you BETTER come correct with the other, or you’ll lose people — it’s that simple. Please turn the music back up, I’m not interested in what you have to say until we break bread or break dance… (haha, I couldn’t resist that one). FAIL!
  • Diversity Fail #4: So Spirit Magazine, a white-gay-man-run LGBT magazine, donates “Boston’s Best Catches for Valentine’s Day” to a live singles auction for your cause; there are a total of TWO people of color in the single lineup (me and a handsome South Asian guy in a pink shirt), and just TWO vaginas (again, me and a silver-haired lezzie with her dog), but you didn’t think to, say, reach “out” to a number of other people of color, or even other women in the community so that it didn’t create weird feelings about modern day slave trade if someone like me wanted to help out and volunteer? No one would want to be the only person of color on stage, and so it’s your job to do better outreach. FAIL
  • Diveristy Fail #5: The MC was a VERY glamorous dragqueen (go her!) that wasn’t funny to me or my friends cause she routinely made gay pop culture (?) and political jokes that went over our heads. When is the LGBT community going to understand that if you feature a Drag Queen without a Drag King (or Female Pole Dancers…) you’re sending a message that says you’re mainly concerned about pleasing your gay male audience. It was bad enough that there was just ONE woman on stage, but you had to get a drag queen to make sure the few women in the room would stay spectators and not participants in the auction. Oy. FAIL FAIL FAIL!

Needless to say, we didn’t last long at this event – not with my menacing frohawk and brown leather jacket against a backdrop of gray suits and aggressive networkers. I still need to write up my thoughts about the blatantly racist treatment that Men of Color Creating Change experienced at the Stork Club on Sunday [that deserves a separate poste], but all in all, besides the good company I was lucky to have, Valentine’s Day weekend was a huge slap in the face from mainstream queerville.

As I mentioned, I had a friend visiting this past weekend, so it was no easy feat to drag him from diversity-fail event to diversity-fail event, particularly when it was clear that even though the LGBT community could make everyone feel good about spending money by themizing their events with social justice causes, people of color would still have a hard time being seen and, thus, shown any real love, by Cupid.

Good thing we love ourselves.

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Diversity Outreach Strategy is Smart Business According to Donald Trump

I don’t watch much TV at all, which means I’ll routinely miss out on moments like this. This found its way into my Twitter timeline yesterday and I’ve been cracking up ever since.

But do you know what I really love about this clip? No, no, it’s not that blondie gets fired in the end or that the West Indian lady had a ‘moment’ listening to Anna’s pathetic defense and rolled her eyes in the boardroom – haha! No. It’s the fact that Anna (blondie) defensively, yet eloquently, illustrated her privilege as a white person in corporate America, line-by-line. She was soooo “into her book” while she was meant to be doing market research at the mall that she “didn’t notice” all the Hispanic people she would have to market her product to, and so, failed to hire Spanish speakers to bridge the communication gap. Really, Anna?

This is a clear case of the cat constantly guessing at when the mice will come out, while the mice have the cat’s eating, sleeping, and hunting schedule down to the T (they probably even pass out pamphlets to new mice coming through). What does the cat care? His survival doesn’t depend on knowing much about the mice at all. He’s got a lap to sleep on, and a warm bowl of Meow Mix. But I digress…

  • Diversity Fail #1 – The business-mogul-in-training failed to “notice” the Hispanic population that drove her target market segment
  • Diversity Fail #2 – When she finally did notice that the mall was full of Spanish speakers, she did nothing… I daresay she hoped that it wouldn’t matter / affect the team’s bottom line at all
  • Diversity Fail #3 *And this is my biggest petpeeve* When it became apparent that the team’s cultural incompetence  and lack of Spanish language skills was affecting the business, they of course called on the two Spanish-speaking people of color to save the day. Reactive diversity tactics are NEVER successful.
  • Diversity Fail #4 – During the boardroom recap with Donald, the poor white girl defended herself ; both her words and tone seemed to suggest somehow that her professionalism? colorblindness? (I don’t know what she was getting at) angelic innocent nature that doesn’t see brown people? was actually a good thing even if it meant failure to sell their product.
  • Diversity Fail #5 – She didn’t own her mistakes, and so I’m assuming she didn’t learn anything from this experience. (I just hope that her elimination on the account of Diversity Fails doesn’t turn her to the dark side, if you know what I mean)

I’ve always been a fan of Donald Trump. He’s a smart no-nonsense businessman, and he knows his stuff. The fact that he highlights the importance of diversity from a strategic planning standpoint is not only extremely influential to millennial professionals of all cultural backgrounds (white people especially), but it’s also music to my ears since I’m constantly listening to the chime of  “good will” corporate politics.

Often enough, people dismiss diversity initiatives as “fluff” – good to have, but not required. But, in this example, that notion is nipped in the bud. It’s simple, really; the world is changing – has already changed – and our outreach initiatives, marketing strategy, branding etc, need to keep up with the social climate. It’s just good business practice.

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