When I hear the talk about diversity and inclusivity I immediately imagine the world of Star Trek, with its vision of a utopian Earth where poverty is eradicated and humans are presented with equal opportunities and any social injustice issues are long foreign. Star Trek has always been at the final frontier in terms of diversity, with the historic first interracial kiss shown on television and then with a female and an African American captain in charge. However, they still didn’t always get it right, although Discovery - the new series, didn’t disappoint. It passed the Bechdel test in the first minute and thoroughly impressed by their diverse crew who aptly embarked on a battle against the homogenous Klingons whose goal was to achieve empirical dominance of a single race.
Another encouraging representation of diversity in TV is the Wachowskis’ masterpiece series Sense 8 and the recently released feature length finale. It shows a group of 8 people from incredibly different backgrounds and with a huge variety of experience who find that they are telepathically connected. They work together to defeat a shady cooperate a villain who is trying to exterminate everyone with their abilities. So, does such “extreme diversity” only belong on our screens, in popular sci-fi plots?
There has been extensive research made into the issue of diversity and inclusivity and there is statistical evidence that a more diverse working environment performs better than a more homogenous one. Striving for a more diverse workforce across all sectors and positions does not have to be a futuristic utopian notion. The benefits of a more diverse and well-balanced society are global and the sooner we get there the better for everyone. The reason for this is that a more empathetic type of business is starting to come to the fore. In the world of savvy customers and conscious consumers it is not enough for businesses to just focus on generating sales, pursue profit and function on a “us versus them” approach. Recognising current trends in job fluidity, increasing prioritisation of good work-life balance and an expectation of higher levels of being socially conscious mean that business are under pressure to ensure that they not only consider the needs of their customers but also of their employees.
The danger of uniformity in personnel is that it effectively creates not just cultural gaps but it also limits perceptions and consequently creativity. For example, let’s take the recent campaign run by H&M when they had a black child in a hoodie with “Coolest monkey in the jungle” written on it. This act very quickly created an outcry all over the internet accusing the brand of casual racism. Now, whether it was an act of ignorance or arrogance is hard to say without knowing the people involved in the campaign personally. However, in reality this campaign had gone through an army of people (aside from a person dressing the child at the photoshoot) before it became live – and no one had questioned or challenged it at any point. These sorts of “blunders” seem to be appearing fairly regularly in our newsfeeds which seems to indicate a lack of “actual” diversity in the staff of the marketing, advertising and PR departments of larger companies. More is needed rather than just a tokenistic person being in the office hit diversity quota levels.
Coming back to the creative industry - TV and film are also not short of vivid examples of dystopian futures. Shows like Handmaidens Tale and Black Mirror demonstrate quite well the possibilities of a selected group dominating and effectively taking over the world. Are these shows just a dark and extreme prediction of our potential reality? It is interesting that hardly any resistance was made to the arrival of artificial intelligence in our homes. These new AI devises constantly collect information on our behaviour and use machine learning to continuously evolve. With amusement and excitement we give over control of our everyday lives to computers and eagerly wait for them to do more and more for us without actually stopping and thinking of what is it doing to us and how will it has the potential to evolve and change over a short period of time. But do we stop and question who is in charge of this technology and what’s it ultimate purpose?
We know that the tech world is owed by powerful men and is run by people whose strengths lay in technical proficiency an innovation, rather than empathy, self-awareness and social skills. This means that some technology can be created for the benefit of people who are like the ones that created it. An example of this is the creation of a female robot designed to competently satisfy all the needs and even fantasies of men who find it challenging to engage in healthy relationships with actual women. In Saudi Arabia, where women can’t do most banal things without a permission of a male guardian, a female robot was given citizenship. Sadly this is not an episode of Black Mirror, it is happening in our world right now. We live now in this future that so many sci-fi stories have been feeding us with for decades. It’s not just the novel, the Saudi Arabian robot Sophia, in China human workforce is quickly being replaced by robots in factories and more and more money and efforts are invested into AI development. We are on a brink of another an industrial revolution where millions of people will lose their jobs and potentially face poverty. So, whilst companies like Google are stocking up on ping pong tables and other “fun” stuff that would entice their employees to abandon their personal lives, they are creating technology that has the potential to devastate the lives of many people. This is why it’s so vital to bring diversity into the tech world and challenge the existing prejudices and established biases. Creating diverse, inclusive and empathetic working environment benefits us all. We may not create a utopia but or fight heroically against a dystopian robotic uprising. We do though have all the tools we need to establish a positive and sustainable future - we only need to decide to do so.