women in computer science

Diversity as Performance Art

green poi circles, in a beautiful light pattern, around a woman
Credit: Wikipedia

For a while now I’ve been using the phrase “diversity as performance art”. It’s a comment on the shallowness of most “diversity” initiatives. How superficial they are, and how they ignore the harder, day to day, work of inclusion.

The pipeline – the PR around the “problem” of the pipeline – is a performance. Inclusion is what you do when you show up every day.

Diversity as performance art is PR over Progress. It is easy to talk about, perform, diversity. It is much harder to do the work of inclusion. It’s less visible, and less glamourous. But – more worthwhile.

Diversity as performance art rarely goes beyond hiring. Inclusion is your promotion process. It’s how projects are assigned. It’s ensuring people are heard in meetings. It’s being mindful about – and proactively working towards – healthy and productive team interactions.

Diversity as performance art is superficial, and so are the results. Nothing changes until the economics change. The thing about diversity as performance art – it doesn’t change the economics. Structural inequity does’t change through a few extra internship places. It doesn’t change enough by equal pay for equal work – that equal pay has to be matched by equal opportunity. But that is much harder to do.

My rant about Diversity as Performance art is not that art is shallow – it’s important to raise awareness. But if raising awareness is the start, middle, and end of things it’s really just a mirage of progress, whilst nothing really changes at all.

2 replies on “Diversity as Performance Art”

Totally agree on the phenomenon you’re identifying. I call it “Diversity Theater”. I like this term better than “performance art”, because I’m a performance artist and what we do really isn’t superficial, at all. 🙂

Proper diversity-as-performance-art would help set an environmental tone of supporting diversity by leading by example, creating social proof (i.e. peer pressure) around the right practices. Making it far more aesthetically pleasing to have a company full of diverse individuals and perspectives and therefore easy to choose.

Now of course some theatre actor will come by and labast my comment. “As Theatre is not art!!”

It’s the sense of Theatre as in “Security Theatre” (i.e. what the TSA does in American airports, which has been demonstrated to fail the TSA’s OWN TESTS OF SECURITY (!!)) that I’m referencing here.

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