The Burden of Proof

As we head into the final quarter of the calendar year, many organizations are looking toward the future. Sorting out the money, planning the calendar, and identifying the biggest worries are high on most board agendas. And from time to time, every board stops to look at their mission statement, just to make sure they are still headed in the right direction.

One of the boards I serve on is doing exactly that. There are discussions of who we are, what purpose we serve, and where we fit in the local landscape. We discussed what we want to be in the future, what we tell people about ourselves, and why we want to be part of the organization. And, of course, we discussed who we believe our audience to be.

Who We Speak To

The question of who your audience is versus who you want them to be is never an easy one. For so many organizations the answer to “who do we want to appeal to” is “we want to appeal to everyone”. And of course who your audience currently is tends to tie right in to who you appeal to naturally. During our conversation of audience, our board president said:

“If you serve, or want to serve, minority groups, then the burden of proof lies with you. Not with the people you wish were there.”

To clarify that a little, if you want to speak to people who have reason to believe you are not speaking to them, you have to say “and that includes you”. If you are a church that accepts and loves those of all sexual orientations including LGBTQ+ folx, you have to say it. If you are a technology company that accepts and values those of all skin colors and sexes including people of color or women and nonbinary members, you have to say it. If you are a sports league that accepts and invests in those of all levels of ability including rank beginners, you have to say it.

What We Want to Be

All people, as we grow into the wonderful adults we will be, are shaped by those around us. We are formed by the experiences we are afforded (or subject to, depending on your perspective). We trust what we know and sometimes that means we surround ourselves with people who think, act, look, or speak like us.

Trusting in what we know is a basic survival instinct; anyone like us, probably won’t harm us. Stereotyping is a basic coping mechanism; grouping people and things lessens our cognitive load. Putting our faith in people and things that aren’t already like us takes a lot of self-awareness and personal growth… but we don’t continue to grow without it.

With these combined truths, you can see why it is so important to state when you embrace that which is not like you. Because people, when left to our own devices, often won’t.

Where It Takes Us

Very few people or companies will argue that diversity (of thought and demographic) is bad. There is a lot of support for the idea that different view points leads to better outcomes, no matter the project.

The most important thing that it does, though, is help us to share who we are with the people who would love to be here… if only they knew we were here for them. Figure out who you wish you could share your work with, and tell them how much you miss their voice.

Not sure how to get started? Here are a few things you can do today!

  1. Look for coded language in your public content.
  2. Instead of broad declarations (everyone is welcome), make clear statements (beginners welcome).
  3. Amplify people who are having trouble getting heard. 
  4. Here are a few more ways to support minority voices.