Only coloured stones make a mosaic: In conversation with Jephtah Abu and Shana Sumers

Diversity isn't just about having different identities in a room, it's about celebrating a broad range of perspectives, and surrendering the idea that there isn’t just ONE way to experience the world.
October 9, 2023

Only coloured stones make a mosaic: In conversation with Jephtah Abu and Shana Sumers

Diversity isn't just about having different identities in a room, it's about celebrating a broad range of perspectives, and surrendering the idea that there isn’t just ONE way to experience the world.
March 22, 2022

Diversity and inclusion is a topic fairly complex in nature. But if you are concerned about it, for the sake of your own future and that of your community, then don’t let its complexity scare you. It is always good to embrace differences, whether they are visible or not. Diversity is what makes us unique as humans and helps us grow as individuals. While diversity might seem complicated to most people, the truth is that it is diverse human nature itself. The differences in people’s thinking, lifestyles, preferences, and ways of handling situations are what give rise to diversity. While these differences can be perceived as a weakness to some and an advantage to others, they are what make the world interesting. If we could all be alike, the world would be boring. The differences that people can have in your community are exactly which can have a complementary effect on one another and ultimately be adding to the community’s creative abilities as a whole.

However, as different as we all are, we also share a lot of commonalities — common needs, ideas, emotions and wants. Everyone on this planet struggles with finding happiness while striving for success in life. Human beings have an innate desire to belong to the group and have others who understand them. Our similarities of being humans — emotions, hopes, dreams, and basic needs — motivate us more than our differences do, in bringing about diversity in the community. Inclusiveness is a form of diversity. Being inclusive (and not just tolerant) denotes embracing the differences other people have. It also involves an appreciation and acceptance of the merits of other people in your community besides your own.

We were very curious to understand how as community managers we can build a safe, diverse and inclusive community. What does it take to create this environment? why is it important? and how do existing communities know if they are being diverse and inclusive? If not, what do they have to do for this change? These questions led us to conversations with two of the leading speakers on the subject worldwide. We wanted to take advantage of their experience and wealth of practical knowledge and leverage it for the benefit of all.

Introducing our guests -

Jephtah Abu is a leading Community Manager, Public Speaker, a successful and popular DEI Advocate. He writes extensively about community building & management.

Shana Sumers is the Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Communities at HubSpot, hosts her own podcast ‘Bad Queers’, and is a public speaker.

We started off by first understanding what it means to have a diverse and inclusive community.

Jephtah Abu: Having a diverse and inclusive community means your community creates a safe space for BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color), underrepresented groups, and marginalized groups to actively contribute to conversations and ideas, and these individuals' contributions are acknowledged not because they belong to a particular subgroup but rather because the contribution was insightful/educative.

Shana Sumers: When you're focusing on just diversity and inclusion, you are one showing that you have a wide range of people in your community, not just from the way that they look, but from their ages to their genders, to their sexual identities, to where they're from in the world. And when you're inclusive of that, that means you're allowing those people to show up 100% themselves unapologetically, and that they feel like they can be themselves a hundred percent within the community space. Um, so it's important to be able to tie those factors in together of having a diverse group of people in your community, but if they don't feel safe or welcome, or that they belong within the community space, they're not going to participate in your community. So that's what it means to me when I say we have a diverse and inclusive community.

Diversity and inclusion can be treated as quite simple if you are ready to think anew and look beyond stereotypes. The competitive advantages of diversity are innumerable. And when we’re talking about building a successful community with clear objectives, this becomes all the more critical.

What makes it important to have D&I in a community?

Jephtah Abu: The fact that we still have to show the value of diversity in a community shows that we still have a long way to go in regards to D&I. A diverse and inclusive community makes everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do for the community, feel equally involved in and supported.

Shana Sumers: It's kind of one of the things that we have to have. In this day and age, and to be able to show that your community has a bunch of different stories, a bunch of different experiences, a bunch of different backgrounds with different knowledge and expertise and experience to depending on what your community focuses on. You know, if you operate in a way that only has one type of voice or two types of voices in your community, it's not really a community. It’s just a tunnel. It's just a tunnel of where you're putting your information. So being able to highlight each of these groups and have them actively participate in your community and show that they are supposed to be here, that they're welcome here, that they're going to thrive here. Those are the things that make it important to have DNI in a community.

Breaking this down with some examples in the space

Shana: Low-hanging fruit is around celebrating each of the different holidays, celebrating different members, and all of the things that they've achieved. Making sure that your pictures are diverse, making sure that the quotes you have are diverse, making sure that your leadership council or the top contributors aren't just the same types of people.

Jeph: Diversity & inclusion in the community falls on three aspects;  the representation of D&I  at community events, inclusive language in the community, and proper representation of underrepresented groups in the community. Using one of the communities I belong to CMX (a community of community managers) has sub-chapters around the world. These sub-chapters plan their events and programs. But what’s really cool is that all sub-chapters execute and run their programs in each unique way they want (with a guideline though), by doing so each sub-chapter is allowed to embrace their beliefs and cultural identity in the community through these events.

What makes diversity benefit individuals in the community?

Shana: It means that they get to come in here and be the rockstars that they are a hundred percent. I could join a community about women's sports and I have my voice shown within the community and have people actually, agree or jump into the conversation. Things like that. Like you want and be able to make that person feel great, but also it's an educational moment for the rest of your community.

Jeph: You don't see diversity as a benefit rather it should be seen as a necessity, it's the fundamental foundation of any active community, different opinions and perspectives breeds new initiation and ideas.

So, there are many communities out there that were maybe not as diverse and inclusive as they need to be, how can these existing communities be more sensitive? What can they do to make everyone feel more welcome and open?

Shana: I would say instead of being more sensitive, I would just say being respectful. Recognizing your language, having community members check the work that you're doing, the content that you're putting out, the way that you're about to do a campaign or something around a specific holiday, if there's anything that happens in the news, things like that, like make sure that multiple eyes get on it and not just something that's like internally shared with your team, but also externally shared with your community. When you talk about the more sensitive things or the things that you need to be more respectful about, you're already building that narrative, that these are the things that were going to be discussed. You also want to make sure that your guidelines are set up so that people don't come in and just spout off rhetoric that does not fit your core vision and mission of your community. Make sure that your team knows how to move swiftly to handle any issues that happen and remove those members as quickly as possible.

Jeph: A community can be more sensitive by being empathic and trying to eliminate assumptions when planning strategies for underrepresented groups, rather than assume a strategy will sit well with a particular group, the community team should go out of their way and ask individuals who belong to these groups how they feel about the particular strategy or idea before it is implemented.

A few tips on how communities can be welcoming to their members.

Jeph: I think this comes down to the (personal) onboarding experience, what are the questions being asked before members join your community? Is there a section for location? A section for sexual identity? Ethnicity? After this the welcoming message is equally as important, a personal message which reflects that community members can freely express themselves without biases or prejudice will go a long way in making community members feel safe.

Shana: There are multiple ways. Like first we want to have an impeccable onboarding that clearly states what your mission and vision are and your mission and vision should have something about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in it to show. You want to give them that sense of safety and you want to let them know what the community stands for and that there is a team of people that are there to make sure that their experience is great. You want to provide a space that makes them feel welcome and shows that they can be a part of things, invite them in, invite them into events, invite them in to post about their knowledge, invite them in to share pieces of content, or give feedback on things. Consistently invite them in, but make sure it's not at the point that you are just like tokenizing them.

What is most clear from this conversation was that diversity positively affects the collective work of the community. While diversity is important, a truly diverse community goes beyond just having different people in the same room. It’s important to note that diversity isn’t just about having different identities in a room, it’s about divesting power to people from different backgrounds who can bring to the table a broad range of perspectives, and surrendering the idea that there isn’t just ONE way to experience. This has been demonstrated by the wealth of this conversation and research over the years.

It’s time we stop arguing about it and focus on making it happen. We need to do all that we can to ensure a diverse community while managing it. If we can achieve and implement these things – if we build and can truly become a diverse and inclusive community – then our community will be more innovative and effective.

Jeph: I had a conversation with a friend of mine Mirella Ang de Jonge on DEI and would love to use one extract from our conversation as my final thoughts. “Diversity isn't just about having different identities in a room; it's about divesting power to people from different backgrounds, who can bring to the table a broad range of perspectives, and surrendering the idea that there isn’t just ONE way to experience the world.”

Shana: I think the last thing is that one of the most important things that you want to do is drive belonging in your community. Diversity and inclusion are the best starts. You want people to feel like they belong in your community space and that they're always welcome.

Hopefully, this has been helpful and you now feel much more confident in creating your own diverse and inclusive community.

Remember, a good onboarding experience, clear vision, and mission statement have a long-term effect on the community and it is more likely to increase the positive levels of involvement. This will also help you identify and attract people who will be naturally good fits for your community and join organically while helping existing members trust your community and other members of the community.

In short: everyone has a different reason that they want to join a community. So as you can expect, there really is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to membership. The trick is to allow members to express themselves in the way that best suits their needs. Doing this enables you to build a community of active contributors, rather than passive lurkers. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and empower members with tools for self-expression.

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