Ep 3: Busting Binaries with Steph Sands and Mon Shafter

Steph Sands, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Australian and New Zealand with Capgemini, and award-winning ABC journalist and documentary maker, Mon Shafter, look back at how much has changed for LGBTQ+ groups across the western world, the effects on workplace, media influence, and what still needs to change for a more inclusive society. 



Manisha: So, you’re waiting in line, complaining on social media, or talking to friends about something that just doesn’t work for you. How often do we think “if only the designers had thought of this, or that?” There’s often some really easy fix that we all know would make something much, much better than it is already.

I’m Manisha Amin, welcome to With,Not For; a podcast from the Centre for Inclusive Design. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Cammeraygal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we record this podcast, today. And pay my respects to their elders, past, present and of course, emerging. We are so excited to have you all here today with us.

So often, things are designed for us. But here, we explore the magic that happens when we design with people, not just for them. There’s no question, the acceptance and inclusion of people who identify as LGBTQ+ has changed dramatically in the western world over the last 50 years. In fact, it’s difficult to remember how much things have changed. To take us through their individual journey’s and experiences, we have two very special guests with us here today, on With, Not For; Steph Sands and Mon Schafter.

Over the past 15 years, Steph Sands has worked with broad range of LGBTQ+ community organisations, and is also the founder of Women Say Something. Steph is also currently the Australian Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Capgemini, a global technology consulting company. She has a lot on her hands!

Mon Schafter is an award winning ABC journalist and documentary maker. Mon actually leads the content for ABC Queer, the home of stories and advice for queer young people, and she is also the Executive Director of Twenty10, a not-for-profit, supporting young LGBTQ+ people in New South Wales. Today, we’ll be speaking to Steph and Mon about the impact that workplaces and the media can have, on including people intentionally. So, let’s just start with you, Steph. Can you tell us a little bit about your earlier work experience?

Steph: Yes, well, it’s a long story, I don’t think we’ve got all day to have it – but I grew up in a small, country, regional town and it was still illegal to be gay, when I was a kid. And it certainly was a message that was relayed to you when you’re growing up, that is wasn’t normal and it wasn’t something that could be a happy life.

Manisha: It’s crazy that it was actually still illegal then, as well, Steph.

Steph: Well, 1994 was the last year that the Tasmania rights lobby, actually secured having that removed out of the law. But it’s funny you know, because lesbianism was never actually illegal; it was just sodomy. It was just the gay men that actually had that, yes. And it was deportation and execution, up to the end of the 19th century, and then it was life – you actually got sent to Australia, to the colonies, for sodomy. So, that was interesting.

But yes, look, I grew up – and my father was British and was very stoic, and my mother was a fifth generation farmer, and it was a town of 5,000 people then. So, you know, I didn’t even know what a lesbian was, until I really went to Uni and turned 20 or 21 and came out in my early 20s, in another regional town, called Wagga Wagga, where there was – I met two other lesbians, and thought I’d better move to Sydney.

So, I moved to Sydney, but it was funny, my first job was in Wagga, it was a Senior High School, teaching. So, I taught for a year and I got asked to teach Religion one day, and I was being asked to teach abstinence. And of course, I couldn’t teach abstinence, because I was a kid myself, I was 21 and the kids were 16 or 17, and I was sort of coming out at that time too, so I was dressing in a way that was probably not befitting of a feminine teacher.

And I think, the Sisters and the Brothers knew that I wasn’t mainstream straight and when I couldn’t teach abstinence, my contract wasn’t renewed, so that was a bit of a lesson, for me; that don’t ask, don’t tell sort of – it was still illegal at that stage, in Tasmania, so it was a bit hard coming out and sort of, knowing how to be in the world, I think. When I’d spent four years at Uni, learning how to teach and then not being able to teach, because I was coming out, was hard.

And I found myself – and you know, by the grace of people you meet along the way, one of my student’s fathers was the bank manager and he gave me a job on the floor, in the bank, and from there I moved to Sydney with the bank and joined the IT department, as a secretary of all things. I am nowhere near anyway organised enough to be a secretary but the woman that I worked with, Michelle, she’s still a friend to this day, and we certainly learnt collaboration there. But from the bank, I went into the advertising industry.

Manisha: And was that easier? Obviously, the schooling system was not, but it sounds like you had to pick your jobs, based on where you’d be included, in a way?

Steph: Yes, look, in a way. I mean, it was probably more being in the right place, at the right time and more good luck, than good management. But I fell into careers and in industries, where I was accepted from that point onwards. And maybe I did look for that, maybe I did look for places that accepted me, subconsciously. But advertising was an interesting one, because I could be one of the boys, without being gay. So, even though I was with women, I was seen as one of the boys, who dated women; does that make sense?

Manisha: Kind of. So how did that – 

Steph: Mon knows what I’m saying.

Manisha: Yes, I can see. Mon’s actually smiling and laughing, as you’re talking there. So, Mon, how does that relate to your experiences?

Mon: I mean, I think I’ve been pretty fortunate with my whole coming out experience and being out, at work. I didn’t realise I was queer until, like, the year out of Uni; so I think, on the lead up to that, I was probably just really supressed, and there was probably some internalised homophobia going on, lack of diverse visibility and queer representation in the media, a lot of those factors.

But in my first job, outside of Uni, there was this really hot, cool, English producer, who was a lesbian, and for the first time, I felt like, my heart kick in and this animal instinct kick in and it was like “whoa, OK, that’s what attraction is about, that’s what love it about.” And that just sort of, shook me and woke me up, and then it was like “OK, I’m gay, I understand.”

So, I think – again, I’ve been pretty fortunate – and that was around 2002, 2003 and in the creative roles that I’ve had in the media, working in TV and news and current affairs and stuff like that, I’ve sort of, always been drawn to telling the stories of people from marginalised communities and outsiders, and even though I personally, you know, haven’t face the challenges that other people have had to face, I kind of still feel some kind of empathy to people that have had to just deal with the fact that you’re a bit different, or you’re not part of the mainstream. And that’s given me an empathy, I think, to be able to tell those stories, comprehensively.

Manisha: And it’s a really interesting one, because I think, what comes up for me, is this idea that you can’t be, what you don’t see. And so, telling those stories, then becomes even doubly more important. Do you think it matters who’s on the other end of the camera? Or, on the other end of the recruitment process, if you like? And the representation of the person who is telling that story, with the person who’s, I guess, the talent?

Mon: For sure, yes, I think representation is so important, whether it’s audience facing, or behind the scenes; just to tell stories accurately and authentically. I mean, I think we’re seeing this conversation play out, you know, across film and television, with casting transgender people to play transgender roles, or, if you’re going to tell a Trans story, a transgender writer should tell that story. Because people deserve the opportunity to tell their own stories, in their own voice, and I think, for too long, others have told those stories on behalf of people from particular communities, and those people have been denied the opportunity to tell their own stories. I think that’s really important and I’m sure Steph would feel the same way, in your workplace, in terms of having proper representation.

Steph: Absolutely. I think, yes, the employee resource groups in workplaces are really interesting, because you actually give people the opportunity to be who they are, and actually be able to talk about the challenges that they face and I think, it’s certainly similar, right? I mean, we need that media representation because I know, growing up, I didn’t have visibility to anyone, I couldn’t see – I didn’t know, because I couldn’t see. And I do remember, you know, a picture Dolly magazine, it might even – it’s probably – did they have Dolly, when you were growing up, Mon?

Mon: Yes, I remember Dolly.

Steph: Yes.

Mon: Dolly doctor.

Steph: Yes, and there was – I remember – Yes, Dolly doctor! And I remember two women on a rock, modelling swimsuits and I think, I don’t know, they might have been touching each other, like, you know, just having their arms around, or something and I just went “oh wow, that’s different. No.” And that was visibility for me, and I think I kept that photo – that ripped out page in a magazine, for many, many years. And then Dessert Hearts came out in the late 1980s, so maybe 1989, or something, and that was the first movie ever, that I saw with lesbian characters in it. And now, you don’t – and now, it’s everywhere, there’s mainstreaming of those – our sort of relationships and our stories … that really helps. It really helps in the workplace, it helps in the family structures, it helps in social structures, and it’s been a great journey in that way. But it’s so important. It’s so important still.

Manisha: And then, how does representation work, when we think about – I mean, when I think about those letters, so L,G,B,T,Q and then potentially I, A, and plus – there are a lot of letters there, that represent a lot of different people and not all those people have the same journey, not all of those groups have the same number of people either, in terms of representation. So, how do you make sure then, if we’re having people tell their own story – how does that play out – for instance, in the workplace, when you might not have all of those letters in your workplace. You might not have all of the people who are represented by those letters, in your workplace. Or, even in the media, we might not have the journalists who want to actually be out, I guess, in that way, when they’re telling those stories. How do we deal with that side of things?

Mon: I mean, you’re right, that the queer community is made up of many, many like, sub communities within that, so you know, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual; plus all the other sexuality and gender non-conforming people that don’t necessarily fit those particular letters, either.

And we’re a very diverse community and you know, we don’t always see eye-to-eye, we sometimes have different political beliefs, we face different challenges, and it’s so important that the diversity is acknowledged when we’re talking about queer representation, because you know, just because you’ve got one gay bloke on your board, they don’t necessarily speak for the diverse experiences of the whole queer community. So, I think it’s important to, you know, strive to have diverse representation in terms of sexuality and gender, cultural background, all sorts of experiences – to ensure that you are reflecting the best interests, and the wants and needs of all people. I think, when talking about the LGBTQ+ community, as well, often, we sort of refer to it as a whole, but sometimes we actually are only specifically talking one of those letters, or one of those groups. Like, it might be a conversation about lesbians, or it might be a conversation about intersex people and in that case, it’s best to use the specific language for the community that you’re talking about, and to not generalise, unless you are talking about the broader community. So, there’s a lot of those things to think about too.

Manisha: I think there’s two sides to this story, one side is for those people who are happy and comfortable and safe enough to be out. And then for other people, their sexuality or their gender, is a really private thing. And so, especially in the workplace, where organisation are really striving to do the right thing and want to include people, but sometimes those people don’t necessarily want to have to be out, to be included. How do you deal with that, Steph?

Steph: It’s a good question. Nobody is forcing anyone to come out in the workplace. And what my – and look, we’re just starting to get hard data now, at work. Which shows that a lot of people choose not to, be out in the workplace.

For us, we are finding that it’s a cultural reason, because we have a lot of people that come over from India, which is where our offshoring facilities are, and from other different parts of the world. And we have officers in 42 countries, so you can imagine the range of countries, that range from death penalty for LGBT people, through to being, you know, Australia and the U.K. and being quite progressive. So, we have a range of people’s attitudes to have to deal with.

But what we have found is, it helps those that are – the visibility of the people who do come out, and the programs and issues that we run – helps people come to terms, sometimes, with who they are, and helps provide that safe space for people to explore who they are. Not necessarily asking them to come out.

Now, I know where you’re going to go – Manisha, you’re going to say “how can we actually then, use those diverse experiences, and that lived experience to contribute to inclusive designs in the products and services that we deliver.” OK, I know that’s where we’re heading. But, we think that – I think that, if people are relaxed and safe enough to be who they are, and to be who they are, doesn’t necessarily mean having to come out. You can be who you, are without having to come out in the workplace, all you need to do, is feel safe there and safe to express the opinions that you feel in doing your job.

So, really, we just try to make sure that we’ve got a safe space, that people feel they belong, that they can come out if they want to come out and they’re not going to be judged for that, but they are free to actually have differing opinions and diverse thought, that anybody else in the company – because that’s where innovation lives, when you start challenging thought. And you can’t have challenging thought, and diverse thought, without people feeling safe to have that.

Manisha: So, can you talk a little bit about your own experiences there, because I remember you talking about your current company, and how you didn’t feel safe and then you did. And your journey through the organisation, I mean, I think it’s one of those case studies that listeners would probably be very interested in.

Steph: So, I went from teaching Geography and Social Sciences, to being a bank teller, working in IT, to advertising, the digital side of advertising. When we were working with Internet Explorer, version 1 and Netscape version 1, and building the first web banners, to ending up in an IT consulting company. Now, from an advertising agency to an IT consulting company, that was a bit of a culture shock for me.

Manisha: I bet.

Steph: It was very different. So, I joined Capgemini in 2010, as a contractor for a program management role, working on a SAP infrastructure refresh. So, just those words, make me want to turn over and run away. But, I did it because I wanted a different experience. And what I found was, I didn’t fit in there, I did not fit in. I mean, people didn’t think like me, they didn’t look like me, I couldn’t see any role models, like me. I went into the actual office twice, and walked around the floor three times, couldn’t find anyone that would actually talk to me. I got looked up and down because I walked in, in my jeans and my little vest and shirt. Nobody was wearing anything like that, they were in their suits and very conservative clothing.

So, I spent three-and-a-half years on contract, on client sites, basically running Women Say Something, in the background, because then I could start at 9am, finish at 5pm. I didn’t feel like I belonged in that environment. So I left. So, my contract finished, and I left. And then a friend of mine, a gay man, was working back at Capgemini and said to me, “I really need a good program manager to work on a client in Canberra.” So, I went and did that role, I worked with a different bunch of people; a very diverse group of people, who came from lots of different places around the world. I was working in a government client, so it was already a different environment, there. And so, I thought “well, this is a bit different.” So, I went and signed up for another client and this was 2016, and we just stood up out front in a very small – out front, is our LGBTERG – I’d found three or four other people in the company, by that stage.

And we decided that we were going to try and get Capgemini to publicly support marriage equality. So, we were going through the plebiscite. Little did I know, that, the country board – the Capgemini country board – had already been asked to vote on this matter, 12 months previously and had voted against, publicly coming out with support. So, at that stage, Olaf Pietschner, who is now the CEO of our APAC strategic business unit – he was the COO for Australia and New Zealand, at that stage. And I wrote to Olaf and I wrote to our then-CEO and I just said “I didn’t feel I belonged in this company. I feel like this is – the company is starting to change. But I also think that if I can’t be my authentic self, in Capgemini, I don’t want to be at Capgemini.” And I asked if –

Manisha: It’s pretty words. Sorry, let’s just stop there for a sec. That’s really brave, right?

Steph: I think I was older. I knew by then, that I actually wanted to be in a culture – if I was going to work hard and I was working hard – I wanted to be in a culture that actually supported who I was.

Manisha: Right.

Steph: And not supported in the sense of you know, having to go to pride parades and sponsor and stuff – but just treated me like, you know, for my authenticity, and actually respected my opinion. And I knew there were other companies, because they were signing on to support marriage equality. I knew other companies actually supported authenticity and people being – having different life experiences. So, I wrote – and Olaf said “yes,” he came back automatically and he just said “yes,” straight away. “This is a no-brainer for me, of course, I’ll take it up to country board.”

Country Board voted again, and I think Olaf was new to that vote, and I think his vote tipped it in favour. So, that year there – and that was the year that we came and we publicly supported – and then, from 2018 on, we really started working on, how can we really set the tone for inclusion in the company? Using LGBTQ awareness and authenticity, to actually help drive our overall DNI agenda, which is then, what we did, over the next three years.

And now, I can’t think of being anywhere else, because the culture is so different. And the people in it, some of which are the same people that were there 10 years ago – I’m seeing, you know, they’re growing. They understand more. And it’s about awareness. And just going back to that previous conversation we were having around visibility, and you can’t be what you can’t see, our allies can’t be what they can’t see, either. So, allies in the workplace, they didn’t know what being a good ally was, no one had ever shown them, or told them, or told them why it was so important. And then moving into where this whole movement is going now – this DNI movement is going now – and it’s going into that quadrant of work product and services. Having those authentic thoughts – those authentic people, being able to deliver divergent thought – is actually building better solutions for our clients.

Manisha: Right. And do you think that, you know, the marriage equality conversation was a really interesting one, and all of a sudden, it felt like corporate Australia owned the rainbow flag. And there were rainbows everywhere. And it’s interesting, when you talk about the difference between saying you’re pro-something, and doing something – as an organisation. How do you feel organisations have really helped, to shape the way that individuals think about this community? And what are the next couple of steps?

Steph: I’m really interested to hear Mon’s view on this, but I do think that –

Manisha: I’m going to Mon on this, don’t you worry.

Steph: I do think that marriage equality, here in Australia, tipped the balance for corporates, and how corporates actually started to play a role in social purpose. And we’re seeing the fruits of that, but at the same time, we’re also seeing a wave within our community, saying they don’t want corporates in our playground. And I think we need to find the balance there, because corporates have provided a lot of freedoms for us, and they actually are, in some ways, playing the role of the government and what the government should be doing, around social progression. And that’s OK, because corporates have got the money to be able to do it, and for probably doing it better. But we need to somehow, balance that, with what some areas of our community feel is pinkwashing.

Manisha: Right.

Steph: So we need to be careful.

Manisha: And then, Mon, in terms of that, then, I’d love your feedback and your thoughts on what Steph has just said. I’d also like your feedback on the role of media, and I guess, the difference in how the media story is playing out, now, next to say, five years or 20 years ago?

Mon: Sure. I mean, in terms of the corporate world backing, or advocating for queer causes, it is such a delicate dance, as Steph has pointed out. On one hand, they have money to fund initiatives, to fund a Mardi Gras, to donate to organisations that support queer young people – so a lot of positives can come from that.

Also, the reach of corporates, whether that’s through their advertising and media opportunities, or just their visibility in society, reaches mainstream Australia, who also needs to receive these messages, because often, our queer community can exist in a bit of a bubble, where we’re speaking to each other and preaching to the converted. So, mainstream representation, I feel, needs to be part of that, and corporates can contribute to that.

But often it can become tokenistic, you know, if it is just putting some rainbow colours on your logo at one time in the year, or connected to marriage equality. So, I think it’s important, that they really walk the talk, and there’s a lot of great work being done by pride groups, within different organisations, including corporate organisations, where queer staff are sort of, leading the way and strategising about how their organisation can contribute to LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusion, in the workplace. So, I think there needs to be a lot of follow through, and not just sort of, tokenistic efforts.

But in terms of the media, I’ve seen a lot of change, just through being at the ABC. Like, I’ve been telling stories at the ABC for over 10 years now, and it started way back on a show called Hungry Beast, that was this weird sort of, comedy current affair show that was produced by Andrew Denton, who was awesome enough, to really give us no rules, aside from not being boring.

So, we had sort of, free rein and we told lots of – well, not lots – but we told a few queer stories back then, that were really edgy at the time, like, this is 2009, where we were talking about conversion therapy and how fucked that is, and we did a story on trans masculine people and it was sort of, one of the first national TV programs to provide a platform for trans guys, way back then.

And that was really edgy, but these days, there’s so much more representation, like even, Four Corners, the other day – sorry, not Four Corners, Australian Story – doing a profile on Shell Telfer, who leads the gender clinic at the Royal Children’s Hospital, in Melbourne. Like, it’s sort of happening at that level, and the project that I’m working on at the moment, at the ABC, called ABC Queer, which is a social medial account aimed at young LGBTQIA+ people, with a lot of diverse stories and diverse content, that we’ve created in collaboration with the community and all of the diversity within the community.

This is the first time the ABC has had a platform specifically, for that community, as opposed to content occasionally dropping, here and there across our program. So, I think, the ABC now, is really committed to representing diverse Australia, and providing something for this audience, who really appreciates it, just going by their engagement that we’ve got on the account and the feedback that’s coming through.

Manisha: And do you feel like there’s a point, when the media represents different groups, in the sense that – is it about that piece, about educating, or supporting the allies – or, is it about finding a home for people within the community? And I know, it doesn’t have to be one or the other – but it seems to me – that the media has a really important role, in changing people’s minds, and influencing people. And it can do that, intentionally or unintentionally.

Mon: Yes, yes. Again, diverse representation is so important. And one thing that I’ve tried to do with my story telling, is just provide a platform for people to say, what’s it like to be them, whoever they are. Because, I think a lot of the phobias and bigotry that exists in society, is due to a lack of information, a lack of awareness, a lack of understanding; so the way to address that, is by educating people, and by telling diverse stories, and you know, queer stories are just human stories –

Manisha: Right.

Mon:  – and they’re fascinating stories, and there’s lightness and there’s shade in all of that. So I think, it all just comes back to representation and visibility in getting those stories out there.

Manisha: And I think it’s also about having the trust of that community, which is where you really have to work with people, right?

Mon: Totally. Like, when we – before ABC Queer was born, it started off as a pilot, last year within the ABC, but there was a lot of consultation that went on with different community groups, and we’re talking like, ACON 2010, or even some of the more diverse groups, like Sydney Queer Muslims and intersex community; like, we reached out to them and just said “look, we’re wanting to do this LGBTQIA+ project, and we want to tell stories – what stories are missing in the landscape, at the moment? What do you want to see and hear on this platform? What would make it work for you?” And the feedback that we got – like, with a lot of feedback –but people wanted diversity, they wanted intersexual stories, so not just the typical, stuff that you might see in the media, but they wanted to hear from queer indigenous people, or queer people with disability, and there was also an appetite for hopeful stories, because they’d heard a lot of bad news in the media, and a lot of focus on the challenges that the community is still facing. But they wanted to show hope, and constructive stories and how to sort of, navigate through some of these challenges.

Manisha: Right. And so, on that note then, I’m going to change topics a little bit. And Steph, if we’re thinking about hope and challenges, what is something that you think, from a challenge perspective, where you go “if that had only been designed with our community involved, the world would be a better place?”

Steph: So many things.

Manisha: You can pick two then.

Steph: Look, you know, the one that gets to me, is home loans. Let’s talk home loans. And talk about queer family structure. Because as – and probably – look, I won’t talk on behalf of younger queers – but for me, we had to go through – and my generation – we had to go through a process of selecting chosen family. Because a lot of our actual families disowned us, when we came out.

So, let’s fast-forward a few years and you’re trying to get a home loan, and if you want a guarantor, you can’t use chosen family, you can only use parents, and maybe siblings, all right? Even though you may have a closer relationship with your family, your chosen family, that what you do with your real family. So, just the recognition of that, that there are different family structures, and there are different relationships that can be used to be guarantors for home loans and stuff, I mean, everyone’s struggling to get a home loan now, so we should be looking at how can we fix those sort of things.

And then, the other thing that’s coming to light now, and we’re still not there, we’re a long way away from there – is that the bias in AI and the bias in data. And we use data, and we use lots of data as a basis of machine learning, which then drives AI. But that data that’s used, is often data sets of people who don’t include us. So, that data could say different things if we were including sets of queer people, into those. And again, let’s look at family structures. You know, we’re not two kids, mum and dad.

Manisha: Right.

Steph: Our family structures are different. But you know AI, and going back to the first example, of home loans – a computer will actually generate the answer whether your home loan is approved or not. And if the data set – so that are used are on all mainstreaming families or mainstreaming expenses and so forth – we’re different sort of people, to other families. So, we need to look at how bias in data, and bias in AI are affecting us, but we’re early days on this. So, we’ve set up some think-tanks in my company, globally, around, especially gender bias in data, and there’s a great book, Invisible Woman, if anyone wants to look that up – that basically is all about how the world is designed for men, but we’re going to see more and more, that the world is designed for subsets other than these communities that we belong in now.

Manisha: And that’s a really important point, I’m going back to one of your original points, about where can people from an LGBTQ background, really impact on work product; both of those products, could actually have been made better, if there was diversity in the teams designing them. And that, that diversity was heard, really, as well, right?

Steph: And also, on the lookout for ways in which technology can hurt our community.

Manisha: Right. Say more about that?

Steph: So, technology, facial recognition technology is a good one. So, if you’re living in a country or from a country, where it is illegal to be gay or if there’s strong penalties for that, and they use facial recognition at pride events, in other countries, or on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or so forth. That facial recognition software, could actually associate you with things that you don’t to be – or can’t be associated with, in your home country. Trans people being identified in facial recognition, there is obvious uses for that technology, where that’s not so great. And just lots of examples like that, where we have to be careful, as a community, about what some of these great, new technologies, can actually do; can actually harm as well.

Manisha: Thank you. And Mon, if the world could be designed differently, if we worked with people, what would that look like? What are some of the products or services, or things that need to change?

Mon: Oh geez, yes, so many. I mean, I think Steph has made so many interesting points there, and the data thing, is really interesting. One of the things we’ve been looking at, at the ABC, is diversity tracking, as a way to sort of, ensure that we do have diverse representation in our content, and the people who initially sort of, set up the categories for this, weren’t part of the queer community, and fortunately they came to ABC Pride, which is sort of, the staff queer group, and asked for our input. And it’s like ‘well, OK, you know, LGBTQ is not one category where you can’t just tick that box, it’s like, each one of those letters represents a different identity, so it’s important, again, that people are consulted, who can inform these things and ensure they’re accurate, and get the desired outcomes.

But, I think, generally in society, there are so many binary spaces that are problematic, like barber shops, where I can’t go and get my $20 head shave or whatever, because they don’t want women in those spaces. Clothing stores change rooms, all of that kind of stuff, like, it’s really not that hard to have gender neutral options around there.

I think, sport is a real challenging one, like, sport is so binary and divided into two genders, and there needs to be a lot more thought and community engagement, from both queer and non-queer people, in terms of working out the way forward there. But like, I’m part of a queer women’s soccer club, called the Flying Bats; apparently we’re the oldest and largest queer women’s soccer club in the world. We play in a women’s league, but we’ve got a really inclusive policy, which is basically, if you feel that this is the right club for you, and you feel safe playing with us, then we’ll welcome you  and –

Manisha: That’s lovely.

Mon: that’s kind of worked out for us, and there hasn’t been any pushback from the league or other teams. So, we have people across the gender spectrum, other that cis men, playing for our club. So, trans people – like, trans wome, non-binary people, who feel that this is the right space for them. So, yes, I think busting through that binary is the next big thing we need to look at.

Manisha: Oh, I love that. I think we might call this podcast, Busting Through the Binary. That’s a lovely name.

Mon: Well, even in technology, too, we have to bust the binary. How many forms do you see, and dropdowns do you see, on the internet that has male, female.

Manisha: That’s right.

Mon: And all of the data bases and all the systems that run – big systems, in big companies – sometimes, are based on binary gender.

Manisha: So true.

Mon: Even one of our superannuation policies, life insurance. You know, life insurance – the cost of life insurance changes for companies, based on whether you’re male or female –

Manisha: That’s right.

Mon: And they haven’t actually considered if someone is identified as non-binary – the superannuation company will actually make a decision over what gender they will put you in, for the purposes of the insurance.

Manisha: Wow, man.

Mon: This is something that I found out a couple of weeks ago, with our superannuation – I won’t name and shame – but we’ve got them looking at that now, but it actually changes. They don’t know what to do. Where do they put the non-binary into their system?

Manisha: And it’s an interesting one, because it sounds like we’ve actually complicated the world, by generalising the world. And in fact, if we didn’t generalise the world, this case, into binaries, and spent the time thinking about the complexity, we’d end up with a more, a more nimble system, to start with.

Mon: That’s so true.

Manisha: So, Mon, you’ve said that people wanted to hear stories of hope; so we’re going to finish with a story of hope. And so, the question I have for both of you – maybe starting with Mon – is, what is something positive that people can do, in order to make sure that they’re working with this community? And your community, rather than, for the community?

Mon: I think, reach out and invite people to be a part of the conversation, and approach it with open arms and a smile on your face. Like, I think, just inclusion is the way to go, and engaging with different communities, diverse people and going into that with an open mind, without judgement.

Manisha: So, if I’m scared of doing that – so, I’ve often had people say to me “well, it’s a bit awkward for me to go up to a community when I don’t really know those people, and they’re not really my friends, and it feels very awkward, and in fact, it’s not a natural friendship. How do I do this?” What would you say to that person?

Mon: I mean, I suppose it depends on the context, if it’s about a particular project or whatever. But I mean, there are organisations out there, who can guide you through this, and if it is in the workplace, there are organisations like Pride and Diversity, who can do diversity inclusion training, on the LGBTQIA+ front, in your organisation. Or, organisations like Mardi Gras, obviously, require volunteers and have different programs, and there will be people there, who will be up for a chat. I think it’s just generally going to these – approaching people or organisations with genuine curiosity and a genuine desire to want to learn and to want to do better, and I think most people are open to that.

Manisha: And Steph?

Steph: Look, I think, just learn. Just become aware. Because, it’s actually a really good point. How do you go up to a community that you don’t know anything about, because, even I struggle with that sometimes. You know, learning about different communities, my job involves learning about all of the communities and working out how to integrate them better, and how to build that sense of belonging. And sometimes, it is hard to go an talk to an indigenous community, about how to I best integrate you into a technology company? I mean, I don’t even know what the right question is on that, just yet.

But it is – I reached out to you, Manisha, and you’ve put me in touch with someone who’s going to help me on that journey, and it’s about being curious and being open, like Mon said, and being aware that there is so much information out there. I mean, you can just educate yourself, don’t be scared to put that first foot forward, and listen. Usually we go on a journey together and then the outcome is usually better, so …

Mon: So true.

Manisha: So, thank you, both of you, Mon and Steph. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you, today. I’ve learnt so much, and I hope the people who are listening, have as well. And, onwards and upwards.

Steph: Thanks Manisha.

Mon: Beautiful. Thank you!

Manisha: We hope you enjoyed this episode of With, Not For. If inclusive design is something you’d like to learn more about, or you’d like to work with us, connect with the Centre for Inclusive Design and myself, on LinkedIn. Or head to our website, centreforinclusivedesign.org.au. For more about today’s topic and guests, check the links in the show notes, or the podcast page on our website. We look forward to bringing you another episode of With, Not For, very soon.


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