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HaraldurThorleifsson @iamharaldur
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Before we begin, let me tell you a couple of things. First, a few years ago I started an agency called Ueno ( Second, I’m in a wheelchair. That’s it, those are the two things you need to know before you read on. 1/?
At the core of what Ueno does is solving problems. These problems are extremely complex and the only way we can solve them is if we bring people with different kinds of experiences and backgrounds together. 2/?
And that’s what diversity is all about. It’s about mixing different types of people. It’s about the obvious things like people of different races, genders, identity, etc. 3/?
And it’s about the less obvious things like economic background, how they grew up, personal experiences and so on. It’s about having people from all parts of the world come together in one place. And in that sense Ueno is doing ok. 4/?
We are very close to an equal split between women and men. We have over 20 different nationalities on staff. People of different races and cultures interact at Ueno on a daily basis — people who grew up in wildly different situations. /5
I’m by no means saying we are perfect on the diversity side but compared to industry averages we are better than most (although that’s not saying much). We need to keep improving but I think it’s ok to be proud of where we are now. /6
Quick note: This is an experiment. I already posted this story on Medium. I just wanted to try doing a lon threaded Twitter story. Ok, lets continue /7
But diversity isn’t enough. I would argue that inclusion is more important.

Diversity is about having all kinds of people come together. Inclusion is about having an environment where all those people are welcomed and able to interact and succeed independent of their background.
And as it turns out, that’s a really hard thing to achieve. It is a never ending ambition that we can never fully realize. And it’s often when you start to think you are doing pretty good that you see something new and you realize you have a long way to go. /9
On the surface, things can appear inclusive. Especially for people who have shared experiences. But once you start looking closely at any organization, cracks will quickly start to appear. /10
Last August, we at Ueno had our third annual retreat. During the retreat all our offices come together to work and play for a week. This year we all went together to upstate New York. /11
We stayed at a hotel that was supposed to be accessible for wheelchairs. In theory it was. But as is often the case, it really wasn’t. /12
There were accessibility issues here and there that ranged from mildly annoying to semi enraging. But the biggest one, and the one that broke my heart, was a surprise to even me. /13
We had a couple of last minute cancellations and because of that we had an empty room that we didn’t use for our employees — Room 250. /14
Some of our people decided that this would be a great place to gather one night. People came to Room 250 that night to have fun, they laughed and played and sang. By all accounts it was a great night. /15
But as I was making my way to the room I quickly found there was no elevator up to the second floor. There were only stairs. And wheelchairs famously don’t go up stairs. /16
I didn’t tell anyone at the time because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I didn’t want to show my pain or break their fun. /17
Now, to understand why this is a big thing for me you need to know my history. I have muscular dystrophy. For me that meant that for the first 25 years or so I was walking and for the last 15 I’ve been in a wheelchair. /18
When I was walking I had what some people would call a funny walk.

And as you can imagine I was teased for that. Not a lot, because I had a big mouth, but enough to make me extremely self conscious.

As a result I got excluded from certain things, sometimes by others, but often, and that’s actually in many ways worse, by selecting myself out because I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

When I started using a wheelchair, some things got better, and some things got worse. /20
Leading up to that point it was getting harder and harder for me to walk. My legs were losing a lot of their strength. So, using a wheelchair made me able to be more mobile than before. But now there were new obstacles. /21
And over the last 15 years those obstacles have directed the course of my life in many ways. And to know me you need to know them. /22
You need to know about the time my friends went back-packing through Asia and I wanted to go so bad that it physically hurt. But I couldn’t because the hostels and trains were not accessible. /23
You need to know that I once went to Disneyland and after looking for a while I finally found a ride that I could take. Only to find out, after waiting for 30 minutes in line, that it actually wasn’t accessible. /24
I had dared to think I could participate and I was so devastated when I found out that I couldn’t that I broke down crying in front of my daughter. I was 37 years old. /25
And, you need to know that even though I try to push myself, sometimes I self-select out of situations if I think there is a possibility that the location isn’t accessible because it’s so hard to handle the disappointment and the anger. /26
And this might sound weird, the humiliation and the attention when people realize their mistake and the terribly unfair situation that comes up when I need to take on the role of telling them that I understand and, well, to lie to them that I’m fine to make them feel better. /27
But even if you know all of that you still don’t know me. In isolation not getting to one room, one night, is not a big deal. But nothing happens in isolation. /28
Let’s put this in another perspective.

At Ueno we have people of many different races. We joke around all day and sometimes those jokes can go too far. Let’s imagine that someone says something offhand about someone’s race that they think isn’t a big deal. /29
That comment on its own might not be big. But in the context of the person who receives that comment it can be huge. For them it’s another drop in a steady stream. /30
It can remind them of the time they were teased for their race. It can remind them of the centuries of oppression their people have suffered. It can remind them of all the things they missed out on, even the ones they self-selected out of for fear of a poor interaction. /31
So, that small comment can crush them. They have trained themselves to be always on alert and now, when they let their guard down for a second it comes as a gut punch. /32
Nobody wants to be the downer. Nobody wants to make other people feel bad. So when these things happen we don’t speak up. We let them slide. And over time we bury them. And we bury a part of ourselves. Sometimes even to a point where we are ashamed of that part of us. /33
I didn’t share my story of room 250 to make anyone feel bad. That’s not my intent. /34
But I don’t want this to stop us from telling our stories. Often people in these situations don’t want to make anyone else feel bad because they know it wasn’t intentional or because we don’t want to be the person who keeps causing problems. /35
I shared this story because if this can happen to me, the person with the most power at my own company, a person that a lot of very smart and empathetic people are thinking about and trying their best to help in every possible way /36
— if this can happen to me, it can happen to all of us. You all have your room 250. But you don’t all have my power. /37
We all work at places that have different people with different backgrounds and different stories. /38
Some of their stories will be about how their gender or their identity was used against them. Some of them will be about how the colour of their skin has been systematically used to push them down all their lives. /39
Their stories will most likely include a mix of a few deep cuts and hundreds or thousands of paper cuts. Big and small interactions every day that constantly remind them of the limitations the world has created for them. /40
When we are on the other side of someone else’s experience it is our duty to understand that when they speak up about something that to us might in isolation not seem that big, they are coming from a place we will never fully understand. /41
They are often coming from a place where that incident is just one in a long line of injustices. /42
When they do speak up our first job is to listen. Our second job is to applaud them for speaking up so we can create a culture where people know they will be heard and supported. Where all voices are included and welcomed. /43
We all have pain in our lives that nobody else will ever fully understand. Talking about it won’t necessarily solve everything but from experience I can tell you that finding people that are willing to listen without judging or pitying is extremely validating. /44
I don’t think Ueno will ever be a fully inclusive place. I don’t think any diverse group of people can ever fully understand each others backgrounds. /45
But I can’t think of a more worthwhile goal than inclusivity. And even though we can never be perfect I think we should always be improving. /46
And the only way we can get better is if we listen to each others stories. That we create spaces where people can share those stories so we can learn from them. /47
Ok. That’s it! That’s all I wrote. Thank you for reading to those of you that got this far.

Fuck Trump
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