This month I was the featured speaker at Airbnb’s Monthly Design Talks at their HQ in San Francisco. My talk was called Own Your Voice. Through my talk, I wove in lessons I’ve learned through my own life, and how owning my voice has given birth to my work and forms the underlying theme of my understanding of modern feminism. At the start of the talk I remember having to take a moment off stage because the vibe was off. But after a 5 min pause, I came back on, reconnected with the audience and it went really well. I performed and signed vinyl after that.
My talk started with my story so that my perspective was grounded in some context, before I moved on to speak about how we must design for people of various walks of life. I gave the example of drums – how growing up, most drum sets were physically too big for me, which often deters young girls from playing, but how if drum sets were designed for young women, more would play, and the market for drumming would expand. I spoke about how when, 20 years after I began to play, I received my first ever drum endorsement, I was able to choose sizes that fit me well, and allowed me to feel strong and empowered behind my kit.
I spoke about how in group dynamics, especially when I was at Business School, the men of the group would often assume the leadership roles of the group, but then use that position to dominate and quiet the voices of others. I have no problem with others assuming leadership positions, whether appointed or not, but I do believe that someone should use their privilege and position to elevate the voices of those unheard, rather than use that power to amplify the voice of themselves.
I spoke about how diversity is not a corporate checkmark, but instead a vital pillar of doing good business, whereby the company employs decision makers at the company whose opinion might help represent the opinions and experiences of those whom the company is building for. The classic example is the recent case of Pepsi’s racist and unaware ad in which a young woman passes a Pepsi to a white police officer who is quieting a riot. Without being sensitive to the lives of color lost to police brutality and gun violence, the commercial was so criticized it was removed within 24 hours, costing the company millions of dollars. Had there been voices of color in the room, who also had to have felt safe enough to speak up and express themselves, it is possible that this mistake could have been avoided.
Finally, I spoke about how affirmative action is something that I wish wasn’t needed in the first place, but is necessary because don’t exist in a vacuum, and sexism and unconscious biases prevent women, people of color and people of varying gender identities from reaching their fullest potential. So quotas and affirmative action clauses placed in institutions and companies simply as a forcing mechanism to counterbalance the prejudices that exist within society anyway.
Talk and photos below. Thanks to Airbnb for giving me such a vital platform to speak and offer critical thought so freely and honestly.