What do you think? I think that it’s so much harder to achieve something when there is nobody like you, that you can identify with, who is successful in that area. And that yes, sometimes it makes it feel impossible.
Take women in STEM for example, in 2014 only 14.4% of those working in STEM occupations were women. Fast forward to 2018 and that figure has increased to 22%, in just 4 years- but why? Because an emphasis was put on encouraging young girls to get into science and technology, thousands of STEM clubs for girls were opened and funding was put in place to support and encourage young women to pursue STEM degrees in higher education. Women within STEM industries spoke out, they did talks, visited high school and universities, were interviewed and the media gave them some focus. The rate of women working in STEM careers today increased because young girls saw women working in those areas, and though ‘hey, i could do that. I could be like her’. The power of seeing someone you can relate to or see yourself in, achieve, that is what spurs people on to do what they are passionate about.
This can also be seen with the BAME communities within the UK. A huge light has been shone on inequalities within the workplace, lack of diversity within business, the media and the beauty industry (just to name a few) recently. Something which should have been acknowledged and acted on more than it has. This is the same context, same issue and same results. Young children have dreams, ideas of what they want to be, where they want to go and what they want to do- all young children, not just boys, and not just white children. However, the lack of ethnic diversity within workforces leads to children and young people becoming disheartened, feeling like they don’t belong in a certain job or sector or feeling like they do not have the skills required to be as good at that job as their white friends may be. If they cannot see influential, strong role models who look like them, who they can identify with, then how on earth will they feel empowered to follow their dreams, their plans.
Not having someone who you can relate to massively affects your hopes, plans and aspirations.
How does that have anything to do with me though…??
Growing up my parents always encouraged to follow my interests, to dream big and to become who I want to be. Typical parent outlook (I would hope!!) however, this was then counteracted by the fact that I never saw anyone like me.
I loved barbies growing up, however they all had perfect, flawless skin and bodies, making them ‘perfect’. I loved dolls, never once was there a doll that looked remotely like me, not at home, not at nursery, nowhere. I watched children’s TV. There was nobody who looked remotely like me, or who looked in anyway visibly different. It wasn’t until one of my younger brothers was little that I saw a children’s TV presenter who had one arm, and oh the media backlash and the parent forums blew up…! ‘How do I explain this to my child?’ ‘My child shouldn’t have to see that’ or ‘We should be allowed to choose what our children see and I don’t want them seeing that’. As I got older I started to watch more films, TV and read magazines, I’d get the train to school and see all the ads on the trains and in stations- there was nobody that looked like me.
I don’t think it was until I was in my teens that I started to really notice the lack of diversity in the media, noticing that there was nobody who a) looked anything like me or b) who had any visible differences. Growing up in a society like that you become so used to it that you don’t really question it, however it wasn’t until I was 17 that I really thought about the impact this had actually had on my life so far.
When I was 17 I was helping my Dad out a Deaf Festival where he was working. The table next to ours was being run by an inclusive toy organisation, who promote diversity in play and showcased toys with assistive tech like hearing aids on, toys with wheelchairs, toys with disabilities, visible differences etc. The lovely lady in charge came over to me and said that she had a ‘lottie doll’ that they had ‘edited’ so that it had a facial difference, incredibly similar to mine- and she wondered if I would maybe like it. When I received this doll a few days later I was shocked. Actually shocked. I think I had a bit of a cry later in the evening when I was on my own. The doll looked very similar to me, and was beautiful- and just reminded me that I had never seen anything like this before.
The world we live in is full of different people who look different, speak different, walk different etc. Therefore, the lack of diversity within the media and within workforces and public sectors is just shocking. I know that when I walk in to an interview, the interviewer will have made a snap judgement on me based on what I look like, they do with everyone.
But I also know that a large percentage of interviewers will take one look at me and make a snap decision or judgement based on my scarring and what they associate with that.
The amount of times I’ve been in positions where people have spoken down to me, been really patronising or treated me as if I have a learning disability or cognitive impairemnt because they’ve made a snap judgement and assumed something incorrect based on how I look is ridiculous! And it;s because there are not many people like me out there.
I have often been approached by people to talk for an interview, write a piece for a magazine etc who purely want me to focus on my scars and my ‘traumatic story’. This is frustrating as I feel like I have so much more to offer. But because when it comes to visable differences, inclusivity in the media is so poor, it’s like there is very little evidence to show that people with visible differences have more to offer than talking about their visble differences. I feel like a massive contradiction, as I spend a lot of my time online talking about my scarring and living with a visible difference, but there is so much ore to me than that. I want to work with children, make a differnce in young people’s lives- but I have to work out how I navigate that and prove to employers, parents/carers etc that I am capable ven though my skin looks different. Whereas, if more people with visible differences where shown in the media, and more people with visible differences felt empowered to work in areas of interest to them, I (and so many other young adults with differences) wouldn’t have to feel like we have to prove ourselves to employers, to clients and to society.