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It’s Pride Month, and as we celebrate our LGBTQ+ peers, we have Tash Thomas, Director of Diversity, Equality & Inclusion of the European Coworking Assembly with us for this episode. She and her Fiancé are known for their Instagram page called Breaking the Distance.
We will be talking all about what Pride means to the coworking community. How being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is part of what the coworking community is striving for: Inclusion and Diversity.And we are also going to be talking about tokenism, what we can do to be an ally and promote equity and equality in our community.
How Can People Make Coworking And Shared Workspaces Inclusive?
I think that one of the big things is, and this is sort of the frustration, I guess, in within the LGBTQ community during Pride Month is that, obviously, you know, it becomes like a social media sort of trend, to have the rainbow flag, and to not really appreciate the story behind it, and the reasoning, why, and a lot of brands and places will maybe have that representation specifically during Pride Month, but it’s not visible within their industry or on their brand the rest of the year.
And I would sort of say the same back to coworking spaces, it’s really important that yes, Pride Month is this key celebration in the same way that we have Women’s History Month, or LGBT, or Black History Month, right. But you want to show that you are an ally, 365 days of the year, not just specifically over June.
And I think that’s a big thing to begin with. And in terms of, you know, creating that space, within your coworking space, I use this example, quite often of just having a rainbow flag on the door, or on the bulletin board, just to show that this is a space that this is you know, LGBTQ+ people are welcoming in any of their identities. And we don’t we don’t tolerate any form of discrimination here can be really a really key thing.
You know, myself and my fiancé, when we are looking for a pub to go to in an area that we don’t know very well, if we see a rainbow flag on the door. Like it can be a tiny sticker in the window. But that’s enough for us to say, Oh, do you want to go there? I hope because we know that we can be ourselves in that space, especially in an environment that’s not familiar to us.
What do you think about Tokenism?
It creates that sense of inclusion in terms of it being tokenistic. It’s only tokenistic, if you don’t believe in those ideals. If you are just putting it out there, because it’s something that everybody else is doing, you feel like you should be doing it. Well, then yes, that’s the wrong intention.
But if your intention is that we want to make it clear that everybody is welcome in our space, regardless of you know, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, then that’s what better way to do it than fly the flag, right?
It’s the same way that we, you know, football teams, support a certain football team. And you’ll have that flag in your car or outside your house or in your window of your house, it’s the exact same thing. And it’s just a clear indicator to any LGBTQ person knowing that okay, this, this space is accepting of me, and that I am safe to be in that space.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:28
Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s most sunshiny ever Coworking Values Podcast. I am really over the moon to have Tash. What are you known for and what would you like to be known for?
Tash Thomas 0:41
What am I known for? So, I am , in this context a Diversity and Inclusion Facilitator and Speaker. I am also the co-founder of Breaking the Distance, which is an LGBTQ plus visibility and relationship blog, I would say, with my fiancé Marta. I’m also in a Spice Girls tribute band just throw that out there as well, I guess,
Bernie J Mitchel 1:03
I love it. So, Tash, you are the Director of Diversity and Inclusion?
Tash Thomas 1:13
Yes. At the European Coworking Assembly and London Coworking Assembly.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:21
It’s Pride Month and I’ve asked you here because I feel like everyone changes their logo on the internet, and its quite great people do that nowadays because we didn’t see any of that 10 years ago. What is the origin of pride? And this is what we’re going to cover, folks, in this podcast, the origin of pride, and what it means, and then how you can join in and maintain the conversation in your coworking space. Because the beginning of this Idea Project journey and the Inclusion and Diversity thing, I have been in so many conversations as a white, straight male wandering around London, I don’t suffer a lot of inconvenience, but I’ve got to learn so much about this topic. Looking back, there are things that I would have liked spelt out to me earlier on, maybe.
Tash Thomas 2:16
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, we do see the pride flag, the rainbow flags everywhere around this time of year, and pride itself you quite often see the logo, the first Pride was a riot. It originated in New York, in 1969, and there was, there still is a bar there called the Stonewall Inn and on the 28th of June 1969, there was a riot started, so, police entered the bar, and obviously this was known as sort of a safe space for lesbian and gay people in Greenwich Village, and the police came in and raided it. And obviously what you have to appreciate at this time is there were a lot of people in the Stonewall Inn at that time who probably weren’t publicly out, but they went to this safe space. And at this point it was kind of, this has happened multiple times before, at this particular time it was enough is enough, and a riot started, led by the infamous Marsha P. Johnson, who is a black transgender woman and Sylvia Rivera who was also a best friend of hers.
There is a lot of different contracts about who threw the first brick but essentially a brick was thrown and that started three days of rioting and protests. So, within the Greenwich religion, and that part of Manhattan. And it’s important to note that this wasn’t necessarily lots of LGBTQ people putting violence and such, it was more of that sense of protests and a standing up for our rights as people and wanting to be seen and understood and acknowledge that a lot of the hardships and discrimination that people were facing at that time. And that was essentially the first Pride Parade.
And over the years it’s become, and it’s morphed into the pride that we know now, which is, lots of flags and lots of amazing costumes and the parade in Brighton and in London, and in some ways it’s lost that sense of protest to it and I think the first time we really saw that resurrected was last year during COVID. The whole world is in lockdown, so we weren’t able to have the standard parties and the parades. And it caused people to go back to what is pride about? Why do we celebrate Pride? And where does it come from? And so, last year definitely was a real push to its original reasoning for coming about and we’re trying to continue that this year because some prides are happening in person, but a lot is still being held online. And so, we’re definitely still keeping that energy of the protest.
Bernie J Mitchel 5:09
How can people make coworking and shared workspaces inclusive without being a bit weird about it?
Tash Thomas 5:29
Yeah, I think that one of the big things is, and this is the frustration, I guess, within the LGBTQ community during pride month is that it becomes like a social media trend to have the rainbow flag, and to not really appreciate the story behind it and the reasonings why. And a lot of brands and places will maybe have that representation specifically during pride month, but it’s not visible within their industry or on that brand, the rest of the year. And I would say the same back to coworking spaces, it’s really important that yes, Pride Month is this key celebration in the same way that we have Women’s History Month, or LGBT, or Black History Month, right, but you want to show that you are an ally 365 days of the year, not just specifically over June, and I think that that’s a big thing to begin with. In terms of creating that space within your coworking space, I use this example quite often, just having a rainbow flag on the door or on the bulletin board, just to show that this is a space that LGBTQ plus people are welcome in any of their identities, we don’t tolerate any form of discrimination here, can be a really key thing. Myself and my fiancé when we are looking for a pub to go to in an area that we don’t know very well, if we see a rainbow flag on the door, it can be a tiny sticker in the window but that’s enough for us to say, oh, do you want to go there, because we know that we can be ourselves in that space, especially in an environment that’s not familiar to us.
Bernie J Mitchel 7:12
When I used to work in the hospitality industry, I would go and look at the back bar of a pub or a cocktail bar, and if I saw they had Canadian Club, I knew they knew what they were doing, whereas if they just had standard Smirnoff, I’d be like that’s not really as good as it is. So, you have to look for these little, tiny symbols, and it can mean so much. And I know there’s a big difference between Canadian Club and being inclusive, but those that were the signals and I think they worked really well.
Tash Thomas 7:49
Yeah, and it creates that sense of inclusion in terms of it being tokenistic. It’s only tokenistic if you don’t believe in those ideals. If you are just putting it out there because it’s something that everybody else is doing, you feel like you should be doing it. Well, then yes, that’s the wrong intention. But if your intention is, we want to make it clear that everybody’s welcome in our space, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, then what better way to do it than fly the flag, right? It’s the same way that you support a certain football team, and you’ll maybe have that flag in your car, or outside your house, or on your house window. It’s the exact same thing and it’s just a clear indicator to any LGBTQ person knowing that, okay, this space is accepting of me and that I am safe to be in that space.
Bernie J Mitchel 8:40
So, the other thing I wanted to ask you about what’s the word equality. Is equity or equality?
Tash Thomas 8:49
I love that you actually asked it in that way as well. They are used interchangeably, and they are two different terms, however, people are often confused about what they’re actually trying to say. So, equality would be that we are all given the exact same opportunity. If I’m trying to get from A to B, I’m given the exact same opportunities as the person next to me, we’re all given for instance, the exact same bike to get from A to B. It allows us to do that. However, equity is about taking into consideration, everybody’s individual needs. So, I’m five foot six, the person next to me could be six foot two, they’re going need a different bike to get from A to B, than me. So, equity is about really going one step further in acknowledging that we all have individual needs in order to achieve the same opportunity. So, it’s equity first which hopefully leads to equality.
Bernie J Mitchel 9:47
That’s great. And we were talking about, is it the Swell report that came out in the UK, a few weeks ago, that said racism doesn’t exist ?
Tash Thomas 10:04
This is the Race Report UK. Yeah, so there’s a lot of controversy over that. A lot of people feel like it’s invalidating their experience. So, that was used as a benchmark, and comparing this again with other countries and saying that compared to everyone else we’re not doing that bad. And obviously when you look at the UK based on laws and the Equality Act 2010, yes, we do technically have a limited amount of discrimination based on our laws and our policies and procedures to a certain extent, however people’s lived experience is very different, and that’s what that report didn’t take into consideration. I would say one good thing that came out of it was the advice to eliminate the use of the word Bane, which is black, Asian minority ethnic as a group term as it hides and makes a lot of very different identities invisible, and the challenge is that if you’re looking at a data set which actually isn’t a true representation of the results that you’re trying to collect. I’m pleased by that and it’s also a term that as somebody who is mixed race, I’ve never felt comfortable being described as bane, but it’s been a term that has been put on me versus one that I’ve selected myself. So yes, that’s probably the one good thing that’s come out of the Race Report.
Bernie J Mitchel 11:42
I really dislike that term, so every time I said it, I would say I’m sorry for using it and sometimes people be like, oh no, that’s what we should use, and I was quite surprised they said it was okay because I felt, even as a white person that where I’ve been given permission by the government to use that term I felt yucky saying it.
Tash Thomas 12:03
It comes from a research perspective so, when we’re doing things like the census, it comes from that and somehow it’s made its way into mainstream terminology. If we’re using it for purely research purposes, that’s where it should stay.
Bernie J Mitchel 12:28
So, my other question was can you define an ally, because that’s a term I’ve only really started to understand over the last year, and I hope I’m moving towards that space of being an ally in this environment.
Tash Thomas 12:49
I’m actually going to steal from a resource that I use regularly. There’s a book called Better Allies by Karen Caitlin, and actually she articulates up to seven different allies, and how that looks, but essentially if we group all of them together, I would say, the characteristics of an ally is, number one, you are a learner, you’re a scholar, you are open to hearing the experiences and the challenges of other people and understanding, that their experience is different to yours, and understanding the challenges that they face, and the privilege that you face yourself in that situation, and it’s continuing to learn. This is also without inserting yourself into the narrative, so, it’s not about hearing their experience and trying to best them by your additional challenge that you faced based on your identity, it’s actually just about taking the time to listen to that. It’s about amplifying and advocating for, so, understanding the privilege you have in a certain space, whether that’s within the work setting, and how you can use that to amplify and advocate for others.
So, you maybe understand the exclusive circle that you’re in as part of management, or part of the university you went to, the education that you have, and saying how can I use this privilege to reach out to people who maybe don’t have the same opportunities and offer up my platform as a platform for them. I would say the upstander element which is that you see wrongdoings and you speak out against them, and that’s regardless of the audience so, it’s not about seeing a discrimination against, say for instance the LGBTQ plus community and waiting for somebody there to then show and go to them and say you know I stuck up for you the other day. It’s actually just about seeing the wrongdoing and calling it out and querying it straight off. So, that would kind of be the, and this is where we also get in that upstander position, is where we also flit from just an ally to an active ally. So, you’re really taking action, and I think that’s the key thing to remember with allyship, entirely saying I don’t discriminate, and I support LGBTQ plus people, I support women in work and all these things is one thing, but what are your actions? What action are you taking to show that support? And that’s the key differentiator that’s really come to light over the past, I’d say 18 months. So, it’s all about being an active ally.
Bernie J Mitchel 15:25
Definitely. Building on that example, I feel with the Idea Project, unintentionally, I come across as like, well Tash, you should be doing this to help inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility as an angry neighbour feeling to it rather than being inclusive, because I get upset about things. And I feel that brings a negative energy into the whole thing. So, when we’re talking about this, how can we, and in the context of a coworking space, if we run around being infuriated evangelists, it will create the opposite effect of making people work it out. It is very awkward talking about this topic in some instances.
Tash Thomas 16:25
I think first and foremost it’s about understanding where everybody is on their journey, and that everybody is starting this journey and coming to it from a different place, a different perspective. So, some people feel very passionate about inclusion and diversity because of their lived experience, and they want to create an environment that’s different to maybe, what they previously experienced and ensure that there is no discrimination. Other people, like yourself realize and appreciate your own privilege and you’re saying how can I use my privilege to assist other people, and to create advocacy for varying different identities.
There are a lot of different sort of spaces in between that, so I think first and foremost when people are entering the Idea Project specifically that journey, I think it’s important that we acknowledge number one, that it takes courage to stand up and say, actually, I don’t really know much about this, and I’d really like to get some help and to ask for help, takes courage, and then to appreciate that their starting point may be different to yours, where you are right now, and acknowledging it. At some point, we were all in the dark about it, at some point we were all learners, we were all learner drivers before we were able to drive, and just appreciating that that’s where people are coming from and having empathy and compassion for that and saying we’re not expecting you to know all the answers straight away.
We’re not expecting you to have all the answers, even after you’ve cited this. What we’re hoping to do is to create a desire to want to learn more and to create the understanding that we all collectively have a responsibility and it’s literally that. There is a collective responsibility in order to create an inclusive atmosphere and an inclusive culture, anywhere. I say to organizations when I’m delivering training that the reason it’s so important that every single employee comes on this training is because in order for us to create that inclusive culture, we all have to understand our own responsibility and our own parts in this. And for everybody that responsibility is different based on their experience, their perspective, and also their ability in that sense. So, it’s about understanding everybody’s individuality within the diversity and inclusion journey.
Bernie J Mitchel 18:45
Beautiful. I feel better already after hearing that. Something I’d say shocks me is I am shocked at how the world, maybe I’m just the only white male that is oblivious, so if you’re listening and you go, of course, Bernie, where were you? Lucky you, but how differently the world occurs for people who aren’t like me, it’s scary. Certain calls I’ve turned up to in London, and the issue of race or equality and inclusion has come up and I said, well, I think it’s like this or why don’t we just all acknowledge that there’s like eight white people, two of which are women talking about coworking in a very ethnically diverse area of London, and everyone’s gone really odd and quiet. And I felt like I’ve offended everyone. I think we were talking about this somewhere. Tash, you said if I’d said that I would have been the angry mixed race or lesbian, whereas you’re just the white guy who’s pointing something out. Is that accurate?
Tash Thomas 20:12
Yeah, for sure. In most spaces and I think this is a challenge in terms of we all have our own reality, we all have our perspective of the world based on our own experience and the things that we’ve learned. So, if we’ve never experienced certain things, there is a certain sense of how are we supposed to know. However, that being said, we now have the internet, so we don’t live in a world where it’s impossible to know what’s going on in other countries, in other cities, and other people’s experience. There also has to be this desire and want to step outside of your reality and your comfort zone, and to be open to hearing other people’s perspectives, and to be prepared to have people not tell you that you’re wrong, but to have people sort of burst your bubble a little bit.
And I think what we see a lot of times is that people have a version of reality and when someone comes along and says that’s not my reality and actually, I have a very different experience in this industry or in this workspace, in this organization based on my identity. And for a lot of people that can be quite confronting to say, oh, well, I didn’t realize that. Even worse if that’s somebody who’s contributed to that sense of exclusion in its most extreme senses. So, it’s really challenging but it’s a discussion that comes up time and time again in workshops that I deliver where it’s not my fault that I was born in this part of England, to this family, with this ethnicity. It’s not your fault, and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s also having that awareness and that understanding that not everybody has had the privileged life that you’ve had and the experience that you’ve had.
I also don’t want to break this down into a race and ethnicity situation because we can flip this around. That’s one of the things that the Race Report highlighted, that a lot of our most challenging factors look at education, we look at socio-economic divides and especially here in the UK, there was a huge socioeconomic divide, which doesn’t see race necessarily all the time, so, we see a lot of the schools, a lot of the statistics showed that in the schools, the lowest education and lowest scores on white boys actually within the UK, so it’s understanding there are so many other elements and diversity and inclusion gets broken down into race and gender, and it is so much more than that. So, that’s what I really want people to think about when we think about diversity, it’s not just the diversity that you physically see, it’s deeper.
Bernie J Mitchel 23:04
That’s something that Kofi in urban MBA talks about a lot is that it’s about the poverty line, we are going to put a link in the show notes to Scott Galloway’s book, Post Corona. And while some of us have done amazingly well out of lockdown and COVID, there are a whole load of people that haven’t done very well. And in Post Corona, he points out that most of the jobs that pay over $100,000 a year can be done from a computer sitting in a desk. Whereas a lot of the jobs that are under $20,000 a year are all very in person manual things, people that lose those jobs are going to be really screwed. Maybe it’s just in the UK but I feel that sometimes things are made about race when really is about the economic situations people are in, and the government doesn’t really like to talk about the economic situation because they’re responsible for that.
Tash Thomas 24:08
I think that the education socio economic here in the UK plays a massive factor. And then there is the additional added element of race because stereotypically and systematically, it ends up impacting some very cool race demographics. When we look at the Windrush generation, when we go back in history we can see how that’s played a part, why we do have so much of the black population sitting below that poverty line here in the UK. But we have to also see the other contributors to that, and education and income are huge, is to how we’ve ended up with some of the systems that we’ve ended up with now, definitely. It’s not just that everyone’s trying to look for the silver bullet to fix diversity and inclusion, it’s not one thing, it’s multiple factors that impact it.
Bernie J Mitchel 25:01
But that’s one of the reasons we’re so enthusiastic about the Urban MBA because it helps young people from London know that they’re allowed to go to coworking spaces. And so, as they build their, their start-up or their freelance practice. We did an event, 2018 in London and a lot of young people in Hackney didn’t realize they were allowed in air quotes, to go into coworking spaces. “I thought that was for grownups doing proper things rather than doing the start-up things”. Which leads us to, on the 30th of June we’re doing an online event which is based around a report by the mayor of London’s office about workspaces in the high streets, and how when everyone’s gone more local, some people think it’s going to happen but it’s actually happening, you know here in Ilford, which is Zone Four of London.
I’m in a coworking space. The Council is going to open another coworking space here. So, people who traditionally commuted into town and are staying here doing their work, what happens is, and this was in the What if Everyone Could Walk to Work Report by Town Square which we’ll link in the show notes, is when people stay in their local communities more, the economy of that grows, crime goes down, people feel more connected, so, there’s a lot of heavily researched benefits to people not commuting other than the boring commute. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Tash Thomas 26:43
I think it’s a testament to the old way that we used to do things, that real village community feel. And whilst it’s amazing that we have this ability to connect, to travel, and to venture out of our little bubbles and I think that there definitely is need for it. There also as a huge benefit to that sense of community and it’s really challenging to get that in London. But everybody’s craving it. Everybody’s craving being able to actually connect with the people close to them and near them. I’ve lived in my apartment building for 10 years, and it’s only in the past five years I really got to know the girl that lived opposite of me for the past 10 years, and I only know a handful of people on this estate, which is crazy. If we were to maybe move this estate to Plymouth Devon where I grew up, for sure, I would know pretty much the entire estate, but there’s something about these bigger cities, especially where we don’t get that sense of community. And I think that having coworking spaces becoming the village hall as it were, and a bit of like a central nucleus of a community is a really powerful thing.
Bernie J Mitchel 27:56
I’m loving the way this part of the whole COVID pandemic is helping us reconnect with our local communities. So, that other event we’ve got OJ who has done so much research and work with local authorities about what we just talked about there. There’s Alice Fung, who is one of the original instigators of the Impact Hub, and also there’s Rebecca who I’ve known through lots of sharing economy events over the years and she created this thing called The Library of Things where people can swap and borrow stuff in the local area, so it’s around that kind of like access trumps ownership kind of feeling. And that project has grown steadily over the last eight years, so we’ll put a link in the show notes to join with that. Where can people find you online, Tash for your work with the assembly and also your other diversity and inclusion work?
Tash Thomas 28:50
You can find me first and foremost on LinkedIn Tash Thomas, you can read plenty of blogs around specifically LGBTQ rights, life, and challenges at breakingthedistance.com. You can also find me on Instagram as TashT.uk as well as my collective with my fiancé, Breaking the Distance is also on Instagram.
Bernie J Mitchel 29:12
And if you type Bernie J Mitchell into your new research and you’ll find me, which won’t be pretty, I promise you. For a much more constructive use of your time, go to coworkingassembly.eu and sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which is all the events and projects we’re doing. Thank you very much for your time and attention today. Be careful, it is a jungle out there, take care.
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