Recently I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. I’ve gone from working with a very diverse group of colleagues in an environment synonymous with diversity (because it just was); to a world that looks and acts very differently.
I knew this going in. My role is attempting to change this very landscape and I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my experience and passions to the table in doing so, but it’s taken me some time to realise what this will actually mean in terms of working relationships.
I can’t hope to create change without challenging the sector as it is today (I’ve just realised that all the letters for change are in challenge… coincidence?) If you told me this in one of my bolshy, confident moments I’d say “No problem, I’m used to airing my opinion whether it’s agreed with or not!” That’s true; since I was a child I was never afraid to share my opinion whether it was a favourable view or not, but I am coming to realise that being the person going against the tide in an organisation and at work can be a different thing entirely.
I should say I am incredibly lucky that my immediate team, including the most senior staff and board are on board with this movement; they instigated it after all and they’re completely open to what this means internally as well as externally. The big challenge for me though, will come when I feel I have to raise something that hasn’t yet been considered or questioned.
My first taste of challenging organisationally came last week when my view of a particular piece of theatre was very different to others. Whilst I could see the points other people were making I just couldn’t bring myself to be comfortable with the piece or these views. Something just felt fundamentally wrong to me, but how could I possibly know?
I’m completely new to theatre (I don’t even think I’d seen a professional play before…shhh!), I have less years experience in the arts than anyone I was speaking to, and I’m not exactly Oxford educated. Who am I to question the views and opinions of all these highly qualified people who are genuinely great at what they do?
About a few minutes in to these crippling ‘imposter syndrome’ thoughts entering my head the answer came to me. I’m Tara. I’m the least experienced in some ways but in this instance and in this group I’m the most experienced to be giving this alternate view. Why? Because I’m on the outside looking in. Because I spend 99.9% of my time questioning myself as well as the world around me. Because I’ve been having conversations about diversity, inclusion and representation for as long as I can remember (I should say a lot were in my head and something like; “why do I always have to be Scary Spice?’’)
This may sound like it was a simple, easy transition but actually it was revolutionary for me and it was hard. It was hard to be in conversation with ‘more experienced’ professionals who know one another and are all in agreement and then feel like the new person entering the room with a completely different view.
We spend so much of our childhood and adulthood conforming or compromising in order to please people, make friends and have an easier life (and be invited to parties to dress as Scary Spice). Right now though, in this context, conforming won’t be helpful for me or for the sector.
Instead of conforming or compromising I need to listen to my gut. Hear what it’s saying and then check in with myself to ask “why do I feel like that?” If it seems genuine and not an unreasonable result of my own biases then it’s time to go and evidence it. That way I can come back with a clear and concise argument for why I’m challenging it.
I believe the key to adopting this process will be confidence and time. The confidence in myself to say “I need to go think about this and come back to you.” The time to be truly reflective using both my own experiences and knowledge and that of experts in the area.
So whilst it’s great to be the one challenging and bringing a different perspective; it’s important to recognise the impact this can have. For me as I enter this new role, it’s going to feel uncomfortable. At times it will feel like I’m the only one in the world who thinks that way, and let’s be honest I’m probably not going to be people’s favourite person to have around!
But with all that in mind I won’t feel pressured in to making a decision quicker or changing my mind to make things easier or more comfortable for others. I just hope that at the end of it I can say that taking this uncomfortable route has had a real impact or at the very least changed some people’s thinking to be more inclusive.
So, three things to remember:
- Be honest enough to question yourself and the world around you.
- Listen to your gut.
- Be brave enough to follow it through.
Any other advice… I’m all ears 🙂
Featured image: Stepping in to a new realm in an exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull