Celebrating Pride at Vortexa: Q&A with Tony McCaffery – Founder & Managing Director of Diversity Co
In celebration of Pride month, Vortexa invited special guest Tony McCaffery, Founder and Managing Director of Diversity Co; the home of equity, diversity and inclusion consultancies to share his own experiences as a queer and mixed-race person of colour living with disabilities. We asked Tony to further educate us on the subject of intersectionality and most importantly, to articulate how best we can actively support LGBTQIA+ communities.
With June in full swing and Pride celebrations taking place all over the world, here at Vortexa we wanted to take this time to learn more about the history, meaning and importance of Pride, and to champion the progress being made in creating a more inclusive and equitable world for all.
To enrich our own understanding of how Pride month originated and to delve deeper into the cornerstone topics underpinning the celebrations, we invited Tony McCaffery, Founder and Managing Director of Diversity Co; the home of equity, diversity and inclusion consultancies to share his own experiences as a queer and mixed-race person of colour living with disabilities.
We asked Tony to further educate us on the subject of intersectionality and most importantly, to articulate how best we can actively support LGBTQIA+ communities.
Could you start by telling us about you and your journey?
I had a complicated family set-up and disadvantaged childhood which featured a spell in foster care and a couple of periods of rough-sleeping homelessness. As I entered my teenage years I began to face racist and homophobic bullying; both of which left a lasting impression.
So, it was with an enormous dose of good fortune that at 16 years old I embarked on a youth training scheme in ‘Personnel’ and that was the start of a long career in People and Talent.
Like most, if not all people, I was influenced heavily by my early years. The lessons that I learned and the experiences I gained shaped the way I approached my work in Human Resources (HR), Learning and Development (L&D) and Recruitment.
Perhaps without realising, I placed a real emphasis on equal opportunities, equity, and inclusion. The older I became and the further I climbed the career ladder, I realised that I wanted to specialise in this area. After 25 years in my profession I decided to launch my own equity, diversity, and inclusion consultancy business; Diversity Co.
We’ve been operating and growing for almost 3 years now and whilst the work is challenging, I am 100% sure that I’m doing what I’m meant to be.
A great deal of your work pivots around intersectionality, could you expand on this? Why is this such an important subject to discuss?
Whenever the concept of intersectionality comes up, my mind immediately jumps to the famous quote by Audre Lord:
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Intersectionality is a framework for understanding the complex way that the many aspects of people’s identities overlap, including their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and class etc. The term was coined in 1989 by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and has gradually become an accepted and understood term since. Intersectionality means that a person’s various identities don’t live in separate vacuums; rather, people exist at the intersections of their identities.
Whilst intersectionality is often used in relation to feminism i.e., intersectional feminism, we must acknowledge that while all women face oppression, all women are not equally oppressed, and not all women face the same challenges.
”…As new generations of people enter the workplace, we’re seeing an expectation of greater openness and equality. The business benefits of diversity and inclusion are now well known, and this is helping organisations to develop inclusive leadership.”
Some women face more serious harm and injustices because of how their other identities intersect with their womanhood. For example, black women face challenges that are a result of both their gender and their race. These challenges are not just additive (gender discrimination plus race discrimination); they actually compound each other (gender discrimination made worse by race discrimination, and race discrimination made worse by gender discrimination) and produce unique forms of inequality that only people at this intersection experience.
Because of this compounding effect, it’s so important to recognise and understand. I am a queer man of mixed-ethnic heritage with disabilities, and I have experienced those compounding effects.
Tony McCaffery, Founder & Managing Director, Diversity Co.
What can we do as individuals and as organisations to better support people in these communities?
Perhaps the most important thing is recognising that advocating for equality means advocating for those who are most oppressed.
For example, advocates for women’s rights can’t ignore the fact that all women aren’t equal now. We can’t advocate for the equality of all women and expect the discrepancies within the experience of women to be made up in the process.
We must choose to advocate for the most marginalised people and see the shift come from that place. Today in 2021, that means prioritising the needs of black women and, among those black women, specifically the black trans women who are victims of a vastly disproportionate amount of violence in society.
”Intersectionality means that a person’s various identities don’t live in separate vacuums; rather, people exist at the intersections of their identities.”
It’s crucial not to take a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to your diversity programme e.g., looking at your pay gap under the binary lens of male/female is verging on performative if it doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of those people illustrated on a dataset.
Fostering an inclusive environment where people can be their authentic selves is the key. This will help create an openness that provides the insight needed to make changes that will help everyone to feel a sense of belonging.
What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges LGBTQIA+ individuals are experiencing right now?
In my opinion, the biggest challenges relate to a lack of awareness and understanding. Education is needed to lift the lid on the lived experiences of people within the LGBTQ+ communities.
We need to be cognisant again of not applying that one-size-fits-all approach. The challenges faced by a cisgendered university-educated white gay man who has no disabilities and came from a middle-class family will undoubtedly be different to the challenges faced by a non-binary person from Pakistan.
There are common themes though when it comes to the obstacles faced by people in the LGBTQ+ communities; discrimination, hate crimes, addiction, mental health, homelessness and access barriers to services and opportunities.
What positive changes have you seen throughout workspaces and society in recent years?
As new generations of people enter the workplace, we’re seeing an expectation of greater openness and equality. The business benefits of diversity and inclusion are now well known, and this is helping organisations to develop inclusive leadership.
The growth of Employee Resource Groups / Colleague Networks has also undoubtedly been a positive step. By providing a safe space for employees to share experiences and influence change we’re seeing greater workplace satisfaction which is resulting in more innovation and higher profitability.
Additional educational LGBTQIA+ resources
Vortexa is a proudly vocal champion of Pride month and endeavours to be part of the global movement striving towards supporting and magnifying the voices of people within the LGBTQIA+ community and the critical issues they face.
To further explore how best to strengthen your own understanding of the problematic complexities faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals and to learn how you can inspire progress and awareness within your own workplace, you can visit these additional resources.
- Diversity Co; Equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy
- Podcast: LGBT issues in the workplace
- Best practices, toolkits and resources for building LGBT inclusive policies https://www.stonewall.org.uk/best-practice-toolkits-and-resources
Useful LGBT educational tools for employers, employees, teachers, students and parents