Taboo Talks: Why we still need to push for diversity in storytelling

When we challenged some of our speakers to tackle this, it became overwhelmingly apparent that this topic can still be so far beyond taboo if not presented with a full explanation and context that it required us to check ourselves and rethink the conversation as a whole. Diversity in speaker programming is STILL a problem in 2017, but some cannot seem to make movement with changing this. This is not a topic to create inclusiveness if it just becomes tokenism, but rather reiterating the recurrence that public intellectuals, specifically in the speaking industry, are not chosen based on their merits and their performances alone. If they were, there would be more diversity inherently in every event program and those labeled as a minority would be paid comparably for their expertise and work.

When you run through a schedule at a large conference or event, you'll most likely find a program that has a roster comprised mostly of white, male speakers, some of whom can be easily identifiable by name, but cannot relate to the audience as a whole. If the audience cannot see their problems, their hopes, their hard work, or themselves representative within the programming that was provided to them year after year, why would we expect them to return in the future? The continued need for diversity is the need to swallow a pill of do better. Because those people are already around you and their voices are still not represented.

It is hard to talk about diversifying things involving race or class or gender or sexual orientation or religion or anything else if we don't understand it. So who is better to talk about it and encourage it and work through it than those experiencing it? Please read below with an open mind from some of our speakers who share how we can combat this issue together.

Deesha Dyer {Former Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary, Obama Administration; Creative Event & Strategy Expert}:

"Being a black woman, I learned early the value of bringing in collective voices when implementing an idea or planning an event, because often it was my gender and race that were excluded from important conversations. When I became the Social Secretary for President and Mrs. Obama, I set out to always make sure we had them around the table when building the foundation of any program or event. It’s more than smart business, it’s just the right and natural thing to do. When we were thinking up the event for the final Obama Pride reception in June 2016, I worked closely with the President’s LGBTQ liaison on every step. But sadly as a society overall, we just aren’t there yet. Diversity has become a trend. The problem is that trends come and go. We throw the word around but often companies and organizations don't want to do the real work that comes with diversifying their executive or senior level team. If the leadership of your organization or event does not reflect your audience, consumers or customers, you have a serious problem. Diversity for diversity’s sake is a wasted effort. So when you go in to thinking of how to diversify your company or project, check your ego at the door and be ready to share space at the table. It's necessary and also the humane thing to do."

Amelia Rose Earhart {Around-the-world Pilot and President of Fly with Amelia Foundation}:

"In STEM fields, standout females are still unicorns. The media glorifies our accomplishments like a Ripley's Believe It Or Not! tale or prodigy teenage doctor, Doogie Houser. We often spend more time talking about what it's like to be a woman in STEM than we do talking about our expertise, specialty or contribution to our field. When hiring a female speaker, don't require that gender be the first thing that the audience remembers. Let her surprise you with her human experience and story. When choosing a speaker, try not to assume that the men you hire will inspire and educate everyone in the room, but the women will only inspire and educate the women, and maybe, possibly, on a rare chance a few of the open minded men. Try being a little more gender blind in programming. If your audience notes what they learned and how they felt at your event before they say, "the speaker was a woman," you've helped us all move a little closer toward being able to do our jobs and make your events memorable. Putting it in simple terms, when I fly an airplane, it doesn't know if a man or a woman is at the controls, but it absolutely knows the difference between a smooth touchdown and a crash landing. Let your audience remember the landing, rather than if their pilot was a man or a woman."

Luvvie Ajayi {New York Times Best-selling Author; Pop-Culture Critic}:

[Excerpted from an blog] "In the tech space and the conversation about all thinks geek and nerd and technology, Black women are MIA. We’re not included in it and it’s for multiple reasons. It’s because we don’t fit the mold of “tech” when folks think about it. It’s also because we don’t see ourselves as part of that community too. And what that means is that we’re left out of the growing field of startups and we’re not benefiting from any of the growth or the wealth that is coming from it. AND WE NEED TO BE."

We'd like to leave you with some parting words from Luvvie's book, I'm Judging You, because, well, we're judging you and we're here to help you create a well-rounded, diverse, merits-based choice and commitment to appropriately program your future events. Play some BINGO here at your next event or meeting in the meantime.

"If you have a microphone plugged into an amplifier, it is wrong for you not to sing. If you have been placed in a sphere of influence, I believe that it is wrong for you not to use it to better the world. If you do not feel like it is your duty to leave this place better than you found it, then you're taking everything around you for granted. Don't squander your social currency. Don't squander your wealth. And if some people stop supporting your work because you dared to do something about a shitty world, good riddance to bad things and assholes! Shirley Chisolm said 'Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.' Some of us are mad delinquent on this rent. We owe back pay, but that's okay. We just need to start now. We can start doing better any time we want."

Taboo Talks: President Trump - Where do we go from here?


As a reminder of this monthly series (we took a break in December), we invite our speakers to discuss their points of view and/or expertise on a taboo topic to offer up an opportunity for conversations on very much relevant, but avoided subjects. Although the subject matter at hand may be considered taboo for some, there are important messages and viewpoints to engage upon for future understanding and learning.

We opened up the opportunity for some to share not only observations and objections towards the new Presidency, but also tangible ways in which we may create more meaningful conversations about the aftermath of the election and the present state of the nation, including the backlash involving the first few weeks of this Trump administration. These people are teachers, fundraisers, technologists, doctors, and leaders. Their political affiliations should take a backseat to the understanding of their focus on supporting humanity. We've asked them to be outspoken after all, and that is what they've done.

Dr. Samantha Nutt {Founder of War Child USA}:

“A friend of mine - a successful business entrepreneur - once gave me what I thought to be the soundest advice on managing difficult, irrational people: there's no strategy for crazy. ‎I keep coming back to this in the wake of Trump's Presidency. He's already demonstrated that he will do and say (and tweet) just about anything, with a shameful disregard for the truth, and with a narcissism that should be career-ending rather than career-making. So what can anyone who believes in tolerance, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness and evidence-based decision making do? If there's an answer, it may be this: always do the opposite. When he cuts humanitarian aid to poor countries, refugees and those living with war (and he will), pick an international charity and donate as much as you can, as often as you can. When he dismisses, demeans and degrades women, minorities, immigrants and civil rights icons, celebrate them loudly and passionately. Support public media, and share articles and features by journalists who focus on substance, instead of hype. For every brick in his wall, tear one down.  Millions of acts of daily defiance. No strategy here, as my friend aptly pointed out, is guaranteed. But when confronting a bully, it helps to have a crowd of friends standing beside you.”

Natalia Petrzela {Professor of History and Author of Classroom Wars}:

"Very few people expected the outcome of this election, and because of that, it seems even fewer know how to move forward in its aftermath (and I include the full range of the political viewpoints in that claim). If social media defined this election in an unprecedented way, it's pretty clear that even if we were communicating more, it was largely an illusion that we were doing so beyond our own "echo chambers." Actually, the volume of content probably only served to solidify these barriers to productive communication even as it perpetuated the illusion that we were transcending them. But hindsight is 20-20, and there is no way to move but ahead, and we must do so on the level of our day to day interactions as well as in the demands we make of our political structures. What does that mean? Mostly, it means getting ready to invest a whole lot of energy in conserving, and I hope even improving, the quality of our lived experiences and the institutions that govern them. It means reaching out to like-minded people to organize, and to the not-so-like-minded to try to understand if not empathize with their positions. It means relentlessly pressuring those in power to live up to their roles as leaders of the free world and to empower us to participate meaningfully by modeling transparent, ethical, and civil behavior. Perhaps the fact that all these assumptions have been cast into doubt during these months is an opportunity for us, collectively, to reaffirm their importance to American life."

Michael Slaby {Former Chief Integration and Innovation Officer for the 2012 'Obama for America' Campaign}:

"To promote better priorities, we must take the next steps from media and attention and marching. More civic engagement is good. Building community and awareness is good, but these are our first steps. We have to talk to people who don’t agree with us. And we must be visible to our leaders, not just loud — show up at town halls, ask for meetings with staffers in your Congressional offices. Our leaders are people who live in bubbles of their own surrounded by donors, lobbyists, and other politicians. We must invade these spaces if we’re going to change their perspectives and priorities, and then be ready to do more than describe the water, we must work to actually shape their priorities and map paths forward. Come to the table with ideas and ready to help, not just oppose." [Excerpted from Medium piece]

Brooke Hauser {Author of The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens}:

"Not so long ago, I wrote about immigrant and refugee high school students in Brooklyn organizing their first-ever prom—a classic American rite of passage. Today, many of the amazing and inspiring students I got to know would be barred from entry to the United States. Like so many people, I am stunned and saddened by President Trump's immigration ban. I'm also determined to act. One of the most important questions we can ask our affected neighbors right now is also the simplest: "How can I help?" You can donate money to a refugee-resettlement agency such as the International Rescue Committee. You can also donate time by volunteering. If you are a college student, consider tutoring a local refugee student learning English. If you are a lawyer, consider providing legal assistance to someone who needs it. If you have or work with kids, turn these trying days into teachable moments. Read children's books about the refugee experience, make protest signs together, share your family's immigration story with others. If you don't live in a sanctuary city, be the sanctuary yourself."

Disclaimer for this particular topic: We are not (as a company) necessarily making a declaration of political affiliation, policy support, or the like, but rather hope to share and engage with our followers, friends, and speakers in meaningful dialogue about how we as a nation, and as a world, will move forward after a very divisive election. Let's open our minds to sharing more content and actionable steps to make the world a better place.


If you would like to contact your senator or representative, dial 202-224-3121 for the Capitol switchboard and ask to be connected to their office. Calling is the most powerful way to voice your approval or concern of those representing you. Speak up! Reach out!

Taboo Talks: Mental Health

In this monthly series, we invite our speakers to discuss their points of view and/or expertise on a taboo topic to offer up an opportunity for conversations on very much relevant, but avoided subjects. Although the subject matter at hand may be considered taboo for some, there are important messages and viewpoints to engage upon for future understanding and learning.

For our first Taboo Talk, we asked a selection of speakers for their diverse insights into an, otherwise, avoided topic to which we can all relate—Men's Mental Health.

Adam Garone {Co-founder of Movember}:

“When it comes to the big issues in life, too often men don’t talk about what’s going, they bottle things up, put on a mask and tough it out in isolation. This is having a tragic impact on the mental health of our society and the rates of suicide. As men, we need to have the courage to talk with our friends about the big stuff. We also need to listen very carefully because if you pay close attention, you might hear a voice or two that needs to be listened to very, very closely. Someone might need your help.”

Amy Jo Martin {Social media expert, studying the correlation between serotonin deficiencies and technology effects on human behavior}:

"When it comes to social media, we are currently in the middle of the largest social experiment imaginable. More and more, our society is encouraging and celebrating people sharing their highlight reels on social media versus expressing who they are in real life. This highlight reel versus real life phenomenon impacts our mental health greatly. There's a large emphasis around the pressure women feel due to the unrealistic expectations that social media encourages but we often forget that men are just as equally impacted."

Kenny Zimlinghaus {Comedian}

"Our mental health, as men, shouldn't be something we ignore and push away. It's a part of us and should be let in and discussed. The dark days I've had have made me who I am. Or at the very least, they helped me see who I was all along. And yeah, I cry at movies. I cry at books. I've cried at spray paint. I cry chopping onions then run to my family and pretend I'm crying about spray paint. As a guy, I've learned to let crying happen. It still doesn't change the fact that if you cut me off while driving, I'll want to bust your windshield and wrap it around your neck like a scarf."

Ned Hallowell {Child/adult psychiatrist and learning differences expert}

"Friendship is life's natural antidote to the pain that all life contains. And you want to teach children this lesson early on, that connection, which is what friendship is all about, is this free, abundant solvent that takes away the pain. And not only takes away the pain, provides the joy. So it is in connection that you solve your problems, but also that you celebrate what's good. Show them this, because the beauty of it is it's free, it's infinite in supply and you just need to teach them to get in the habit of connecting. When they're sad, when they're happy, whenever. Yates had a great line, 'Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was, I had such friends.'" [excerpted from video]

Check out Adam Garone's LinkedIn piece on this hidden health crisis and consider how you may help tackle this important issue for those men in your professional and personal life.

Go to for more information on how to start potentially life-saving conversations and to find 24-hour crisis support if you need it.