What diversity means to me
Interview with Anne-Laure Le Cunff, #Diversity30 (online magazine) & Ness Labs
Shepherded from place-to-place by the medical-academic careers of his parents (as far west as Michigan, east as Singapore), Faiz spent his teens in Scotland before pursuing liberal arts at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, by way of St. Andrews, earning a degree in Cultural Studies with Chemistry and Maths on the side. He earned his Graduate degree in Chinese from the University of Edinburgh and Nankai University in Tianjin, picking up the Mandarin dialect in under nine months, for a total of twelve working languages.
Inspired by concept album artwork and single-use landing pages during the early ‘00s, Faiz would tinker with code and graphics, building and maintaining databases for private hospitals, guest packets for corporate conferences and publicity for local businesses both online and off. This hobby only grew in university with his role in publicity, and the presidency, of the local chapter of People & Planet, founding a small French language school, building a regional Writer’s guild and magazine and negotiating gallery space and marketing for emerging artists.
In 2014, he improvised his commercial commitments into Creation + Practice Group, a loose structure for supplying remote Graphic, Product, Service & Experience Design capacity to agencies, and consulting with Start-ups to refine their Commercial Strategy, Proposition and Business Models. He has served the gamut of enterprises from Google, UBS and Crédit Suisse to non-profits, local restaurants and art spaces including Massey Klein and Mimosa House.
Faiz aims build a Venture Studio, what he calls ‘an agency without clients’ for impactful businesses with sustainable, circular economic models in the next couple of years. He currently resides in London, with work over ten timezones.
What does ‘diversity’ mean to you?
Diversity is polyphony; bringing disparate deliberation, background and individual makeup and to meet, define and influence business decisions to a deep level.
From a cultural point of view, diversity mitigates the excess of one exprerience or perspective as a determinant over all others.
Why do you care about diversity?
I employ the Cultural Studies mindset here: ’do we have the right to do something?’, ‘what is the significance of our actions?, ‘who benefits and who is marginalised?’, ‘what are the inherent contradictions in an institution or structure that have installed legacy biases for the long-term?’.
Diversity is one of those concepts that still has currency for the very reason that we haven’t truly reformed the frameworks by which we hire, privilege, promote and internally select our teams. It starts negative years into a person’s life, it is significant at every qualification milestone, and every point of network referral.
I occasionally become complacent about diversity; partly because I, as a minority, have a deliberately diverse circle of friends and acquaintances, attuned to the precepts of intersectional feminism and resilient to the gamut of experiences endured across the shuffled alphabet. We joke about how we are deliberately confronted and coaxed into photo-ops at corporate events, how we get more than the once-over treatment at the border and how we might have to overdress in ‘Sunday Best’ for the most vague professional event.
We can’t afford to be complacent. One need only look to recent fallout: the salience of the viral “Anti-diversity Manifesto” at Google Headquarters, toxic masculinity of Uber under the reign of Kalanick and #metoo as thermometers of a widespread antibody reaction to institutions that have failed to adapt to what diversity truly is: substance not façade.
This occurs by design. I take the counterexample that I’m particularly fond of: China Residencies (Link: http://chinaresidencies.com) — funding-matching for foreign artists to Arts residencies in China. They invested heavily in their vetting process to make sure quieter voices were heard. They deliberately excluded people who could participate without the funding, they made all materials accessible and easy to read for second- or third-language English speakers with a low barrier to entry and a pay-what-you-want model.
It’s not that hard to make similar incursions into legacy structures.
How can we build more inclusive communities?
I think we can challenge exclusivity through transparency; e.g. expending effort recruiting and advertising to reach people you wouldn’t necessarily pique the interest of with a single tweet; making sure that events build security and comfort beyond the staples of beer and pizza, and developing channels that allow for mentoring, and for the informal, intimate, individual-level conversations to happen with more calculus.
What is your advice to a young person starting their career or entrepreneurial journey?
- Build yourself in two directions: your skills and your interdependence on others.
- Invest in self-care, whatever that means for you, make it a ritual part of everyday.
- Don’t take work personally, it’s never about you.
- Deep work on your Portfolio (both moulting and reinvention) is a exercise in self-discovery.
- Burnout is real. There’s a fine line between working hard and straining yourself.
- Learn the languages of several industries: it’s an incredible learning experience, it makes you indispensable as a translator and in an ideal position to influence decisions.
- Say no at the first sign of trouble. Remember that like-attracts-like, if you take on work that doesn’t align to your values, you are likely to incur more of those encounters.