My name is Lwando Scott, and I am a Diversity and Inclusivity Consultant. I became involved in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity work when I was studying my first postgraduate degree – an Honours in Diversity Studies at the University of Cape Town. I had already explored topic of diversity in my undergraduate studies as well as in my personal capacity, but it was during my Honours year that I really started to engage with theories of diversity and practice diversity work.
I studied a Master’s degree in Social Responsibility at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. During that time, I was heavily involved in social justice efforts that promoted Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity in the students’ residence halls, in the classroom, and within the university community at large. Back in South Africa, I registered for a PhD in Sociology at the University of Cape Town, and my research work focuses on same-sex marriage in South Africa.
I taught Diversity Literacy at the University of Cape Town; those classes were informed by societal ideas about power, privilege, and diversity, and, most importantly, focused on how social equality can be achieved. Diversity Literacy was a term promoted by Prof. Melissa Steyn, a professor of Diversity Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, who wrote the seminal text on whiteness in South Africa titled “Whiteness just isn’t what it used to be: Changing white identity in South Africa.”
While my expertise in the field has strong theoretical underpinnings, I have also gained extensive practical experience that enables me to address complex everyday diversity challenges in various institutional settings.
I conducted diversity training for Resident Assistants at St. Cloud State University. I trained Resident Assistants and equipped them with the skills needed to handle various sensitive issues affecting different student populations living in the residence halls.
I volunteered and subsequently worked at the Minnesota Aids Project in Minneapolis as a Community Educator. I was tasked with educating chemical health practitioners about the intersection of HIV/Aids and chemical health. Chemical health and HIV/Aids are both loaded issues surrounded by taboo and controversy, and I experienced significant growth as a facilitator through that work. I developed the skills to discuss complex issues in a way that is not alienating to those who are sceptical of diversity or specific topics in diversity, while still challenging stereotypes, prejudice, and most of all misinformation.
I gained further experience in diversity training and facilitation at the University of Cape Town, as an Assistant Lecturer for Diversity Literacy, a course in the Sociology department which was open to all senior students. The course encouraged dialogue in tackling issues concerning race, class, gender, sexuality, physical ability, and other similar issues. My role was to encourage discussion, drive engagement, and ensure that diversity learning was achieved. The diversity of the students in the class meant heated arguments and disagreements about many social issues, which were evidently enriching experiences; students in every semester talked about needing more spaces at the university and in their personal lives where diversity conversations are encouraged.
While I work in all areas of diversity training and consultation, focusing on issues such as race and racism, gender equality, disability equality, and cultural responsiveness, I specialise in LGBTI and queer inclusivity. My research has focused on LGBTI and queer issues throughout my academic career; my work has endeavoured to advance queer inclusivity in South Africa as part of a more just and democratic society, playing my role in realising an even bigger ideal of the African Renaissance. I believe that if we truly desire what Nelson Mandela called an “Africa that is truly at peace with herself”, we must carefully consider the question of differenceand how it continues to negatively shape people’s lives on the African continent.
More information on my past work experience, teaching experience, and publications can be found in my curriculum vitae. Lwando Scott CV.
Guest Lecturing and Speaking Engagements
I have experience in teaching about difference to different audience from different parts of the world. I have taught Diversity Literacy at the University of Cape Town. I have been part of many panel discussions on gender and sexuality in different parts of South Africa. These engagements have included speaking at Rhodes University and recently at the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. I have worked with SHAWCO at the University of Cape Town teaching a diversity-oriented class to students from the College of William and Mary from the United States and students from City University of Hong Kong from Hong King.H
How I work
Research and Planning
Different organisations each have their own culture, needs, and priorities; it is therefore imperative that I meet with the client before any training or facilitation takes place, and get a good sense of the organisation. Through this initial assessment I evaluate the organisation’s wishes and advise the best way to go about the training to achieve optimal results. Diversity trainings must have outcomes goals around which the training is designed, and the planning is always done in consultation with the client. This process enables me to plan and execute a programme that is best suited to the particular organisation.
The Facilitation Process
The subject matter of diversity interventions is often closely tied to people’s lives. Conversations about race, class, gender, sexuality, physical ability, ethnic identity, and many other axes of differences are lived experiences many of us can draw from. While lived experiences are important and shouldn’t be neglected, it is imperative that we educate ourselves to have a framework to talk about our lived experiences and to understand how social structures affect our everyday lives. What further complicates diversity work is that these concepts themselves and the meanings attached to them are ever shifting, and we must keep abreast of new developments in how we think about these issues. Education is vital in this regard.
Engagement is at the heart of diversity trainings and interventions. An effective training session is one where people are present and engage with difficult topics as they strive to grow and improve, in order to maximise the potential of the organisation and its people. Rather than singing “Kumbaya” and chanting “why don’t we all just get along” clichés, engagement is about grappling with difficult-to-talk-about topics in an honest and rigorous manner. The results of profound engagement in diversity training are personal and professional growth which in turn contribute to the growth of the organisation.
Reflection is important, as it allows space for looking back from the vantage point of the present with the hope of making projections about the future. In other words, reflection is not only about looking back, but also purposely reflecting on why and how things can be better in the future. South Africa’s recent history of apartheid and colonisation makes reflecting back on the past difficult, but it is a necessary process if are we to understand equality, diversity, and inclusivity. Equally important is the ability to reflect not only on structures like apartheid and its legacies, but also on personal journeys in the organisations we work for, the families we belong to, and the social associations we have cultivated. This is an ongoing process that should continue in the organisation also after the diversity intervention.
The Way Forward
My training process is designed to equip organisational members with the knowledge and tools to better handle diversity issues, strengthen their resolve in creating a more equal and therefore sustainable communities, and to advance inclusivity in our society. The final step in diversity interventions is charting a way forward following the education, engagement in difficult conversations, and reflection. Our work is not done at the end of the training sessions; we now need to think about practical ways to instil and live principles of equality, diversity, and inclusivity across the organisation. During this phase of the intervention process we take the learnings, insights and reflections from the training sessions and implement them in the daily life of the organisation, to maximise the organisation’s skills, uplift morale, and create a healthy and sustainable organisational environment.
What informs my Diversity Interventions?
My academic career focuses on issues of difference and diversity. I have spent more than ten years researching how difference operates: Why do people fear difference – is it really difference they fear or is it something else? Why does racism persist in South Africa? Why is gender equality so elusive? Why does the discrimination of LGBTI people remain prevalent? And why do the South African society and institutions seem so resistant to transformation? Posing these questions aims at getting a better understanding of the complex ways in which race, class, gender, sexuality, and other factors impact individuals and the internal culture of institutions. I work with individuals and institutions to help them understand these dynamics and empower them to come to grips with and deal with the difficulties that various forms of difference pose to the effective functioning of the organisation. To that end, my training programmes are firmly rooted in the South African context, as diversity issues that arise in South Africa play out differently than in democracies in the Global North. My diversity interventions are designed to build a conscious, empathetic, and social justice-oriented society. Of the many texts that have shaped my approach, I highlight a few of the theories that inform my diversity interventions.
Privilege, Power, and Difference
Allan Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference(2001) is a powerful resource that has helped shape how we think about diversity interventions. I draw from three important aspects of Johnson’s work that I think are helpful to thinking about diversity teachings, interventions, and practices. Johnson’s work demands that we are critical in how we approach issues of inequality and oppression. The approach is designed to yield understanding and empathy and avoids getting bogged down by shame and despondency.
Firstly, Johnson argues for an unmasking of “power” and “privilege.” He argues that power and privilege need to become topics of conversations that all people are engaged in, whether they are privileged or underprivileged, whether they are powerful in society or feel oppressed by it. It is in the silence over the operations of power and privilege that we struggle to deal with issues of diversity and inclusivity, because these issues are interrelated. We cannot talk about the one without referring to the other. Johnson argues:
“The trouble around difference is really about privilege and power – the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going. The trouble is rooted in a legacy we all inherited, and while we’re here, it belongs to us. It isn’t our fault. It wasn’t caused by something we did or didn’t do. But now that it’s ours, it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to deal with it before we collectively pass it along to the generations that will follow.
Talking about power and privilege isn’t easy, which is why people rarely do. The reason for this omission seems to be a great fear for anything that might make whites or males or heterosexuals uncomfortable or ‘pit groups against one another,’ even though groups are already pitted against one another by the structures of privilege that organize society as a whole. The fear keeps people from looking at what’s going on and makes it impossible to do anything about the reality that lies deeper down, so that they can move toward the kind of world that would be better for everyone.” – Allan Johnson (2001)
While Johnson was referring to the North American context, he could have easily been talking about South Africa. For the most part, South Africans are unable to have productive conversations about power and privilege – the cornerstones of inequality. This inability is crippling, and angers people who then lash out instead of listening to one another and finding lasting social justice solutions. Importantly, Johnson points out that none of us living today made the world the way it is, but while we are living in the world, we are responsible for it. While we did not single-handedly cause inequality in South Africa, we are responsible for it, particularly if we benefit from it and possibly even sustain it as it’s in our interests. None of us can escape from being implicated.
Secondly, Johnson argues that it’s not difference itself that’s the problem, but the meaning we attach to it. Johnson gives the example of a child, who is vulnerable in the world yet is inclined to gravitate towards the unknown. It is often the parents who remove the child from potentially “dangerous” or unknown situations. This suggests that being afraid of differences is not our natural predisposition; rather, we learn through socialisation what we should be afraid of and what to embrace. Johnson argues:
“Ignoring privilege keeps us in a state of unreality, by promoting the illusion that difference by itself is the problem. …
Human beings have been overcoming divides for thousands of years as a matter of routine. The real illusion connected to difference is the popular assumption that people are naturally afraid of what they don’t know or understand. This supposedly makes it inevitable that you’ll fear and distrust people who aren’t like you and, in spite of your good intentions, you’ll find it all but impossible to get along with them.
For all its popularity, the idea that everyone is naturally frightened by difference is a cultural myth that, more than anything, justifies keeping outsiders on the outside and treating them badly if they happen to get in. The mere fact that someone is new or strange isn’t enough to make us afraid of it. …
Even children – probably the most vulnerable form that people come in – seem to love the unknown, which is why parents are always worrying about what their toddler has gotten into now. … There is nothing inherently frightening about what we don’t know. If we feel afraid, it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know.” – Allan Johnson (2001)
What Johnson highlights here is the social construction of the meanings of our differences. This is important to consider in diversity training, because it’s crucial for people to understand that there are many realities, and that how we see the world is a product of our culture and upbringing. Once we have a good understanding of how we are shaped by our cultures, our families, and the language we speak, we are well on our way to appreciating what it is that makes us different and how we can manage it.
Lastly, another important point Johnson makes is about the responsibility of those who have power and privilege. While power and privilege might be inherited through birth or social standing, those who inherit them are nonetheless still accountable. They have to account for their power and privilege that continue to benefit them while disadvantaging others. Johnson argues:
“It is tempting for whites, for men, and for heterosexuals to suppose that they could be raised in a racist, sexist, and heterosexist society and participate in it day after day without being touched by it on a personal level. But it’s a dream that, for everyone else, is a nightmare of denial. There is no way for a member of a dominant group to escape that kind of immersion unscathed. Nobody is the exception who miraculously doesn’t internalize any of the negative ideas, attitudes, or images that pour in a steady stream from the surrounding culture and make the trouble around privilege happen as it does. …
This doesn’t mean that white people are consciously racist or that men are intentionally sexist, or that heterosexuals are overtly heterosexist. But it does mean that there isn’t a single white person or man or heterosexual who doesn’t have these issues to deal with inside and in relation to the world around them. This is their legacy. It was handed to them when they were children with no sense of what was wise and good to take into themselves and what was not. And so they accept it, uncritically, unknowingly, even innocently, but they accept it they did. It wasn’t their fault. They have no reason to feel guilty about it, because they didn’t do anything. But now it is there for them to deal with, just as it’s there for women, people of colour, lesbians and gay men who also didn’t do anything to deserve the oppression that so profoundly shapes their lives.” – Allan Johnson (2001)
As people who live in this world, we share the responsibility of creating a just world. We share the responsibility of creating a world which is fair to all who live in it. Throughout history, the burden of changing the world has unfortunately rested on the oppressed, as they are the ones who bear the brunt of unequal regimes and social structures. Johnson calls on everybody, particularly those who are beneficiaries of the said inequality, to be part of the solution. Diversity interventions are but one of many strategies we should implement to remedy social problems. The understanding that people are different, and that those differences shouldn’t place one human above another, is only the beginning of moving towards a more just society.
The philosophy and theoretical tool of intersectionality have shaped social justice-oriented feminist thought since it was introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw. My approach to diversity interventions is informed by intersectionality as a way of analysis – a way of seeing and understanding the world. Intersectionality is the understanding that the ways we experience the world – including the ways in which we are liberated or oppressed – depend on who we are and how the world sees us and treats us. Intersectionality is an integral part of my diversity interventions, which directly address the South African context – our history, how our different identities intersect, and the complexities brought on by our location within these intersections. The South African context demands serious engagement with intersectionality, since race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, language, ethnic background, religion, nationality, and place of birth all intersect in complex ways and determine people’s position in society. The intersection of these identities affects how people navigate in South African society through what Collins (1990) once termed “interlocking systems of oppression”.
While seemingly abstract, interlocking systems of oppressions are real everyday experiences for the majority of South Africans. I will use the example of black and white lesbian experiences to demonstrate these interlocking systems of oppression and how intersectionality helps us to better understand how people’s position in society is created by their identities. While all lesbians in South Africa suffer from discrimination based on their identities as women and lesbians, the lesbian category includes women from different socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and all these differences intersect to create a particular experience. Poor black lesbians living in peri-urban areas have a radically different experience to that of middle-class white lesbians living in the suburbs of South Africa’s metropolitan areas. These differences in experience are important, and it is through engaging with these differences and understanding them that we get closer to understanding people’s vast and complex realities.
The South African Context
The past is always with us. The legacy of colonialism and apartheid and their social structures remain with us, both physically and psychologically. Engaging with our difficult history is crucial for diversity work. It enables us to understand why diversity training is necessary in our context. Furthermore, historicising oppression enables us to understand that diversity work is not limited to the workplace (which is often how people view diversity training); understand that diversity interventions provide people the tools to succeed in everyday life in the 21stcentury. The world has become much more dynamic, with people from different parts of the world and different cultures living in close proximity and having to work together to ensure not only survival but thriving together. In this context, understanding diversity becomes imperative. In the aftermath of World War II we see differences as something to be embraced, to work with and use to enhance our lives. I believe that diversity interventions are ineffective if they are not informed by sound philosophies; interventions will fail if they are only executed to meet quotas and not driven by a desire to create transformation that will lead to more productivity based on a healthy society.
Diversity goes beyond just employment equity – it is important for the sake of society itself. We live in a country with incredible diversity, and this diversity needs to be managed. It needs to be thought about and handled with empathy and care, particularly because of the difficult history behind it. We need to be vigilant and work to right the wrongs of the past.
The promotion of transformation is important. While we often talk about transformation, there is little movement and persistent resistance to transformation. This is partly because change is difficult, but also because those who are privileged are aware of the loss that comes with transformation. People fail to see that transformation is good for all of us, and the inequality in South Africa is not sustainable. Transformation is necessary, and we cannot realise our potential as a nation if we do not transform the current inequalities in South Africa; the new world order requires that we harness the power of diversity for a better society. We should see transformation as something that will make South African society much stronger, more efficient, and more at peace. A society built on understanding.
As I have mentioned before, there are many axes of difference. In South Africa we often place so much focus on race that we forget there are many other ways in which people are oppressed, neglected, and erased. Hence it is useful to think with Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference: In order to understand Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity, we must get a handle on Privilege, Power, and Difference. We must understand how these operate and function in our society, and how they impact the lives of individual people. Understanding the inner workings of power and privilege is fundamental to undermining them in the pursuit of inclusivity.
The development and implementation of policy with regards to diversity in the workplace has proven difficult for many institutions. This can be attributed to many factors, including poorly executed diversity trainings, lack of leadership commitment, resistance to change among those who see diversity as a threat, and a fear of the unknown. What is often overlooked by those in leadership roles is that when you cultivate a culture of inclusivity in the workplace, you don’t need a hard whip to enforce inclusivity; when diversity is seen as part of what makes an institution productive, diversity enhances rather than threatens. Those in leadership positions can create a lack of trust in diversity interventions by sowing seeds of doubt and ambivalence, or they can be role models by fostering commitment. When those in leadership roles promote diversity and create a culture of inclusivity, the people in that environment embrace inclusivity as part of the culture, and not only treat different people with respect, but understand how diversity enhances productivity.
South Africa has made incredible progress when it comes to LGBTI Rights in a relatively short space of time. This progress has been predominantly legislative – there are great laws that are supposed to protect LGBTI people from discrimination and victimisation, which is important. However, having official laws is not enough, as is evident by the continued discrimination and physical and sexual assault on LGBTI people in South Africa. There is a disjuncture between the progressive laws, which include the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and the lived realities of LGBTI people on the ground. The realities experienced by LGBTI people on a daily basis are shaped by how their sexual and/or gender identity intersects with their class, race, religion, and ethnic identities. These intersections of identities are experienced in different ways by LGBTI people; often as oppressive, but at times as liberating. Diversity interventions are important in this regard to create awareness and understanding and teach empathy to dominant groups like heterosexual members of society towards LGBTI people that has been historically brutalised by the state, and is often viewed with suspicion.
It is not overly dramatic to suggest that the entire country needs LGBTI / Queer inclusivity training. Queer-specific diversity interventions are needed in all sectors of South African society; from government to big corporations, from university campuses to primary schools, from television programmes to theatre productions. The lives of LGBTI people are not taken seriously, which leads to discrimination at best, and murder at worst. This is why I have dedicated my academic career to focusing on the lives of LGBTI people – LGBTI history, the achievements of the LGBTI movement, as well the intimate lives of queer people. LGBTI lives deserve to be taken seriously through sociological inquiry and policy development. It is important to write LGBTI people into history, and to document how they live and thrive in their communities in post-apartheid South Africa. LGBTI inclusivity should be part of the South African school and university curriculum. This is not the case in 2019, which means there is still much work to be done to create a safe country for LGBTI people.
The philosophy behind my diversity training is in the spirit of building a more democratic, more just, and more empathetic South Africa. I am interested in diversity conversations that are aware of South Africa’s past and determined to learn from it. I am interested in diversity interventions that see the potential and strength of diversity and pursue ways to harness differences to create a more vibrant and tolerant South Africa. My diversity interventions are committed to advancing democracy, because it is only through promoting Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity that we can move closer to Steve Biko’s dream of “giving the world a more human face”.
Highlighting The Importance of Diversity“Our communities, our boardrooms are over the course, particularly of the coming century, are going to be more and more diverse. The question. There will pressure for them to be more diverse because the population will be more diverse. The question is: Do you look at that as a threat to your identity?”