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“We need everyone to wake up.” Google’s Tea Uglow on intersectionality in the creative industries

Words:

Tea Uglow

Tea Uglow is the creative director at Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney. She works with both cultural and creative organisations across the globe exploring the space between technology and the arts and what can happen when they intersect. Her impressive output spans everything from responsive and reactive reading interfaces to immersive, 360-degree performances. She is also a transgender woman. To celebrate International Women’s Day, It’s Nice That got in touch with Tea to find out her opinions on representation and intersectionality within the creative industries.

I am a woman. It’s nice to write that. I am a trans woman. The trans part is an adjective, it describes a quality of me but like most adjectives, it does not define me. It is the same as saying I am a deaf woman, or Muslim, or fat, or a smart woman. In fact, my full title is longer. I am a bisexual, vegetarian, teetotal, transgender, face-blind, English, white, well-educated, well-paid, very-tall woman with a complex relationship to mental health, creativity and cognitive disability. I have two children, work for Google, and I like coffee and dark chocolate.

I don’t advocate for all of those groups. Some seem to be doing fine on their own but the adjectives are all accurate. Some of those labels I dislike and some I embrace. Some privileges I enjoy, others I do not. All it means is that I bring those perspectives to the table. The words all intersect in me. Those insights would be just as useful in a man, and, to be honest, I was all of those things when I presented as a ‘man’. This is a fast and loose use of the term: but they are my intersections and I love my intersections. You have intersections too – we all do – and it is something we should learn to embrace.

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Space for this kind of non-academic “intersectional” discussion is something we need in our culture and society. Cutting ourselves off from points of difference is dangerous, whether that is done with prejudice, or via filter bubbles, or even out of self-preservation. For groups that help define cultural output, such as the global tech and creative industries, it matters.

Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of groups that support, advocate and lobby for that diversity of voice. If you’re reading this, hopefully, you will be interested in their work. Groups like: She Says, Creative Equals, The Other Box, Fearless Futures, POCreativity, Token Man, Free The Bid, Creative Mentor Network, PrideAM, You Make It, Ideas Foundation, Livity, This Ability, The Dots, Stripes, Dream Nation, Social Fixt, Creative Access or programs like D&AD’s Shift & RARE or Cannes Lions’ See It Be It.

There are so many more voices still, clamouring for change because we, the minorities, have realised that the cavalry is not coming. There is no cavalry. I was pleased to discover that Gandhi’s faux-quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” really comes from a much simpler root: “We need not wait to see what others do”.

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Everyday racism, or sexism, is still with us, every, day, and it feels like many British Sunday newspapers have an opinion at the moment on trans-people and our right to exist. Take, for example, The Times’ headline “Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby” which it ran in November 2017. Meanwhile, in the workplace, we place our hopes and dreams on diversity “champions”. I find it odd to ask a minority to change the majority’s view. Bringing in one queer architect won’t “revamp” your firm – it’s a start but needs to move beyond tokenism. It is those who are the least affected by such issues who need to be engaging in the conversation. We need everyone to wake up.

It is sound business logic to encourage cognitive diversity and difference in creative spaces. Although admittedly the logic and practice are still a little way apart. Championing that approach are groups like Nesta, Berlin School and Creative Diversity Network. I am a big fan of Doteveryone, a think tank that champions technology for the good of everyone in society. Its leadership team is all women, it has space for disabled voices and awareness of all forms of accessibility.

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So who should we be recruiting and retaining? Yes, sadly, women still top the list, but also: people of colour, race or religion, people with cognitive or physical disabilities, people with alternative educations, neurodivergent people, refugees, veterans, homeless, carers. Lots of people. Everyone else, in fact. The creative community should represent everyone.

Beyond recruiting, there needs to be accommodation, awareness and inclusion, for when the practicalities of intersections make it hard to function, let alone slot easily into your existing studio model, or pitch award-winning ideas (which they will).

Incorporating diversity is a never-ending mission to find marginalised creative minds and to amplify their voices. It is about making space at the table for those people and adapting traditional work environments to fit their needs as well. It is probably a battle that will never end, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all do our bit. We need to open the door even wider. “Women” are just the start, what we need is people. All the people. And all their intersections too.

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