Friday, October 30, 2015

Britain is embracing diversity. So why are people with disabilities still excluded?

by Ian Birrell
Originally Published: October 30th, 2015

Rejoice, rejoice. Britain’s biggest companies hit a target of ensuring half the population have one quarter of seats in their boardrooms. Sarcasm aside, this is cause for a degree of celebration, since the proportion of women at this top level of business governance has doubled in four years. Most are non-executives, not involved in daily operations, but it remains a step in the right direction.
This small advance shows how far there is to go before we see genuine equality for women from the workplace to Westminster. Yet no sooner had Lord Davies revealed the end to all-male boardrooms among Britain’s biggest companies, then Vince Cable and Chuka Umunna raised questions over ethnic diversity. They have a point: representation is too low, while the number of all-white boards is increasing. But for all the backslapping talk of tolerance in Britain, attitudes are shifting fast when it comes to gender, race and sexuality.
Yet one minority is all too often left out of the equality equation. It is a minority that can be counted in millions yet remains trapped on the margins of society. It is one routinely bullied and beaten, barred from buildings, excluded from the workplace, shunned by society, unable to access public transport, stuck in the worst poverty and even in the most extreme cases killed by repeated but avoidable failings of state services. Yet when it comes to people with disabilities and learning difficulties, how much do we hear beyond patronising platitudes about equal life chances?
This was brought home to me again when invited to join a panel on diversity at a political conference. The other speakers included a fair representation of modern Britain, while the discussion was interesting, informed and wide-ranging from representation of women through to the rights of gay parents. Yet there was not one word about people with disabilities – one-sixth of the population on government figures if including limiting long-term illness – until, having left it to the end, I pointed out this damning omission.
Both left and right should hang heads in shame at the failure to fight properly for this sizeable minority. This is not to ignore strides made on the legislative side; indeed, this year is the 20th anniversary of a landmark act that outlawed discrimination against disabled people. But despite this, there remains a 31% difference in employment rates between working-age people with and without disabilities. Figures for those with learning difficulties are even more depressing.
Ministers deserve credit for pushing employment for disabled people, which is rising, yet at the same time cackhanded cuts and benefit reforms make it harder to hold down jobs and live ordinary lives. But for all the fury over reforms, they are just one aspect of exclusion. The corrosion starts with hurtful language used on streets and in schoolyards, highlighting wider attitudes and acceptance of bigotry, yet the insensitivity runs so deep that even this paper takes columns from a comedian guilty of making vile jokes about disabled children.Now we see more plans, more talk, more good intentions to get 2,600 people with learning difficulties out of hospitals and back into their own communities following the Winterbourne View abuse scandal. We have heard it all before, many times. Fine ideals will dissipate in a morass of bureaucracy and departmental wrangling, while frontline cuts to respite care and short breaks fuel pressures on individuals and families. Yet every day, hundreds of thousands more people struggle with life among the most disempowered and disdained group in Britain.
Equality is often defined in terms of freedom from discrimination and income equality. “But it goes much deeper for disabled people,” says Simon Duffy, director of the Centre for Welfare Reform and doughty campaigner for people with learning difficulties. “It is about giving them the chance simply to be citizens in society. There are such low expectations for disabled people that no one even expects them to enjoy full participation.”
Duffy is right. I rang the government to discover the statistics on disabled board directors, only to be told, “That’s not information anyone collates.” The Confederation of British Industry said the same. Nor is there any mention of disability in a widely quoted “root and branch” study of diversity among Britain’s 10,000 most senior employees. But then a recent survey by the charity Scopefound more than one-third of Britons believe disabled people to be less productive than others, while, incredibly, two-thirds admit to feeling uncomfortable just talking to a person with disabilities. It seems a long time since the London Paralympics and all those promises of changed perceptions.
This exclusion goes beyond befuddled British embarrassment. It is the dismal legacy of a lack of workplace interaction, of limited social engagement and little cultural involvement. It is what happens when a minority is ostracised from the mainstream, when scientists propose eliminating people who do not fit their idealised view of humanity, when “retard” is a term of abuse. Yet only one in six people with disabilities are born with them. So from the boardroom down, it makes sense on many levels to stop shutting millions of people out of society.

Read the original article from The Guardian here:

Islamophobia Worsens Violence Against Women

by Nadia S. Mohammad
Originally Published: October 30th, 2015

"A wife must obey her husband. If you don't obey your husband you will go to hell."
I have lost count of how many times I have heard that stated matter-of-factly in Urdu in a khutbah (sermon) at the mosque I went to as a child in suburban New Jersey, in the neighborhood that Nazish Noorani was shot and killed in a plot organized by her husband in 2011.
Noorani's husband, Kashif Parvaiz, claimed that three black men yelled "terrorist" before opening fire on him and Noorani while they were taking a walk, in an act of evidently random Islamophobic violence. Parvaiz's history of abuse soon came to light and he admitted to setting up the whole incident, including planning for his injury to avoid suspicion. This came as a shock to many in the Muslim American anti-discrimination activist community, but interest started to wane soon after the revelation that this was a case of extreme domestic violence. 
Likewise, when another young mother, Shaima Alawadi, was murdered, activists jumped to the conclusion that it was a hate crime. This time many drew comparisons between her death and that of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old shot by George Zimmerman less than a month earlier. Inspired by the Million Hoodie March for Martin, online anti-Islamophobia activists began organizing the Million Hijab Marchunder the hashtag #HoodiesandHijabs, citing a historical "culture of fear"surrounding African-American men and a burgeoning culture of fear surrounding Middle-Eastern Americans and Muslims.
What many of these activists seemed to ignore were basic statistics. It is estimated that more than a third of American women murdered each year are killed by a person they know intimately, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. This number rises to over fifty percent in cases where the victim is an immigrant. Indeed, it was ultimately Alawadi's husband that was convicted of her murder.
According to a 2010 FBI report, crimes of anti-Muslim bias account for about 13% of all religiously biased hate crimes (even though Muslims only account for 1% of the population). Statistically, a murdered Muslim woman of an immigrant family in the United States is more likely to have been the victim of domestic violence than to have been killed by a stranger for being Muslim.
Comparing the fervor with which spokespeople for Muslim advocacy groups spoke of Noorani's and Alawadi's murders when they were hate crimes with their subsequent silence when they became DV cases suggests an embarrassing agenda that is blind to violence against Muslim women by Muslim men. Though the concern was that Muslims would be expected, once again, to accept communal responsibility for a person, who happens to share our faith, committing violence, it became clear that there was a gap in the Muslim American civil-rights community -- a gap between anti-discrimination activists and anti-domestic-violence activists. Muslim women concerned about DV were effectively given a choice: align with activists against Islamophobia or those against misogyny. Those who chose a middle ground were forced to self-censor enough so as not to attract Islamophobic platforms while taking a strong enough stand so as not to be considered an Islamic apologist by Western (white) feminists.
In 2013, Safe Nation Collaborative (SNC) released a report examining violence affecting Muslim Americans and found that organizations surveyed received reports of largely gender-based violence as compared to hate crimes/racial discrimination. The report demonstrated a need for a multi-faceted approach to Muslim American activism -- one that brings together civil-rights activists with women's rights activists. As the SNC report points out, there are noticeable (if unexpected) intersections between Islamophobia and gender-based violence: almost all victims surveyed reported Islamophobia and/or profiling as a reason not to report ethnic or religious affiliation when reporting a domestic incident. Furthermore, service providers cited an increase in "abusers exploiting the existence of Islamophobia" to a) prevent victims from reporting and b) to misdirect authorities and community members by presenting domestic violence as a hate crime. 
To #EndDVNow amongst Muslim Americans anti-discrimination activists must come together with anti-domestic-violence activists. The credibility of community leaders and activists is greatly undermined by their unwillingness to meaningfully discuss DV cases that are in the news, in our communities and on our minds. Acknowledging that DV exists in our community is not demonizing Muslims or blaming Islam. These issues are inherent in all communities; however, there are unique intersections of misogyny, Islam and Islamophobia as they pertain to gender and violence amongst Muslim Americans. Muslim American anti-discrimination advocacy groups can work with and to support existing Muslim women's organizations, particularly DV organizations. Support can take many forms, including social media promotion, grassroots training, gender sensitivity training, research and advocacy support as well as coalition and campaign building. And, when necessary, calling out misogynistic imams.
Nadia S. Mohammad is Assistant Editor at and often writes on faith, feminism and politics. Nadia holds Juris Doctorate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and is currently pursuing a Master's in Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. You can follow Nadia at @NadiaSMohammad.
YWCA's Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and in communities across the country to end violence in all of its form, wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence - NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit and join the conversation with #endDVnow. Read more great Week Without Violence blogs!

Read the original article from The Huffington Post here:

A deep dive into gaming’s struggles with diversity

by Dean Takahashi
Originally Published: October 30th, 2015

he game industry’s lack of diversity came into sharp focus last year during Gamergate, the Internet hate movement that led to harassment of female game developers. We saw that controversy as a wake-up call for the gaming industry, and we made sure to address the topic of diversity in people and products during a breakout session at our GamesBeat 2015 conference.
We wanted to have a discussion that went deeper and probed for nuances and solutions. Gordon Bellamy, a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California, moderated our session.
The panel included Asra Rasheed, an executive producer at Disney’s game division; Justin Hefter, the CEO of Bandura Games, Megan Gaiser, a principal at Contagious Creativity, and Katy Jo Meyer, a senior business program manager at Xbox.
To help people come to terms with diversity problems such as unconscious bias, Gaiser directed the attendees at the outset to perform a live exercise with the person sitting next to them. Gaiser asked one person to discuss something they felt strongly about, and Gaiser told the other person to either ignore, rebuke, or affirm the other party. The exercise drew a lot of laughter, and it hammered home the point that we are all guilty of unconscious bias at times. And that means that we can all improve the way that we think about diversity in the workplace and in gaming.
Here’s an edited transcript of their 50-minute conversation.
Megan Gaiser of Contagious Creativity and Katy Jo Myer of Microsoft talk on diversity panel at GamesBeat 2015.
Above: Megan Gaiser of Contagious Creativity and Katy Jo Myer of Microsoft talk on a diversity panel at GamesBeat 2015.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Asra Rasheed: I’m an executive producer at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive.
Justin Hefter: I’m the co-founder and CEO of Bandura Games. We’re using mobile games as a medium for creating empathy and connecting people from diverse backgrounds around the world and across conflict zones.
Megan Gaiser: I’m principal at Contagious Creativity.
Katy Jo Meyer: I’m a senior business program manager at Xbox, working on bringing inclusive practices to the way we create our games and entertainment services.
Gordon Bellamy: We’re going to be exploring diversity in the leadership culture of the game industry as well. We’ll talk a bit about unconscious bias. We’ll talk about Gamergate and how that was a wake-up call, in the sense of seeing what was not microaggression but just literal sexist, racist aggression against people in our craft. That was a wake-up call around how we treat and value each other. I had a higher expectation of our industry and our leadership as far as how we treat each other, regardless of how we interface with the rest of the world. That’s what drew me to this panel today — to continue to elevate and move the discussion forward.
Gaiser: We’re going to do a quick exercise. If everyone could please stand up, the person next to you will be your partner. One of you will be A, one of you B. A, your job is to tell B something you care about deeply – an idea, something that moves you. B, your job is to ignore A at all costs. We’ll do this for one minute. Everybody has something you care about? Go!
Great job, ignorers. That was awesome. Everybody had a different flavor. Now we’re going to switch roles, and so B, you tell A something you care deeply about, and A, your role is to criticize and dismiss them. Be as creative as you want in how you go about it, but just disagree and dismiss them.
Okay, well done criticizers. For the next part of the exercise, person A, I want you to share, again, with person B, what you were talking about before, what’s most important to you. Share the same story. This time, I’d like person B to positively and genuinely respond to person A.
When I first role-played that exercise, I immediately had flashbacks to all the times I’d been criticized and dismissed and ignored. They just came flooding in. But what I also remembered were all the times that I’d done that as well. It was a huge realization for me. What did you guys feel?
Bellamy: My feelings were hurt. It was disconcerting. Our expectations — we haven’t spent a lot of time together. This is some of our first interactions. It was a lot of range to run through.
Hefter: I was impressed. When I started out ignoring Asra, I really didn’t hear anything she said. When I finally sat there and listened, though, I felt a strong connection. I’m Jewish and Asra is Muslim. It brought me back to the first time, as a young Jewish-American, when I met a Muslim person, and that same feeling of having so much in common. That brought me back.
Rasheed: There are two points. One, the feeling that someone doesn’t care about what you’re saying, both personally and professionally—It’s sad. No one’s listening to what I have to say, but I know what I’m saying and I know that it’s important. The second point is, equally—When I did listen to Justin, it was very emotional for the same reason. We both come from similar backgrounds. Gender, race, and religion doesn’t really matter. We’re all here for the same reason.
Meyer: It’s hard, when you care deeply about something, for someone to just blow it off. To think about that so many times, when that happens at work—To Megan’s point, how many times do I do that, when I’m in a hurry or I’m thinking about my next meeting or that email or whatever? I’m not giving that person the time and attention they deserve as another human, that respect in the moment, because they care deeply about it.
If I can’t be fully present, I just need to tell them, “I can’t be fully present. Here’s a time that I can.” It brings up reminders of all those experiences that happen two minutes or five minutes at a time, every day, and the power that it has.
Bellamy: I think about how I balance my time between people and my phone. “Oh, I’ll totally share this time with you, me, and my phone.” Just getting a little bit of that back, it’s pretty stiff.
We’re going to talk a bit about unconscious bias. What does that mean to you?
Gaiser: It’s a blind spot, like a bad habit we all have. It prevents us from letting go of preconceived notions, so that we can expand our perspectives and imaginations to consider other possibilities and be respectful to diverse people. Because it’s unconscious, we often don’t realize we have it, and what’s worse is we think we’re in the right.
Meyer: I’ve been focusing a lot on unconscious bias, spending a lot of time and energy in that space. One thing we’ve learned is that brain researchers have identified that your brain—As a human being, we all have unconscious bias. We would not survive in the world if we didn’t. Researchers have identified that we receive 11 million pieces of data through all of our senses per second. Soak that in for a moment. Your brain can only actively process 40 of them, 40 out of 11 million.
Unconscious bias allows us to operate and process some of that data on autopilot. Part of it from a discussion perspective, then, is letting go of that judgment on someone who has unconscious bias, because we all have it. We have to. It’s a matter of understanding what unconscious biases we have, learning what those are, and determining for ourselves – are those biases serving us, or are they getting in the way of doing great work, whether it’s in a creative space or just in human interactions?
Asra Rasheed of Disney and Justin Hefter of Bandura Games at GamesBeat 2015's diversity panel.
Above: Asra Rasheed of Disney and Justin Hefter of Bandura Games at GamesBeat 2015’s diversity panel.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Bellamy: It’s important to look at how that affects diversity and leadership decisions — who’s even allowed to lead and fully express themselves in the workplace. Why is that important? Why is diversity a value?
Hefter: To Katy’s point, unconscious bias isn’t inherently a bad thing. It’s what allows us to avoid things that might be potentially dangerous. Our brain says, “Because of this factor that I’m unconsciously noticing, I’ll avoid that.” It becomes a problem in the workplace when, as a manager, you don’t listen to something or you ignore someone because of the unconscious bias you might have.
The reason why diversity is important from a business perspective is that diverse perspectives allow you as a manager to consider a number of different alternatives to how do something, and then pick the best path. If you’re not listening to a certain number of employees because of an unconscious bias, you as a manager are not getting a full suite of opportunities to take your business in the right direction. The benefit of diversity is having a greater number of options and opportunities as a business.
Rasheed: Everyone has their own definitions and experience, but I’m going to share an example. I’ve been in the games industry for 15 years now. It wasn’t until about five years ago–I had been approached by LeVar Burton to come and be the CEO of his company. He said, in this conversation, “I know that you’re a tiny woman, 5’2”. I get it. I’m African-American. But this is what we can do to change things.” When we talk about diversity and the importance of diversity in leadership, it’s important to have that kind of thinking. It’s important to have leaders who are diverse, who can allow growth into other areas.
I truly believe that it’s because of someone like that, someone who gave me an opportunity and respected me enough, who knew I could take on the challenge. He allowed me to do that, and oftentimes we don’t even get that chance. When it comes to leadership, it has to come from the top down. That’s how things are going to change.
Bellamy: A euphemism that often comes to mind for me is “culture fit.” How do we reconcile culture fit with the cultivation of diversity?
Meyer: A lot goes into that culture fit, whether you’re a fit or not. There are lots of ways to process and break down what that means. What’s important is keeping that end goal in mind. What are you trying to achieve as a business? And then making sure you have diverse perspectives around the table. But it’s also not just a diversity of people. It’s creating an environment where diverse perspectives are valued.
When we talk about diversity and inclusion, that “and” in the middle is important. If you don’t have an environment where people feel safe sharing different perspectives, it’s all for naught. It’s important to be very intentional about creating an environment where diversity is welcomed and appreciated and valued. That’s the culture we’re going for, a place where everyone can share their opinions and perspectives and have their voice heard.
The business goes where it goes, but it’s a matter of bringing those voices to the table. All of those voices are representative of our customers that we’re trying to create these experiences for. It’s important to make sure that environment is safe and foster diversity from the inside out.
Gaiser: I love that we’re all saying the same thing in different words. The way I’d say it is that leadership is behavior, not authority. Creativity is the mother of diversity. We often relegate creativity to making art or products, but it really is our human operating system. When we’re creative, we have an open mind and an open heart. That’s the only way to genuinely inspire a culture, an inclusive culture that respects diverse people and perspectives.
Obviously we need more representation for women, ethnic diversity, LGBTQ, but the other thing we need is diverse thinkers. Just because someone is a woman doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a diverse thinker. That’s something we need to cultivate to be open-minded and open-hearted.
Rasheed: Just because I’m a woman, I shouldn’t be filling a quota in any company. I should be hired for my skill set and my experience. It’s important, whoever we are, for all of us to own what we do. I can speak from my own experience, that the last thing I’d ever want is to be hired just because I’m a woman. 
Bellamy: We spoke about goals. Did everybody watch Sesame Street as a kid? We all learned that song – “one of these things is not like the other.” I very much identified with “not like the other,” and then they put a big X through it. Now everything was OK because you had all the similar things identified and sorted, and you’re ready to move forward.
My question is, how do you identify goals where people who are just not the same, so to speak, are part of those identified, shared goals that we’re all trying to achieve?
Meyer: When we think about business goals, our goals are to create games and experiences online that everyone can enjoy, where everyone has fun and they want to come play on Xbox. We hope that anyone working at Xbox can get behind those goals, and then we all bring different perspectives on how to go about achieving those goals. It’s through all those different perspectives that the creative process can flourish and lead to innovative ideas.
There are different processes you can go through to accomplish those same business goals where you’re hearing a lot of different voices. There’s a lot of different inputs into the design process and creative process along the way. It’s creating the avenues for a lot of different inputs and having those discussions.
The other side of the coin, going back to the culture piece, is being very intentional and aware of what our unconscious biases are, and where they can get in the way of the design process and creativity and decision-making process. Once you’re aware of your own biases, you can become more conscious throughout that process. “Wait, this is a bias I have. I need to pause for a second. Is this really what I want to do?” Or have a partner to check you on something or bounce ideas around.
It’s how you leverage and value diversity, so that diversity and different perspectives make you better. They shouldn’t be a hurdle that you have to get over.
Asra Rasheed of Disney's game division at GamesBeat 2015's diversity panel.
Above: Asra Rasheed of Disney’s game division at GamesBeat 2015’s diversity panel.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Bellamy: I’m going to probe a little into one beat of that question. Let’s talk about Xbox Live. Xbox Live, for lack of a better term, is a party. If you say the party’s for everyone, then the party is truly for everyone. But you could also say, “Well, it’s for everyone, but it’s really for these specific people who we’re targeting for this experience, and we want to make sure they have the best time possible.” At some point, you decide whether you’re going to focus on them or whether it’s going to truly be for everyone. How do you navigate those levers?
Meyer: It’s understanding what those levers are and listening. What is the experience like? Our goal is for everyone to have a great experience on Xbox Live. Does that happen today? We’re putting things in place where we have feedback mechanisms. We’re listening to the voice of the customer. The role it’s playing is becoming more and more heightened in our development process. We’re listening to those voices so we can understand what are those right levers. How do we accommodate? How do we make this the best place? Are we perfect today? No. But we’re working on it and putting a lot of different levers in place.
Bellamy: It’s the same thing with you, Justin. You’re addressing audiences around the world, but it’s born of a creative community that has inherent cultural diversity. How do you balance who to support first and who to support the most with what you’re doing?
Hefter: A couple of things I want to unpack first. There’s a huge difference between company culture and the ethnic culture or background of the people coming to your team. If the company culture is to be creative, then the people of your team – black, white, Hispanic – if they’re creative, they fit that culture. Their ethnic composition doesn’t matter. Creating a company culture that spreads across different races and ethnicities is important.
As far as business goals, as a CEO I’m trying to hire people who deliver what they say they will, who are hard workers. When you interview someone, it’s very easy to tell, based on their resume and what they’ve done, if they can deliver. When bringing people to a team as a young CEO, it doesn’t matter where they’re from as long as they can deliver the end result.
At Bandura Games, our goal is to bring people together from all over the world and create empathy, especially across conflict zones. My background is work in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be very strange if I sat in an office in San Francisco and said, “I’m gonna try and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It’s very important that your team understand the people you’re trying to reach.
I have an Israeli co-founder and a Palestinian co-founder. We made the effort to build a team that understood the people and the problems we’re trying to address. Who are we building our games for? As a company we want to identify exactly that. We want our games to be global. We believe that in order to build games that appeal to a global audience, our team needs to reflect that as well.
I have a background in management consulting. I helped advise Fortune 500 companies on their business strategy. One of the companies we worked with had an amazing, brilliant team of engineers. They were building a new generation helmet for helicopter pilots. They interviewed hundreds of pilots, asked them what they wanted. They put all the bells and whistles in this helmet. You had computer vision, radar, Bluetooth. Then as soon as those helmets shipped and got to the pilots, the pilots refused to wear them. They were too heavy.
This team had brilliant engineers who could put anything they wanted in a helmet, but they didn’t have a pilot on their team. When we talk about diversity, when you’re building to diverse audience—50 percent of game players around the world are women. 60 percent of mobile game players are women. We want to build for the world. We need to have that representation on our team to build it into our products.
Megan Gaiser of Contagious Creativity at GamesBeat 2015's diversity panel.
Above: Megan Gaiser of Contagious Creativity at GamesBeat 2015’s diversity panel.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Bellamy: I have a question for the women on the panel. How often do you get asked what games you play, as a [qualification] to participate in discussions of the industry?
Rasheed: All the time.
Gaiser: I entered the game industry on a fluke. I have a film background, and then I became a CEO. So I didn’t get asked that question a lot. I don’t get asked a lot of qualifiers. I think it was because we were such an odd duck at Her Interactive, though. Nobody even considered women or girls a market when we started out. I was in this little corner. There weren’t many women CEOs. I had several CEOs share a lot of information with me, because I was trying to learn what the industry was all about. If there was bias against me, and I’m sure there was, I wasn’t aware of it. I just motored on.
Her Interactive was a perfect example of a completely diverse team. We had every kind of person in our company. We co-created. I didn’t think of myself as a decider or an overseer. After I left, it dawned on me how we did it in an unwelcoming environment with an unconventional CEO. It’s because we bucked the system. The system didn’t include us, so we redesigned it. We did the opposite of what everyone was doing.
The system didn’t let us into retail, so we backdoored into retail through Amazon. We found someone to teach us, the sales took off, and then all the people who wouldn’t do a deal before came to make those deals. We co-created an opposite corporate culture.
My background is filmmaking, where we collaborated on everything. That’s the only way we made inspiring products. I didn’t know everything, but between us, we could rely on each other. Because we let our guards down and were vulnerable, others felt safe enough to let down their guards and truly collaborate.
Bellamy: What are things that you have done and that you can do to cultivate a diverse workplace? What can you one-two-three do?
Rasheed: You asked a question earlier about how often we’re asked about the games we play. Being at Disney has been so different from the rest of the game industry. They’re so open to diversity. There are so many programs where they’re constantly making an effort. I love that about Disney.
Personally, it’s been interesting. Most of my team members are women right now, because we create games for kids. But that’s a bias. There we go. We think women will be better at making games for kids, but that’s not always true. Some of my best designers and animators are men, and they’re making kids games. It goes back to skill set. That’s what I look at as someone, in practice, who has to hire people.
Bellamy: How do you peel away skill set from identity? How do you pick a good designer out of the universe?
Rasheed: I look at what people deliver. It’s all about delivery. Over time you just don’t look at female versus male. You look at what’s right for your product. That’s the most important thing for us, creating the best product we can regardless of where’s coming from. I’m probably not going to hire a woman just because she’s a woman. I’m going to hire that person based on what they’ve done and delivered. That’s how I separate the two. 
Gordon Bellamy, Asra Rasheed, and Justin Hefter at GamesBeat 2015's diversity panel.
Above: Gordon Bellamy, Asra Rasheed, and Justin Hefter at GamesBeat 2015’s diversity panel.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Bellamy: Similarly, Justin, how do you balance creative identity with cultural identity?
Hester: You have to bring people together. Our company is using games a medium for bringing people of diverse backgrounds together around the world. We believe games have the power to bring people together. We’re all in the games industry. We should be using games within our companies to bring one another together.
That’s how you bleed those things into one. That’s how you build a creative company culture that’s also diverse. You get your employees playing games together, seeing where their overlap is before their differences can become the determining factor in their relationships. We’re trying to be as wacky and fun in the office as possible. We have Marvelous Mondays and Fun Hat Fridays. It’s a way of getting people into the office feeling good about coming in to work.
We all become one when we’re all wearing a goofy hat. Black, white, or brown doesn’t matter when you’re all looking wacky. For us it’s about making the office more like the games we’re trying to make.
Bellamy: You’re at Microsoft. I can imagine there could be a discussion like, “We need to have the African-American club, the gay club, the this club, the that club.” And then I can imagine another voice like, “Why do we need all these clubs? Why can’t we all just be Microsoft?” You’re trying to cultivate people based on their skills, which are not necessarily tied to diverse traits. Are those going to be opposing forces — cultivating diverse identities versus assimilation into shared goals?
Meyer: I don’t those are mutually exclusive. When you have communities that are underrepresented, that’s a fact. So how do we foster and make this a great place that they want to work too? I don’t think it’s 100 percent about assimilation.
We do have women in gaming, black people in gaming, or Team Xbox Latinos. We have groups internally that we support to create affinity. Everyone wants to feel, at some point, that they’re with other people that are like them. If you do an exercise—Think about any time in your life where you were ever the “only.” Whatever the only means, just that you were different from everyone else.
The amount of energy that takes, when you’re constantly filtering the things you’re thinking about—You’re self-conscious. You’re not on autopilot. When you’re in the majority you’re on autopilot. There’s no judgment in that. It’s just how we are as humans. Part of creating that environment internally where everyone wants to come is providing those opportunities where people can be with everyone like themselves. There’s space for both. You can work toward common work goals and build a sense of community.
Within Xbox, we all have games in common. At Microsoft in general, I might have affinity with someone because we’re both women who work at Microsoft, but other than that we might not have anything else in common. But within Xbox, gaming is that unifying force. So how do we create communities within the gaming world? It might be around a type of game. It’s not always just about race, gender, religion, or whatever dimension of diversity. It’s creating a space where you can have both localized and larger groups, and we’re all going toward creating the best games.
Gaiser: We’re all leaders. The idea that the deciders know everything is a myth we’re all breaking down. We as leaders, all of us, it’s our responsibility to become inspired. Behavior is contagious. That’s all of our jobs. Getting rid of unconscious bias and using mindfulness techniques are first steps to being fully present and getting in the moment, so you’re inspired to inspire others.
Bellamy: Can you talk more about what mindfulness techniques are?
Gaiser: They’re daily practices – martial arts, meditation, yoga, many others – that slow down our brains and take us back into the moment, the way we were as kids. We lost half of ourselves when we moved out of the moment and went into analytical thinking, which is the way leadership runs – literal, logical, linear thinking. That may not include creative intelligence, which is sensing, intuitive, imaginative, and uses the heart.
With these practices, every day, all of a sudden your full human potential is there. You’re being your best self. That’s what inspires people. Then all of a sudden you’re connected. I was connected with my team. When the economy crashed, I crashed, and all of a sudden I watched the creative intelligence dissipate. I didn’t like myself. I felt half-full. That’s when I learned mindfulness techniques. I had to find a skill to keep myself in creative mode all the time.
What we do is have an open-door policy. That’s how I got to know everyone. They would come in with ideas. All ideas were welcome. The best ideas won. There were no stupid ideas. It just might not get picked. Then we played hacky sack every day. We all went outside at a certain time and played hacky sack. We let our guards down. We shared ourselves. We would all go around and if someone did something, if they were jazzed about it, they described it. There was recognition.
Those kinds of things, they support each other. It was so cool. When someone had a tragedy or death in their life, everyone gathered around and supported them and did little things for them. It became an immense positive energy, which is why I think we overcame all the obstacles we had.
Katy Jo Meyer talks about diversity on the Xbox team at Microsoft during GamesBeat 2015.
Above: Katy Jo Meyer talks about diversity on the Xbox team at Microsoft during GamesBeat 2015.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Bellamy: Going back to your point about being the only one, a number of resources exist inside our games community that people don’t all know about. You were super active in WIGI, for instance. Can we talk about some of the big organizations that exist? Because it can be super empowering to know that you aren’t the only anything.
Rasheed: When I first started in the games industry, we were the minority. Getting to know Megan was absolutely essential, because she was one of the only women in the industry. A friend of mine reached out to me and said, “Hey, I’m with WIGI,” which is Women In Games International.
When you talk about not feeling like you’re the only one, I felt like I was the only one. I remember going to a games conference. I was so intimidated by all the men there. There was myself and maybe one other women. I got a call later on from that mutual friend, Chrissy, who’s one of the founders and board members of WIGI, and she said, “I was wondering if you’d like to speak on a panel at Casual Connect?” Of course I was honored, even not really knowing—I was fairly new to the space then.
It’s because of her, because she opened that one door for me, that several other doors opened. When you ask, what’s our duty, what’s our job, that’s it. It’s not just about giving someone a job. It’s about empowering each other. If you haven’t been involved with Women In Games, get involved. We have chapters across the country and around the world. We need the support of other women and men, the entire industry, to help us reach where we’d like to be.
Gaiser: Gamergate. You brought that up at the beginning, so we’ll go there. As bad as that was, it was such a wake-up call for the industry. It brought women together. People like Dean, people who are leaders—Everyone has come together.
I want to call out how much Kate Edwards has done to us through Gamergate. All these people are giving in different ways. It’s amazing to see the power of collective intelligence moving us.
What we need to do, instead of feeling like islands—I felt like an island sometimes. But I found mentors and advisors, and they helped me. It’s all of our jobs to support each other and rise together. If we stay doing our own thing – how do I become successful? – then we just turn competitive. If we collaborate, we can all win.
It’s not just about money. The breadth of stories and wide-ranging characters that we’re still missing is leaving us with a dulling effect. We have a responsibility and an opportunity to inspire the game industry. Others will follow us.
Bellamy: For those who may be queer-identified or allies, we have an organization on Facebook. We used to be anonymized on a mailing list. We were closeted to each other on the internet. This is all of 10 years ago, too, not ancient times. Then we started to have secret closed-door meetings at GDC. This was before “it got better” and all that good stuff.
Now we have a Facebook group, though, so if you’re curious or know someone who might be, look it up. It’s called GGP. We just had our thousandth member join, which is awesome. It’s social, but it’s also about job development and culture and being allowed to exist in this context and in the context of GamesBeat.
I want to go back to Justin, because this is a whole new realm. I hope there’s a very powerful community growing around what we might call games for good. The power of discussions like this — it’s to make sure that it’s okay and of value that you’re coming from a diverse point of view, and that if you align with people who share that value, you can accomplish great things in our craft.
Just for takeaways — I want to return to tangible things that people can do. I see leaders out there – CEOs, executive directors, journalists. I wanted to give each of you the chance to give a takeaway item, maybe drawn from your experiences, that you want people in this room to know. Something that they can do that was born from your experience.
Diversity panel at GamesBeat 2015. Left to right: Gordon Bellamy, Asra Rasheed, Justin Hefter, Megan Gaiser, and Katy Jo Meyer.
Above: Diversity panel at GamesBeat 2015. Left to right: Gordon Bellamy, Asra Rasheed, Justin Hefter, Megan Gaiser, and Katy Jo Meyer.
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
Rasheed: My own personal experience has been unique. The game industry was just one big scary monster for me. And it’s not just the game industry. It’s every industry. I had to go and raise money in Silicon Valley. That was even scarier. There’s probably more acceptance in the game industry than there is out there.
I strongly encourage everyone to own what you do. Be vocal. Whatever your identity is, it doesn’t matter. Know that you’re not alone. That’s the most important thing. You have so much support. Even if you’re in an organization right now, go to talk to people. Talk to your leaders. They probably don’t know how great you are. They probably do have their biases. It’s important for you to say, “Hey, I’m here. This is what I do.”
I will tell you, I did this over and over again, because I did have to prove myself. Unfortunately, we do have to prove ourselves. That’s the hard reality. I love to wear high heels. That’s who I am. That’s my message. You are who you are. It doesn’t mean you aren’t smart or knowledgeable. That’s the truth.
Hefter: My background is in business and in conflict resolution. I’ve spent a lot of time working with Israeli and Palestinian youth, people who are actually killing each other. That’s how heightened the conflict is, and yet games have brought them together. These kids are playing soccer and basketball together. They’re playing games online. We’ve seen the power of games to overcome conflict at that level.
We’re not nearly there in the games industry. Games can bring us together as well. We have a really diverse room, a diverse panel. We’ve come together because of our love of games. You guys are here because of your love of games. If there’s something going on that you want to change, game it out. Talk to one of your managers. Talk to a superior. Say, “Look, we have an issue in this company. Let’s build a game around it. That’s what we do. That’s what we love. Let’s bring each other together through games.”
Gaiser: One thing I would say is, when there are things you see in a company that aren’t working, go to whoever you can. Come from a place of curiosity to understand why it is that way. Then start recommending. Everyone needs to inspire not just games, but every aspect of business.
Find mentors. We’re all mentors. From my experience, learn how to embody the values of creativity – curiosity, openmindedness, kindness, taking risks in the face of uncertainty – and leading from creative intelligence, supported by analytical intelligence. It does take a perceptual and experiential shift. Mindfulness techniques, I’ve found, have allowed me to stay more present when fear happens. It’s either fear or love, in everything we do. That’s the direction we’re all headed in to transform this industry.
Meyer: One of the most important nuggets for us that we’re focused on is bringing intentionality into everything we do. With unconscious bias, that’s bringing intentionality to understanding what your own biases are, how they’re serving you, how they’re getting in your way. Anyone can go to Project Inquisit. It’s done by a partner, but it’s a free online test you can go through to find your own unconscious biases. I highly recommend it. We had all of our senior executive leaders go through it.
Awareness is the first step, but then it’s bringing intentionality and awareness to it in your day to day. It’s not a one and done, check it off, don’t think about it anymore. It’s bringing intentionality every day to how we operate, how we interact with other people, how we make decisions. Inclusion does not happen by default. Unless you proactively include, you’ll unintentionally exclude. There’s so much power in that. That’s something we’re trying to focus on – bringing that intentionality to inclusion. That’s where meaningful change is going to happen, change that’s going to show up in the products and experiences we create on an ongoing basis.
Gaiser: One thing that’s good to think about—We’re all saying the same things. But mindfulness techniques, learning to slow down our brains and be fully connected, that connects us together, instead of having bias toward others. That’s what it does every day. But it’s a daily discipline and a moment by moment practice to be thinking about our thoughts so we can change them. Thoughts are beliefs. Beliefs determine behavior. If we positively transform our beliefs, we can change our behavior for the better.
Rasheed: The big message here is that we’ve all become one big community in the game industry. Leverage that. Get involved. Get connected. It’s not men or women. We’re an industry and a community. Get involved and stay involved. Regardless of roles or titles, wherever we’re at, we’re still in this together.

Read the original article from VentureBeat here:

Why Bernie Deserves the Muslim-American Vote

by Atif Choudhury
Originally Published: October 30th, 2015

October 28, 2015 is one of those dates that Muslim-Americans will never forget. At a town hall meeting at George Mason University, one of the attendees--a young Muslim-American student and aspiring international human rights attorney--expressed the anguish of an entire community:
"Being an American is such a strong part of my identity, but I want to create a change in this society," she said. "I'm so tired of listening to this rhetoric saying I can't be president one day, that I should not be in office. It makes me so angry and upset. This is my country."
In response, a major Presidential candidate--a man who by most objective standards most won over America's heart during the first Democratic Debate--invited her over to join him on the stage. 
As he embraced her, he also embraced her cause: The elimination of Islamophobiaxenophobia, and every other brand of bigotry and racism that has long festered in our country's "us versus them" political discourse since time immemorial: 
They told white workers who were earning pennies an hour, 'Hey, you think you're in trouble, but you're better off than the blacks. And they told straight people, 'You're better off than those gay people.' And they pitted men against women. It's always playing one group against another. That's how the rich got richer while everybody else was fighting each other. Our job is to build a nation in which we all stand together. ""
He concluded with a simple pledge:
And you are right. There is a lot of anger being generated and hatred being generated against Muslims in this country, that's absolutely correct. There is hatred being generated against immigrants in this country. And if we stand for anything, we have got to stand together and end all forms of racism in this country. I will lead that effort as President.
The entire moment is worth watching and re-watching (possibly with tissues), and then worth showing to both your grandparents and your kids. In the span of a few minutes, Bernie Sanders demonstrated to the entire nation and the world the absolute best of true American values--and everything that American politics can and should be. 
He did not aim for any applause lines or to target any specific "demos" or "test groups"-he opened up about his own deep scars from the horrors of bigotry and spoke from the heart on how that has shaped his worldview.
Longtime Passenger on the Bernie Express
Full disclosure: As many of my friends (and certainly all of my family members) already know, I am an unabashed Bernie Sanders supporter. I have been an admirer of his tireless advocacy on social justice issues since I watched the subprime mortgage crisis unfold as a horrified, disgusted and anxious college sophomore. Bernie's dedication for enforcing accountability and addressing the root causes of income inequality inspired me in a way that even Obama-fever (and I was certainly as infected as any of his biggest supporters in Chicago!) did not. 
This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to attend his standing-room-only town hall meeting in Columbia, South Carolina just prior to leaving our country to begin my Fellowship, and it was like watching a Bollywood movie in the motherland. 
The audience cheered the heroes (Free education! Healthcare! Infrastructure!) and booed the villains (The Koch Brothers! Lobbyists! Irresponsible Wall Street speculators!). Yet Bernie is not just rhetoric. He practices what he preaches and has never ran negative ads. He does not accept money from entrenched corporate interests and as a result, his top donors are from various labor unions and individual contributors rather than investment banks, the pharmaceutical industry, and media conglomerates. 
Likewise as a passionate (and at times I'm sure, insufferably outspoken) advocate for international human rights, I greatly admire Bernie's impressive foreign policy track record. As most folks already know, he was one of the few Congressmen who had the courage and foresight to defy the warmongers and oppose the Iraq War. Yet even more recently, he was the first Congressman to boycott Bibi Netanyahu's seditious and warmongering Congressional address--yes the same Bibi Netanyahu who just acquitted Hitler in favor of indicting the Palestinians). Despite the fact that unconditional support of Israel has long been one of the truly bipartisan "safe" positions, while any criticism of Israel--much less open support for Palestine--has long been considered the lethal third rail of politics, Bernie has already distinguished himself as a moral advocate for peace through equitable justice:
The bottom line is that Israel must have the right to exist in peace and security, just as the Palestinians must have the right to a homeland in which they and they alone control their political system and their economy.
As the current sole superpower, our nation has special obligations and responsibilities to not only the current international community, but future generations. It is clear to me that President Sanders can establish and pursue a foreign policy which truly values human rights, dignity, and justice for all the world's citizens-one which first seeks to do no harm and champions humanitarianism. 
A Historic Presidency: First nonChristian POTUS
The Muslim-American community is not some one-issue monolith, and there are clearly a multitude of reasons why I support Bernie. Thus this act of decisively un-politicianlike compassion for and unyielding solidarity with the Muslim American community is just one more reason why he has both of my votes-and why it should be clear that Hilary should NOT take the Muslim vote for granted for the crucial primary. Yet while if elected Hilary would of course be our nation's first (and grossly long-overdue) first female POTUS, it should be pointed out that President-elect Sanders will be our FIRST non-Christian POTUS*! 
Aside from our Deist Founding Fathers, electing our first Jewish President will be such a watershed moment in our nation's history, and will send such a massive message to the world. We Muslims can help elect our nation's first Jewish President-one who is decidedly not a living caricature of Emperor Palpatine-and we can break a million stereotypes and misconceptions in the process.
And you know what the best part is? Unlike Hilary's oft-repeated quest to become the first female POTUS (and how that is the decisive factor which differentiates her from Barack Obama), Bernie has never tried never tried to capitalize on this and score political points. God knows the media never highlights it either (whose luminary journalism instead can be summarized as "OLDEST ELECTED PRESIDENT EVER LULZ"), but Bernie remains committed to discussing the issues that actually affect ordinary Americans over turning this into a personality contest over who has the the more compelling personal story.
So let me say what Bernie will not: This man has ONE HELL of a compelling story. The son of Polish immigrants who lost so many family members to the horrors of the Holocaust. The man who graduated from an elite bastion of political and economic neo-liberalism, yet dedicated his life to advocating for the poor and marginalized. A man who marched with Martin Luther King himself--but will never mention it as a means to score political points. A man who joined the Young People's Socialist League in an era where even suspicion of being a "dirty commie-socialist" was a virtual death sentence for your political career and social life-and a man who actually ran and won as an independent democratic socialist in a nation where two party system dynastic politics is the order of the day. 
"Strategic Voting": A Cowardly Subversion of the Democratic Spirit
Yet the biggest hesitancy to vote for Bernie does not come from his political record or pedigree. It comes down to a far that he's "too progressive" to win a general election-and that a vote for Bernie in a primary will be a gift for whoever the GOP Clowncar spits out for the general election. I know this firsthand, because some of my own family members have this view.
We can learn much from our Canadian neighbors. They just had a historic election, and many Canadian voters--especially Muslim Canadian voters--who were desperate to rid themselves of Stephen Harper's decade-long reign of terror had the same fears-that a vote for the outspokenly Progressive Thomas Mulcair's New Democratic Party was a gift for Harper's Conservatives. The result? Stephen Harper's Conservatives got demolished and those fears of Harper retaining the throne were unfounded. Yet through strategic voting, Canada's progressives passed also over a far more progressive force in favor of the establishment left-and the charismatic yet inexperienced boyish dynastic inheritor who leads it. While our Canadian neighbors finally liberated themselves from the decade long nightmare they have been living under, many feel they simply settled for some chicken that will do.
The ultra-cynical and calculating nature of "hedging your bets" through "strategic voting" represents one of modern democracy's shortcomings-the insecurities of the voters themselves. It is especially distressing and disheartening to see the proliferation of this practice in the Muslim-American community, since many of us fled from decidedly undemocraticauthoritative or hopelessly corrupt systems of governance where the true value of votes is often subverted if not outright rendered meaningless. 
While a broader understanding of the concept an "informed" vote may include such political calculations, a genuinely meaningful vote should reflect the candidate who wins over your mind and heart. So for all of my aforementioned family members, friends, and the general American electorate, my one plea is simply this: Trust the American electorate to vote smart and do the right thing. Vote for the candidate who has earned your vote-not the one who merely serves as a compromise for your fears.
#FeelTheBern, insha'Allah
A large part of my own moralistic worldview is shaped by my understanding about the central tenets of my faith. The Qur'an commands humanity thus:
Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to kith and kin, and He forbids all indecent deeds, and evil and oppression: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition
I fully trust Bernie to both a President and Commander-in-Chief who will use might for right and do the right thing--and while I certainly do not speak for this immensely vibrant and diverse family of communities--I call on my fellow Muslim Americans to entrust him to do the same. Support him because he has long been fighting in the trenches for those without a voice. Support him because of his courage and dedication to social justice. Support him because he stays true to his principles, and conducts his campaign and himself in a manner which transcends politics as usual and truly makes him a role model.
And support him because one Wednesday night in front of America's youth, he vowed to stand by one idealistic young woman and all members of her embattled community-and in doing so, genuinely made her feel that she has the power to could change our nation and the world.

Read the original article from The Huffington Post here: