Want your company to be better? Go to Comic Con
Want your company to get better? Go to Comic Con
Going to tech conferences to learn about diversity and inclusion is like going to a Medieval fair to learn about… well diversity and inclusion. They’re working on it, working hard in this case, but they aren’t there yet. So I want to encourage us to learn about diversity and inclusion not from talks about it, but from a culture that is already doing things right.
Enter Comic Conventions! A miraculous place at the height of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. This industry still has a way to go too, but there is so much we can learn about a strong company culture from attending comic conventions.
Cons are the most extreme example of diversity I can think of. You have Vulcans mingling with Pokemon, chatting with mutants. Underneath the cosplays you still have a largely diverse group of people. Different careers, languages, education, income, gender etc. all meeting in one place to love what they love and be around people who share a passion.
The thing that connects the attendees is that they are deeply passionate about something. Video games, anime, cosplay, comic books, whatever. They are passionate about different things or many things, but they each have a thing.
Your company should be that thing. No matter what planet someone comes from, if they are passionate about your company they should be able to collaborate and accomplish anything.
Just like the X-Men all had different mutations, but were brought together over one belief by one leader. (And just look at how much money that franchise is making).
Most conventions centres are accessible by design, but the comic conventions I’ve been to take it a step further. There is always enough room through the main aisles for wheelchair access. Follow the aisle and you will make it to the front rows and the spots reserved for wheelchair seating. Usually these rows are a few chairs short on the sides so a wheelchair can fit perfectly.
Also in the front row, and usually to the side of the stage, there is reserved seating for the hearing impaired. This seating is to ensure they can properly see the sign language interpreter.
That’s right, each panel has a sign language interpreter!
Anyone who is hearing impaired can still enjoy all the panels and talks. I’ve even seen celebrities who have learned to sign a few words to address them directly during the panels.
This is something I have yet to see at any tech conference I’ve been to, but would love to see in the future. When it comes to your company, these are things you should be thinking about too.
Is your office accessible? What changes are you willing to make for an employee? Could you currently hire someone who is hearing or visually impaired?
Inclusion is about accepting others and feeling accepted. This is what comic con is all about. You get to see a guy dressed as robot Sailor Moon hanging out with Deadpool. Kids wearing the same costumes as adults and both having the same amount of fun. You’re free to be yourself, show your love and not be judged. It’s a place for everyone, full of compliments, connections and kindness. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of, and it frees you to be open about things you care about.
This is what your company should be like. No one should be able to endanger the open and inclusive culture you build. Everyone should be free to express themselves and their opinions together.
Aside from all the police and security guards roaming around at most cons, you will usually see huge signs reading “Cosplay is not Consent”. They explain that you must ask before taking photos of people, do not touch anyone without their consent, and that harassment is not accepted. This information is also sent to everyone who buys passes before the con even starts.
I have never seen signs about respecting your peers at tech conventions, or been forced to read the code of conduct before purchasing a ticket. Maybe I should. Having signs or in-your-face codes of conduct keep it front of mind. This makes it more acceptable to shut a person down who is disobeying the norm.
Does your company have policies around harassment? If so, does everyone know about them? Are they enforced or updated? Are they openly talked about, or something you shy away from?
You will see some wild stuff at comic con, I can promise that. Things, people, and costumes you couldn’t even dream of. Outside of the convention a lot of these things, people, and costumes might be considered weird and be looked at with judgement. Certain people, like me, are commonly referred to as “passive” or “nerdy” or even “weird” in insulting ways outside of cons. But once we enter a place where we know we are accepted you should see how we shine.
People who normally have anxiety in large crowds or even talking to strangers, again like me, chat with people in line next to them. We run up to strangers to tell them we love their cosplay, and they let us take their picture when on any other day they would likely hide from a camera. I become social, I wear my favourite cartoon t-shirts, and even my glasses! (which I never wear outside of a convention). I become a different person in an environment where I can be myself and I am accepted by the people around me, and I know I’m not the only one.
If you can create an accepting environment like this within your company you could unlock true potential and passion in employees. Some people who are “super cool” (or people I think are super cool) don’t need other people to accept them. Others just fit into social norms which makes it easier for them. But for the rest of us, acceptance is something we might not always have.
I could go on forever about how great comic conventions are, but I hope these points helped convince you to head to one yourself. We can learn a lot about culture from them, and I hope to write more about it soon!
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