Join us for our latest Oh-Ah-Ha Live with Vivian Lyngdoh, accidental and professional expert in diversity and inclusivity.
Question: What do you do when…
AND you’re an immigrant?
Answer: You become an expert in diversity and inclusivity. Throw a moment of contemplation at it during a pandemic and turn it into a job.. or two.
Meet Vivian, expert in diversity and inclusivity
It’s fair to say that the business events industry is only at the start of this diversity and inclusivity journey that we need to explore. As a Maori woman myself, it’s close to my heart.
These thoughts were exactly what was going through my mind when I decided to contact Vivian Lyngdoh for our next Oh-Ah-Ha Live. I got to know Vivian when he was working at Venues Wellington not too long ago. These days, you can find him at the Ministry of Ethnic Communities. He’s also the co-chair of the Wellington Pride Festival.
‘I’m queer, I’m brown (actually he’s of Northeast Indian origin) and I’m an immigrant. It’s who I am. It’s what my spirit serves. So why not throw myself at it and make it my job?’
Tough Conversations around Diversity and Inclusivity
Vivian has a permanent smile on his face and he likes to talk about his passions rather than his frustrations. But that doesn’t mean he avoids the fight. As a matter of fact, Vivian LOVES having the tough conversations around diversity and inclusivity. Not because he wants to put blame on anybody, but because at some stage we are going to have to decolonise the way we think.
And he wants to be part of that conversation that leads us to getting ‘there’.
But for that to happen, we need to LISTEN.
‘So often, when I look at forum panels discussing diversity and inclusion, I don’t see myself. I see the same people who call themselves experts in diversity and inclusivity all the time, but they don’t even represent a marginalised group. At one point those people are going to need to step down for ME to speak up.’
You Can Have It If You Want It
In Vivian’s opinion, when making events more inclusive and diverse is what you want, it all starts with intent. If your intent is true, you will find a way to create a more diverse and inclusive team, even if it takes time and you don’t have tons of money to throw at it. Vivian firmly believes that everything is doable if you care.
Consulting is a good starting point.
But maybe more importantly, we shouldn’t park what we feel is important because it’s daunting or difficult. The way he sees it, we should start with a short-term goal rather than drowning in the long-term vision. Start with incorporating diversity and inclusiveness in policies and take it from there.
When embarking on the journey of making events more inclusive and diverse, a large proportion hinges on accessibility; both physical and financial. When Vivian and his team organised the Wellington Pride Parade, they offered tiered ticketing. You pay what you can afford. It opens up the event to literally everybody who’s interested. THAT is inclusivity.
But you can’t paint over diversity with one brush. Diversity is so big when you think about it.
When hiring diverse speakers for your event, there certainly is a risk of trying to talk about everything and, in the process, nothing gets solved. A good solution can be pinning down the topics you want to broach. But it’s also important to know your audience. Just considering that influences food choices, but also on options for neuro diverse people. Not everybody enjoys a loud space. It’s not something we often consider.
One way to get to know your audience is to ask questions at the registration point. Although that offers some hurdles in itself because people, in essence, want to fit in. It’s difficult to get an individual to put up their hand up in reply to whether they have any specific needs and how we can meet those.
In the end, we just need to be prepared to learn and sometimes to be called out without taking it personally. As we said at the start of this interview, we’re only at the start of this journey and we don’t know what we don’t know. All it takes is an open attitude and the knowledge that as hosts and event planners, we’re not the be-all and the know-all.
Vivian’s Ah-Ha Moment: From Accidental To Professional Expert In Diversity And Inclusivity
When I ask Vivian about his Ah-Ha moment, he goes back to the moment Air New Zealand (his then employer) went through a restructure at the start of the pandemic. What struck Vivian was that it was all about money, and it made him consider what moved him to the core. The answer was diversity and inclusivity.
When the job at the Ministry of Ethnic Communities came up, Vivian applied, thinking it was a long shot. He went in the interview speaking his truth and passion, cutting out all the bullsh*t. It takes courage to that, because it’s who we are in our rawest form.
It worked, though, because he was offered the job on the same day. It was a powerful moment, but ultimately getting down to the ‘this is me; take it or leave it’, and being applauded for it is what we all dream of.
Vivian is an ethnic immigrant from the north east of India. He has been in living In Aotearoa for the past 11 years. He belongs to the Khasi tribe. He is the current co-chair person of the Wellington pride festival and is deeply passionate about rainbow communities and anti-racism work.