PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Why is it still so hard?

Update: it’s been brought to my attention that this post has been interpreted as a criticism of Connections Online. That was not my intention. I apologise for upset resulting from my lack of clarity, and would like to draw everyone’s attention to the better-than-average stats for speaker representation at Connections Online, and the wider D&I efforts made by members of the organising team. I meant only to take the subject of WATU as a jumping-off point for a broader conversation about how all of us in wargaming have a part to play in improving representation.


Another Connections event comes around…and the initial vision of the panel I’m asked to speak at is to have a bunch of straight white men explain how women won the war and the importance of diversity. 

Really ??

Absolutely enormous props to Tom Mouat for refusing the chair the manel, and replacing the proposed men—all of whom got their ‘expertise’ from regurgitating Paul Strong’s paper and my PAXsims articles—with women who have actual subject matter expertise. [Watch the Connections Online WATU panel here]

Why is it so hard? Why are wargaming leaders still reacting with surprise when someone points out the abject lack of diversity in their plans, and sitting back helplessly waiting for women and minorities and heroic allies like Tom to come and diversity! for them instead of taking personal responsibility?

I love that people are talking about WATU. I love that men are talking about what women and lesbian and refugee and Indian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and disabled wargamers achieved with WATU. But guys: you absolutely have to stop congratulating yourselves on how awesome WATU was in place of doing anything to address the diversity problems in wargaming today.

It’s as simple as: straight white men, you have to step back and yield the floor. 

If you support diversity and inclusion in wargaming you have to recognise that means you personally—as an over-represented straight white male—have to give up some of your time in the spotlight and make space for women and minorities to take the floor.

It’s not about someone else will take the hit so there’s diversity but I still get to speak 100% of the time I want to, it’s realising that when you personally hold forth on a subject, you personally are silencing a woman or minority wargamer by hogging the space—and you personally have to honestly consider:

Have I said enough already? Can I yield the floor to let someone else speak and not die (psychologically, professionally, literally—since we’re talking about scarcity and threat-focused mindsets.)

Does she/he/they know more about this subject than I do? Don’t be a Mansplainer, don’t presume to know more about a subject because you once held a book about it, don’t assume women and minority wargamers are less-qualified, less-experienced, or only here to do the secretarial work.

Does she/he/they have a different perspective to the same-old-same-old that straight white men have been focusing on since forever? Chances of this are extremely high. Women and minority wargamers experience so much in life that straight white men are oblivious to because it doesn’t happen to straight white men. That’s literally the unknown unknown you need to shut up and listen to, to learn something you didn’t already know.

Is she/he/they perfectly capable of making the exact same point I was going to make, thus scratching my itch that it be aired and making space for other people to contribute? Win win win. Seriously, what is wrong about this? The only reason not to like this scenario is if you’re more interested in who scores the conversational points than the actual furthering of knowledge/understanding/wargaming.

And before you cry “This is silencing men! The outrage!”

Of course that’s not what I’m advocating. 

An idealistic rule of thumb: you have two ears, one mouth. If you’re a straight white man you could try yeilding the floor to women and minority wargamers 50% of the time you would otherwise speak. Yeilding just means giving other people who don’t normally get to speak the opportunity to go first—you may find they say everything and more you wanted to hear, you may learn something new.

Bare in mind, cognitive bias is such that when women make up 30% of a group they are perceived to be in the majority, and when they speak 17% of the time they are preceived by men to be dominating the conversation—so I think it’s incredibly safe to say just stopping to think and maybe letting a woman or minority wargamer go first is not going to cause the breakdown of society. You’d have to try excessively over-the-top hard to actually make space for women and minority wargamers to dominate a conversation—ignoring the fact that women are way more conscious of taking up more than fair space in a conversation than men are, and will yield the floor out of politeness before it’s genuinely silencing men.

That feeling you have? Of tensing up slightly at the thought of being silenced, the scarcity and threat-mindset, the need to be heard? The unfairness of it? …women and minority wargamers feel that all the time when straight white men interupt us, talk over us, don’t invite us to be speakers at conferences, have all-male panels discussing obviously women/minority interest subjects, or complain that wargaming should not be about gender or sexual orientation or skin colour or disability. Newsflash for you straight white men: it already is about those things, you just don’t notice it because you’re in the favoured group and don’t experience the being sidelined, ignored, discounted, and told to shut up and act like straight white men or go somewhere else if you don’t like it. Have you ever had to deal with work e-mails responding to your research/paper/presentation that is not engaging with content at all but an attack on your personhood, intelligence, legitimacy, and right to exist in wargaming? Because I have, and other women and minority wargamers get that while straight white men get to Advance Straight To Go and only discuss the merits of their work.

Before you cry “This is woke nonsense, unfairly priviliging minorities!”

Just stop. Stop and think about the ugly ugly thought behind the knee-jerk reaction to efforts to increase women’s and minority representation: that they’re taking our opportunities and giving them to under-qualified, inexperienced people instead. Presuming that women and minority wargamers couldn’t possibly be equally—if not more—qualified and experienced than straight white men.

I have a First in rocket science. Yuna Wong has five degrees. Look at WATU: everybody loves to say WATU was Roberts’ brainchild, his genius—he never rose above Captain, WATU was the highlight of his career. Syed Ahsan, Number One at the Bombay Tactical Table, went on to head the Pakistan Navy and hold senior government positions. It’s the same dynamic as the Tuskegee Airmen: barriers to entry for minority folks select for exceptional participants. Until gender parity and proportionate representation of minority wargamers is universal, across the board, at every wargaming conference and event, and discriminatory behaviour is a thing of the past, there is literally no danger of diversity efforts privilidging underqualified minority wargamers at the expence of mediocre straight white men.

I’m down with this, what can I do?

Use inclusive language: it signals to women and minorities that the space is welcoming. Historically these spaces were not, and the omission of women and minorities are welcome in the invite was deliberate, so it’s not enough to have changed your mindset without changing the language you use too. @ManWhoHasItAll would not be such delicious satire if we didn’t all buy into gendered presumptions about so many things.

If you don’t say “anyone who identifies as a woman” then trans women will not know if you mean they are just as welcome. If you don’t even make the barest minimum effort of “Please get in touch if you have accessibility needs so we can make this work for everyone” then you’re sending a message to disabled wargamers that we’re not even interested in trying when, in fact, you have a legal (and moral) obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

Allow women and minorities the space to step up—hold back the stampeed of men, because men will apply and volunteer and show up even when you explicitly say this is an opportunity for women. Don’t allow men to fill up all the spaces before women and minorities have had the chance to beleive you really mean they’re welcome. It’s not enough to say you accepted submissions regardless of gender etc, you actually have to make an effort to ensure diversity.

Invite women and minority folks directly—don’t assume a general announcement or group e-mail will actually come across as, “Yes, you! Reading this now, I want you!” Approach them directly, personally. If you don’t know who to ask, ask other people to recommend women and minority wargamers you could ask. Six degrees of separation, people.

If you—straight white man—are invited as a speaker or audience member, ask the organisers: how many women and minority speakers do you have? Are they here as experts in their own right, or are you just using them to facilitate men? Refuse to participate in manels. Refuse to participate in all-white panels. Point them at women and minority wargamers you want to hear from instead. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Make an effort to understand the experiences of women and minority wargamers. Develop your empathy muscles. It’ll make you a better wargamer, and improve wargaming culture for everyone.

Who do you want to include?

Look at your panel, and your event as a whole: who are your speakers? Are they all men, are they all white, are they all straight/cishet, are they all non-disabled? …do they all look like you, in other words.

Doesn’t seem like a thing to you, because all you see are people like you, and unconsciously that gives your brain a rush of I belong here vibes. For women and minority wargamers it’s sending a message of exclusion. If you’ve ever been the only white person in a room, or the only man in the room, or the only non-disabled person in the room, or the only straight person in the room, you’ll understand it’s not about hostile behaviour or the intention to exclude, but that it feels uncomfortable to you because you stick out like a sore thumb.

You need diversity in your organising committee to get buy-in from diverse speakers and a diverse audience.

It is an absolute delight to join Women’s Wargaming Network gatherings and see 50/50 white and non-white attendees—in large part because Yuna Wong’s visible presence as founder of the network signals to black and asian wargamers this is a place you are welcome and wanted and will be respected. That’s at least half-a-dozen not-white US wargamers you could look to instead of piling all your diversity hopes and dreams into “Yuna! Come fix us, diversity for us!” That’s a whole cohort of smart, capable, diverse wargamers you could actively raise up instead of ignoring in favour of the same old guys.

Straight white men: diversity does not happen by magic. It does not happen by good intentions alone. It happens by conscious and constant effort by you personally. You have so much power to set the tone and influence others by your behaviour—you are already doing it. The question is who do you want to include?


Read more about the Derby House Principles for diveristy and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

One response to “Why is it still so hard?

  1. Dani 14/04/2021 at 4:13 pm

    I have a confession that I have not been helping. As a white, straight, woman I have gotten used to being the only or one of few women in the room. And so I have gotten lazy and accepting of the status quo. I stopped being bothered by it, to some extent (although today I did happen to look around my meeting of 30 people and notice I was the only female). I’m in the early stages of establishing a war gaming community of interest in my organization (which is about 80% male, and I guesstimate about 90% of them are white). And so now after reading this article I am determined I won’t be lazy. I will directly seek out and invite a diverse crowd to join the community and not rely solely on those initial volunteers. But yes, that will require me to not be lazy. Wish me luck!!! Thanks for the inspiring words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: