Are you what you measure?

I’ve spent much of my time in marketing constructing customer surveys – either for my own organisation, or for other cultural organisations, and one of the ‘standard’ questions we always include is one around ethnicity. This is largely because most funders want organisations to report on it.

Despite the fact that the stats rarely change from year to year – in the majority of cases, the percentage of ‘White British’ is consistently somewhere well over 90% - we keep measuring it.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn’t be focused on diversity (or the lack of it) in our sector – far from it. But I’m not convinced that measuring it relentlessly with nothing changing is doing much good either.

I’ve just been on holiday, and have spent the last week catching up on a few documentaries, including ones on the KKK in America, and the excellent BBC series on partition in India in 1947. Both programmes have shocked and upset me.

So how does this relate to my audience surveys?

I began thinking about at which point was I first asked to identify my ethnicity on a form or in a survey. When did I first have to think about which cultural identity I was ‘part of’? I’m not really sure to be honest, but hearing the white supremacists in America talk about their ‘White heritage’ and an affiliation with other white people in such a tribal way, made me question whether it was something I really wanted to do at all.

I don’t want my children to have to think about this just yet – at 9 and 8 they’re still very much at the stage of seeing people as humans, and not dividing them, or themselves, into tribes of any kind – other than perhaps which year group or lunch queue they are in – both of which could change.

So next time I’m asked to complete this on a survey I won’t be answering that question – just by doing so, it diminishes part of who I am and how I relate to all humanity

(Don’t worry though – I’ll still keep analysing your surveys and telling you what you probably already know!).

Katy Raines

Partner

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