A Friendly Conversation Becomes Uncomfortable
“It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J.K. Rowling
It began on a lovely fall day as an innocent conversation between two friends who had not seen each other for over a year. Catching up on how our respective families were, she inquired about a family member who had recently completed a degree in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP). She went on to ask what exactly a Speech-Language Pathologist does and where they can work. She remarked that she had little knowledge on the subject, but was aware that they could assist people after having a stroke.
We began to discuss the various places an SLP can work, such as hospitals, schools, and private clinics, and the populations they serve. In the course of the conversation, voice modification came up as an example of an area where speech-language pathologists can work.
Voice modification is used to help people straining their vocal cords for a variety of reasons. For example, singers can use their voice in excess and develop polyps. Julie Andrews lost her ability to sing after surgery to her vocal chords, and Adele famously discussed the vocal cord surgery she had years ago on Sixty Minutes.
Voice modification can also help transgenders to speak more like the gender they identify with, without damaging their vocal cords.
Trans folks want to pass for the gender they identify with and phone conversations can be challenging.
Any observer of the conversation between my friend and I would have witnessed how uncomfortable my friend was with the subject of voice modification. To my surprise, she stated that she hoped health insurance never covered this type of service. To me, it appeared mean-spirited. Ironically, most speech-language services aren’t covered by insurance, but that’s another story entirely.
As I reflected on this conversation I thought about the J. K. Rowlings’ quote
My friend has had every advantage top Ivy League schools offer. She has had a professional career, considerable ability to travel, and healthy children. She has no clue what it is like to struggle with something that makes you feel like an “Other,” apart and separate from “normal society.”
On paper, my friend looks like an ideal candidate for any company, considered a perfect “culture fit” for many businesses, and she’ll be hired quickly if she ever decides to work outside of her home. I know many people like her. On the other hand, I also know countless people who will eventually find a job, but before landing one, they will be told, repeatedly, that they are not a good “culture fit.” Again and again, they will be made to feel like an “Other,” less valuable in the workplace because their voice is their signature, and to many, the thing that sets them apart.
Unless and until decision-makers demand an inclusive workforce we are doomed to make the same bad decisions over and over again. Until our outlook has changed, hiring managers will continue to hold their companies back from the creative thinking and unique problem solving that comes from a richly diverse workplace. And with the price of attrition to businesses, it’s a remarkably poor decision.