White guys only need apply

They didn’t even bother with a token this year. The seven speakers at the Chamber of Commerce seminar last week (“DIRECTIONS: Engines of Change”) were all-white, all-male, and all self-promoting in their role as the “deciders” for our community. Sponsors saw no need for gender, racial, or income diversity at the podium, either by design or by neglect.

Instead, the Chamber featured Daniel Witt, Tesla’s senior manager of business development and policy, waxing proud but hardly grateful for the billion-dollar subsidy we gave the company for the honor of hosting them in our region. Brothel owner Lance Gilman, the managing partner of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, lauded the entrepreneurial spirit of Nevada. Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and denier-in-chief of any concern that growth doesn’t really pay for itself was there, too.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

You might shrug and say, So what? The Chamber is hardly representative of the population, and they certainly don’t speak for the majority of people who live here. If a good-old-boys insiders club wants to get together to reinforce their values of profits over people, why should we care?

This is why. These self-styled leaders heavily influence our elected officials from their positions of power. Ever wonder how the City of Reno got so far underwater, buying up properties to “help” their baseball buddies build a stadium? Or why the committee tasked with coming up with funds to build more schools for the children of the new Tesla and Switch workers immediately landed on raising our sales and property taxes? They’re certainly not interested in listening to a lecture about the regressiveness of the sales tax where the burden falls most heavily on those who earn the least.

When women and people of color are deprived of leadership roles, their perspective is also lost. When low-income people or their advocates are invisible, their concerns will naturally go unvoiced. Who will bring up the lack of affordable housing as new workers enter an already under-resourced market? Who will talk about the seniors living on social security or the lack of quality, affordable child care or the struggling families who will struggle even more in a boom economy that leaves them behind?

When contacted by women and community activists expressing disappointment at the lack of diversity and incredulity at the disrespect shown to women and minorities by excluding them from the podium, several speakers said not to worry; they’d make sure it didn’t happen again next year. But actions speak louder than empty promises.

Hans Schulz of the Inter-American Development Bank recently observed that men who care about gender equality must start acting on their beliefs if they truly want to see change. He wrote, “If my male colleagues and I keep participating in all-male panels, we will continue to do ourselves and our field a disservice. The timeless tradition of group-think has failed to solve our biggest development challenges. Incorporating more diverse perspectives, including those of women, offers the best chance of devising new and more effective approaches.”

The same could be said of speakers who provide racial and income diversity. Without these voices, Kazmierski will continue to be mystified at our community’s skepticism of the “added-value” his “engines of change” will bring to Reno. That skepticism is bound to turn into resentment and anger if the Chamber refuses to listen to alternative views, as uncomfortable as they may be.

It’s hard to imagine that the conference organizers didn’t notice the speakers at their group-think conference were all white men.

But it’s easy to imagine that they didn’t really care.