The DEI Booklist: Five books to think and act differently
If your reading list looks a little too much like this guy 👇 these titles can change that.
In 2018, my self-concept as a diversity and inclusion advocate took a big hit. I discovered that the books I read were typically written by White, able, American, heterosexual cis-men. I was appalled at the homogeneity of the voices to whom I was paying attention.
This discovery prompted me to launch a two-year public challenge to keep me accountable for the diversity of the authors I read. During that time, I read a total of 90 books (2020, 2021) with the following tally for authors: Women and non-binary people (67%), non-US citizens (43%), non-White writers (29%), members of the LBTQ+ collective (16%), and authors with a disability (12%).
Outcry, enlightenment, and inspiration
While diversity did not automatically deliver a masterpiece every time, some books absolutely surpassed all my expectations. They enabled me to remove unknown limiting beliefs, sift through information to uncover systems of power, and turn knowledge into action. Below are five titles that were turning points for me.
Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly
This book reclaims the power of anger as a tool that has been long denied to – and used against – women. The author posits that women should use rage as a catalyst for change.
As I read the book, I remembered the many times anger has given me the resilience to persevere through disappointments, betrayals, and gaslighting. It also dawned on me that often we ascribe women's tears to sorrow but, when I reflect back, I've often cried as a way to channel intense rage.
My key takeaway? I'm now more willing to own my rage. What's more, I refrain from asking other women and people from underrepresented groups to find the courage to change the status quo. Instead, I recommend they lean on the four last letters of the word and embrace this powerful emotion as a source of energy.
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
The author is a queer disabled nonbinary femme writer, educator, and disability/transformative justice worker. She draws on research and her experience as a receiver and giver of care for people with disabilities to make a compelling case about why care is vital to human survival. She also touches on a point rarely discussed before the pandemic: The mental load of being a caregiver. She also addresses the toxic beliefs that carers' needs can wait, that they are endlessly available, and that the satisfaction they draw from caring for others is enough to waive any financial reward.
How did this book change me? The Covid-19 epidemic started shortly after I finished reading Care Work. Armed with the book’s insights, I realized life was about to get harder for all caregivers, paid and unpaid. But that was not the message circulating in the press and among my community.
This prompted me to create the Fair Care Tracker, a free online tool to help caregivers record the unpaid work they perform, assess the value they get in return, reflect on the skills they develop, and quantify their uncollected revenue. It also sowed the seed for my research on the effect of Covid-19 on the unpaid work of professional women including household chores, homeschooling, and caregiving.
This book transformed me into a caregiving activist.
Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein
Data is often used to reinforce systems of oppression under a veneer of rationality, accuracy, and objectivity. This book shows how data science can challenge and change the distribution of power when it’s grounded in intersectional feminism.
Each chapter is dedicated to one of the principles of data feminism developed by the authors: examine and challenge power; value different forms of knowledge, including emotion and embodiment; rethink gender binaries and hierarchies that perpetuate oppression; embrace multiple perspectives prioritizing local, Indigenous, and experiential knowledge; integrate context to data acquisition, analysis, and communication; and make all data work visible, including data production, physical work, and emotional labour.
The authors demonstrate that “data doesn’t speak for itself” but it’s rather contingent on whom benefits from it. They also provide a step-by-step framework to ensure data help us to work towards justice. Definitely not your average statistics textbook.
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
by Julia Serano
I wanted to learn more about the life experience of trans people but it felt extractive to put the burden on them to teach me the basics. I went to exhibitions, read articles, and watched talks. While this was all valuable, I needed more scientific and historical context to anchor my knowledge. This book provided that grounding.
The author is a writer, performer, activist, musician, and biologist. From her website: “Her understanding of biology, along with her life experiences as a trans woman, give her a unique perspective on gender and sexism that challenges many commonly held beliefs.” I couldn’t agree more.
Reading this book made me realize that while I had considered most human characteristics as existing within a spectrum – skin colour, age, disability – my brain had blocked sex from that continuum. People were either women or men. Born with a penis or a vagina. The author transformed me from a bystander to an upstander for trans people’s rights with her compelling blend of scientific research, personal storytelling, and incontestable logic.
This book made me a more well-rounded feminist.
Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence by Kate Crawford
This is an excellent book to understand how artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting our lives and the planet. The narration is captivating and backed up by a wealth of research, including that of the author.
I could go on for pages about why this is essential reading to understand what’s at stake with this emerging technology. From the materiality of AI and mass surveillance to emotion-sensing and enchanted determinism – because artificial intelligence is not a magic wand that'll fix our socio-economic problems - the author demonstrates that AI is the perfect tool to disguise the reinforcement of the status quo as progress.
This book showed me the value of moving the conversation from AI ethics – which is often seen as the realm of experts – to discussing the asymmetry of power AI fosters. I also realized that artificial intelligence is a system to centralize power rather than free us from it.
Through this challenge, I experienced two epiphanies.
First, who we read matters as much as what we read. As an engineer and a scientist, I was taught that knowledge is objective. This reading challenge taught me how the topics we choose to write about as well as how we approach them are intertwined with our lived experiences.
Second, it reinforced my belief that inclusion is a practice. It took me two years to build up the reflex of checking the identity of the author of a book before deciding to read it. Why was it so difficult? Because opportunity is not evenly distributed. Penguin Random House carried out a self-audit of titles published in the US from 2019 to 2021 by authors of any nationality. They uncovered that 75% of its contributors were White, only 16% identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and 88% didn’t have a disability. Broadening the diversity of the voices we listen to takes conscious effort and cannot be left to chance.
As I start the second half of my life, I confront the reality that I won’t be able to read all the books on my ever-increasing wish list. This challenge has taught me how to make more informed choices about where to invest the remainder of my reading time on earth.
Dr Patricia Gestoso is an inclusion strategist who helps leaders to leverage diversity to tap into new markets, boost revenue, increase reputation, and attract and retain talent. She has spearheaded several initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in tech products and the workplace that were recognized with the UK 2020 Women in Tech Changemakers prize. She has conducted research on the effect of COVID-19 on the unpaid work of professional women and the factors accounting for the low representation of women in leadership positions in tech companies.
Find out more about her work at https://patriciagestoso.com/
If you are inspired to buy any of these titles, we encourage you to do so via local or independent booksellers. We recommend Powells, in Portland, Oregon, for US orders.
The Doctor's Dream from The Public Domain Review
Rage Becomes Her cover courtesy of Atria Books
Care Work cover courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press
Data Feminism cover courtesy of MIT Press
Atlas of AI cover courtesy of Yale University Press