© Simona Bednarek
Ninia “LaGrande” Binias (* 1983) lives and works in Hannover. She writes for various media, hosts events and acts as a slam poet. She moderates her own TV and podcast formats and is a regular guest at cabaret and comedy shows. She also writes columns and articles for various newspapers, magazines and online portals, including RND (RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland), Missy Magazine, and leidmedien.de. Additionally, Ninia moderates congresses, events, festivals and numerous other formats live or in front of the camera. She is the managing director of the Büro für Popkultur GmbH (Department for Pop Culture), which was honored in 2017 as the “Creative Pilot of Germany.” She volunteers as the chair of the the Advisory Board on how to promote Hannover to become Capital of Culture 2025. Ninia is also an active feminist and has been working for inclusion for many years. All good reasons to talk with Ninia about diversity in the world of work.
Ninia, you are 1.38 m tall and thus medically considered to have dwarfism. Actually, one would think that this fact in itself would not be worth mentioning in 2019, but apparently it is. You already immortalized a few stories about the sometimes-crazy reactions of people to your height in your 2014 book, …and quite a lot of stupid! (German: …und ganz, ganz viele Doofe!). Are there any stories/situations from your professional life that show how important the topics of diversity and inclusion are in 2019?
After completing my studies, I did a traineeship in corporate communications and worked for a few years as an editor and in the field of online marketing/social media. There were very few hurdles for me personally – both in applications and in everyday work. In fact, I was always the only one with a visible disability. Of course, that’s strange. As a result, I eventually asked myself where the others were and what makes me different from them – here, of course, privileges are a big buzzword. With my independence, my dwarfism moved more into focus. Today I still have the occasional feeling of being booked as the “disabled quota” – as a moderator and on podiums. I’m good at my job, but I’m also often the only one with disabilities. And when I moderate an event about inclusion as such a person, something feels wrong. Where are all the others? Especially in this area, it’s “not about us; with us.” Moreover, it is still the case that many companies would rather buy their way out of a “quota” rather than create positions for people with disabilities. It is not clear to them that all employees can only benefit from a diverse environment – professionally and personally. That will have to be much more regulated and fined. In the meantime, although there are people who are responsible for diversity in companies – this is often only about women’s advancement, which unfortunately only scratches the surface of diversity in 2019 and has nothing to do with inclusion. Much more has to happen here.
Diversity is currently on everyone’s lips. Beyond buzzword bingo – what does diversity mean to you personally?
Diversity means the visibility of different people and societies. Diversity is not automatic but must always be demanded and promoted. Diversity is visible equality of all genders – regardless of disability, origin, religion, class, etc.
People without disabilities are often insecure when dealing with people with disabilities. What tips do you have?
Speak. Communicate your insecurity. Ask what you can do right. And avoid euphemisms. Nothing gets better if you cannot name it. Also, respect responses. Anyone who does not need help can communicate that.
How can we make our working world more diverse and inclusive? And how can each of us contribute to it daily?
By abolishing special schools and workshops and stopping a welfare industry on the backs of people with disabilities. By making a political and active contribution to creating opportunities for people with disabilities in the primary labor market. For example, by achieving more regarding the job carving process – forming diverse teams and actively demanding diversity. By asking questions: why are we such a homogeneous team, how can we change that, what would that do to us? By asking ourselves how diverse our environment is and why we are afraid of change.
A society in which everyone is equal begins with the smallest. How must our education system change?
My utopia is that we someday no longer need the term “inclusive” in kindergartens and schools. However, our education system is so old and encrusted that we need a thorough rehabilitation and change – in the system and in the education of educators and teachers. Those who – as do we in Germany – focus so much on separation and advancement of the elite cannot expect an inclusive school landscape. We need much more money for more professionals and spaces. Smaller classes, more individualized forms of instruction, and classroom-based teacher teams – for example, as in Canada. We need parents and teachers who accept that inclusion is a human right – for all people, not just people with disabilities. We must move away from the competition for the best grades, the most promising place of study, and the fastest education, towards community and mutual support.
In the last few years, a lot has been done for women on the net and in the workplace. Do you feel that way, too? And what are currently the most important topics in feminism to you?
The internet has done a lot for women insofar as educated women are still frequently harassed, stalked and muzzled. The barriers are even lower than offline. This is frustrating and time consuming. Nonetheless, at the same time, great solidarity, diversity of opinion and support have developed online – which also has an offline impact. Feminists network, discuss, and support each other. For me, “feminism” is a homeland, a word for all the things I want to achieve politically and socially. Especially in the last few years, I have the feeling that we are at the risk of a rollback – Europe is moving to the right; family, women and body politics are becoming more and more conservative; and at the same time many feminists (including me) are getting tired and frustrated. We have to be careful that we do not give up.
In the world of work, too, my ideas are moving too slowly. We are still discussing quotas for executive floors, rather than thinking about who should enjoy good education, training and study at all. Who has access to jobs at all. Fathers are still celebrated when they come up with the wild idea of taking more than two months of parental leave – but I am asked where my child is when I go back to work two months after the birth. And no matter which variant women choose – they have to decide and, regardless of what they do, still end up with most of the organizational and care work (keyword: mental load).
For me, there are never THE most important topics of feminism. There is also not feminism, either. Feminist politics and demands have influence in all areas of life and all topics. But right now, I want to highlight the really backward politics around abortions and all intersectional questions. I have the feeling that in the media and social discourse, everything is always going in circles and always just white career women who look forward to Mother’s Day on a spa voucher. We would have to go beyond this and focus on the issues of non-binary and trans people, people with disabilities, people of color, black people, Muslims.