Clubhouse: I joined for its inclusivity but got so much more

Oh, sure, you’re thinking to yourself. You put on your sarcastic voice. Have to have a Mac device, or whatever. Need to buy into the iOS cult. And it’s only audio-based. How’s that for your inclusivity?

You’d be 100% right. No one is saying Clubhouse is perfect. But here are the reasons I’ve been enjoying my time on Clubhouse so far.

First, some parameters. The interests I checked off when I was building my profile involve different ethnic and demographic identifiers as well as topics like inclusivity, entrepreneurship, and culture. My bio clearly identifies me as being someone who is interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion. I most often stay in rooms where I see a variety of demographic markers represented on the moderator’s stage, and I also look for rooms that are about topics I may not have any prior experience in.

A more democratic model of expertise. I have been on way too many panels where I was either the only person of color or the only woman of color.* On Clubhouse, each room I’ve even dropped into has a good spread of men and women as well as a broad spread of demographic markers. That is, the “experts” are people whose voices would not otherwise get heard if there were a governing body, say, who had ultimate power over who’s an expert and who’s not.

When I told growth strategist Charlie Gilkey that I was looking for an environment in which I could hear diverse voices and partner with them to explore different questions around inclusivity and publishing, he was unequivocal in his assessment: “Clubhouse is it,” he said, and he’s right. At Clubhouse, there is no gatekeeper but your own varying desire to speak and your own curiosity, and I think that’s a pretty good balance to our current system, which prioritizes white male voices over nearly everything else.

Here’s another way to look at what I ultimately want to see. Here is the accepted model for spreading information or demonstrating expertise; what we usually see.

Ink illustration of three smug-looking gumdrop-shaped beings, mouths open, talking to an audience of other gumdrops.
Ink illustration of three smug-looking gumdrop-shaped beings, mouths open, talking to an audience of other gumdrops.
Illustration: Yi Shun Lai

And here’s what I’d like to see more of. It looks more like an environment where we all learn from each other.

ink illustration of five happy gumdrop-looking creatures connected to each other, presumably talking to each other.
ink illustration of five happy gumdrop-looking creatures connected to each other, presumably talking to each other.
Illustration: Yi Shun Lai

Clubhouse gets me closer to this model than anything I’ve seen so far. (By the way, it’s worth noting that if you Google the term “expert” and then Google “resource,” the definitions are virtually indistinguishable from each other.)

Eavesdropping without the ick. My cousin Angela suggested that Clubhouse was like eavesdropping, and she’s not wrong. A lot of times, you’re just there, listening to what interesting people have to say. And if you’re feeling like what they have to say isn’t all that interesting to you, you just hit the “peace out” button and quietly leave. It’s a lot like eavesdropping.

The difference is, the people you’re listening to know the possibility of someone eavesdropping is there. They’re expecting it. So while you may be sitting in on a conversation between just two people, say, you also know they’re having the convo with the express caveat that folks might be listening. But there’s another side to this eavesdropping, and it’s the fact that I get to sit in on conversations I either wouldn’t have ever been invited to or conversations I wasn’t aware was happening.

For instance, the other day I sat in on a group of black chefs who were talking about their vegan practices, and the recipes they like to make at home. They took questions and comments from the other people in the room. This isn’t a group I’d have easy access to without Clubhouse, but it made me realize that this is a group I’d like to learn more from.

And yesterday I was in a book club run by some anthropologists! It was so great to hear about the books they’re reading from their points of view, since the book club circles don’t usually include anthropologists.

Getting to be a part of these rooms feels like a real privilege.

Generosity seems to be the rule. A number of sessions I’ve sat in on feature the folks on the moderator’s stage wanting to actively help people who’d been invited up to speak. This method of connection speaks to me, a little like Shark Tank without the competition. In a room I was in celebrating the UN’s 75th birthday, social entrepreneurs were invited to step up and tell the moderators about their projects. The moderators then made offers to connect and share their own resources with the folks who’d spoken.

And last night I listened to a group of female founders who talked about how they secured their first and second rounds of funding. The advice was invaluable, even though I’m not pitching a product or even founding a company: One woman spoke about the laser-focused approach she used to find VCs who might be interested in helping her with funding, which I will use when the times comes to query my next literary projects; and another woman who was pitching a product got good advice to look into supply-chain partnerships, which reminded me to look sideways at each step of my writing and editing business for opportunities.

Ornate two-story treehouse with a winding staircase leading up to it. There’s a turret!!!
Ornate two-story treehouse with a winding staircase leading up to it. There’s a turret!!!
“Lake Chelan Treehouse” from Nelson Treehouse and Supply

Practicing listening; normalizing different perspectives. I used to be a person who was much more interested in demonstrating expertise than I was in learning about expertise. I’m much happier where I am now, and Clubhouse has struck me at exactly the right time.

Related to this better listening skillset is an increased capacity and desire to look for voices that do not sound like mine. I’ve always loved it when people with accents speak to me in English; it reminds me that there is a wider world out there, with perspectives that I have yet to internalize.

In my MFA classes I’m working hard to integrate code-meshing into my teaching, and encouraging students to bring their whole selves to workshop and critique and class discussions. This means I don’t remark on non-standard English in class or discussions, and that I encourage other students whose primary language is standard English (more on this later) to consider that there are many different demographics represented in our country’s usage of English.

Listening to the wide variety of accents on Clubhouse helps me to normalize the idea that there is really no standard English in the United States. From regional dialects to Black American English to Indian English, experiencing this breadth of communication styles helps me to be a better instructor. And hearing these accents also helps to underscore that they often come with creative solutions and valuable perspectives I may not have known before.

No, I wouldn’t say so. In the first place, there are the hard barriers that exist: No iOS? You can’t play. Hard of hearing or Deaf? You also can’t play without an external transcription service. On one of my first spins through the open rooms, I came across one that asked if life coaches were ruining Clubhouse, and there’s been a fair amount written about whether it’s as open as my experience has been. And as with any social media app, you’ll find unsavory types whose bully pulpit could use stricter moderation.

But for the express reasons above, it’s working for me, and I hope to see you there.

D&I educator; writing & editing. Author, Pin Ups (9/20). Columnist, The Writer mag.; @gooddirt on Twitter. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!

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