There’s a danger that diversity and inclusion get pushed down the agenda in the economic fall-out from COVID-19. This week’s events show why they should be an absolutely core part of how an organisation operates.
The protests taking place across the US, the UK and other countries show the level of anger at institutional and indeed any kind of racism.
My daughters have been making placards, signing petitions and sharing news, outraged by what has been happening. They want to know what they can do besides protest. They want change.
Several employers have been making statements supporting the protesters and highlighting injustice and how it affects us all.
That should be expected if all the diversity and inclusion work we talk about is to amount to more than a tick box exercise. Equalities issues should not be separated because they are intersectional. Either you value equality or you don’t.
How do things change? In part it is recognition of the extent of the problem and everyone’s role in it. We’ve been here so many times before, but is this particular moment going to spur deep-rooted change or will we move on to the next thing next week or next month?
Diversity and inclusion issues have been treated as peripheral in the past. They are not. I remember going to an anti-bullying workshop with my daughter. She suffered terrible bullying at primary school, in large part because of racism and she still feels the effects deeply today. She told me she was ugly the other day. Ugly? There is not one single ugly part of her.
I remember sitting in the anti-bullying workshop thinking what is the point of teaching my daughter anti-bullying techniques? She is not the problem. Why should she be more assertive, learn how to respond to bullies and so on? Doesn’t that make her feel she is somehow doing something wrong, that it is her job to manage it? Nothing will change if we don’t look in the mirror and address the roots of racism and the many, often subtle, ways its branches manifest themselves. This is not some side issue – it’s part of the wider culture and it needs to be tackled as such.
At work that means looking at organisational culture, and most particularly the hiring and progression processes.
If people are not properly represented then things will take longer to change. When I started in journalism it was overwhelmingly white. I remember one occasion when the report on the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the news editor was seeking ‘a black perspective’. There was no-one in the entire newsroom who could give that. That is a fundamental weakness. Things have changed, particularly in the BBC‘s on-screen journalists, but definitely not as much as they should and not at all levels of organisations.
If you do not see yourself represented, you feel invisible. I sat with two of my daughters at an event on racism a few years ago. An author spoke about being mixed race. My daughters were in tears by the end. They had never heard anyone articulate something so close to their experience.
If you do not see yourself represented, you do not feel included and your stories are not represented. I remember sitting in countless editorial meetings where people would put forward suggestions for stories that were biased towards a male audience. A rare woman in the newsroom put forward something on breast cancer for a special feature one day. There was a pause and then someone mentioned a football score. Breast cancer was off the agenda. Issues like childcare were seen as women’s page stories – peripheral.
It’s not that everything is perfect now, but things have changed, although to what extent will be seen after we all emerge from the lockdown childcare experience. Largely that change for women has been driven by women leaders, politicians, writers, reporters, trade unionists, businesswomen, speaking up, talking about their experiences, campaigning for change. We need to have enough of those people in those positions to do that.
Workplace diversity and inclusion is absolutely central to wider social justice – both as cause and effect. There’s a danger that diversity and inclusion will fall down the agenda in the economic hurricane we are just entering. What is happening in the US and its wider reverberations show clearly that this cannot happen. Diversity and inclusion are an absolutely core issue for organisations.