It’s big and it’s scary, it’s in the room and ignoring it won’t
make it go away. An Elephant in the Room is an expression to
describe a big topic everyone is ignoring, pretending it doesn’t exist
because it is too scary or too difficult to deal with. Racism like
sexism, ageism and homophobia-discrimination is a big, scary topic.
The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent global protests
present organisations with the opportunity of keeping the Equality
conversation going and maintain the momentum for change but only if
they know how.
Equality in the workplace is about ensuring people are not treated
unfairly or discriminated against as a result of being different due
to their race, gender, disability, sexuality, faith or age. This is
not restricted to recruitment but extends to how people are treated at
work. Do employees feel their manager and their organisation treats
Diversity recognises that it broadens and strengthens their
team/organisation to have within it people from a range of different
backgrounds and experiences. That people who are different will bring
something new to the team or organisation but only if their manager
and the organisation values what they have to offer.
Equality and diversity is not restricted to employment, it also
covers service delivery. Are people less likely to receive a service
if they are black, gay, disabled, old or Muslim? Does the service
offered take account of differences arising out of race, gender,
disability, faith, age and sexuality. Or is everyone treated as if we
all have the same needs, interests, circumstances and beliefs.
Equality and diversity is not about treating everyone the same. The
task is to help managers and staff understand this and explore what
this means for their team, their service and their place of work.
This will involve changing the way people think and behave at work by
identifying the questions people really want to ask but are reluctant
to for fear of being labelled a racist, sexist or homophobic.
Identifying stereotypes, myths and prejudices and challenging them.
If staff feel valued and respected, if they feel they are treated
fairly then the organisation they work for is unlikely to be
characterised by bullying, harassment and discrimination. This
requires managers to become better people managers to improve their
leadership skills by gaining insight into how their behaviour affects
the people they manage.
To realise the full benefits of a diverse workforce the organisation
needs to identify the complex reasons why women and people from black
and minority ethnic groups are underrepresented in senior management
posts. Not simply putting this down to overt discrimination but
recognising that people different to you experience the world in a
different way to you. This affects their approach to seeking
employment and promotion.
A diverse workforce requires all staff to develop a sensitivity
towards their colleagues by gaining knowledge and insight into how
people who are different to you experience the world of work.
To achieve these changes in the way people behave at work we need to
identify equality champions, people at all levels within the
organisation who are prepared to put time and energy to raising
awareness around equality and diversity issues.
Fairness in the workplace involves getting people to talk openly
about race, religion, gender, disability, ageism and sexuality. It’s
about creating a safe environment for people to say what they are
really thinking and it’s about creating appropriate opportunities for
people to be challenged.
Most people are not racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic but they are
bombarded with negative stereotypes and myths in their daily lives.
Their own limited opportunity for mixing with people different to them
can lead to ignorance, insensitivity and unthinking prejudice.
Opportunities need to be created to challenge these negative
stereotypes, myths and prejudices and increase awareness.
Blair McPherson former Director and author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk