What you can’t see..

Thanks to Sukh Pabial whose blog “the diversity and tolerance conundrum” prompted me to finish this blog which has taken a bit of time and thought to write.

Diversity and Inclusion; this is on the agenda of most organisations – right?

  • What’s our policy?
  • How many people of colour do we have in senior positions?
  • How many women do we have in managerial roles?
  • How do we make our public places accessible?
  • How do we train managers to understand and be engaged in working within the law?
  • What are we doing to understand the impact of Diversity and inclusion to creating an adaptable business?
  • How can we make sure we respect and value the needs of people of differing faiths?

“While many organisations can claim they put diversity and inclusion at the core of their people strategy by covering issues such as interviews and assessment methods … many key activities that would help to create non-discriminatory and inclusive workplaces are less common”. Diversity – Fringe or Fundamental?  CIPD 2012

There are some fantastic people in the field of Diversity and Inclusion providing training us to understand our unconscious bias’ and how we may be prejudiced in relation to internalised beliefs, out of our awareness.

Something is missing

It feels like we have progressed, are progressing and yet –  it feels like something is missing.

I had my own thinking challenged a couple of years ago.  I was at a conference where various people from arts and culture organisations had come together to look at making performance spaces accessible for people with disabilities.  So, I’m thinking of people in wheelchairs, perhaps people with visual impairments.  What remains with me from that conference was the speaker from a theatre company in Sheffield who had recently taken on an old industrial building for conversion as an arts space. They work with learning disabled performers, and wanted a lift that someone who was unable to retain multiple instructions would be able to operate.  Out of 25 lift manufacturers, only two were able to make something that worked for these performers.

My own family experience of disability, and past work with SEND children led to my (incorrect) assumption was that I would “know”  about this subject, and yet – the perspective of someone learning disabled hadn’t occurred to me.  I think it struck me as a powerful example of the ways in which people can be excluded, and how hard, how difficult it is to embrace diversity when we think so much from our own frame of reference.

I read a blog late last year by Tony Jackson which was so beautifully written and which really made me think – it’s about how we exclude ourselves from what might cause us pain, embarrassment, difficulty.  Even abuse.

Let me explain from a very personal perspective;  I don’t have children.  Although I am so fortunate to have special ones who I love, and you know who you are.

My childlessness has met with varied reactions throughout my adult life, and I have been excluded, have excluded myself from, various activities because of the judgements that I know people make about me.

I didn’t enjoy being told that “life wasn’t worth living for any woman who wasn’t a mother”. Knowing that I didn’t have children, but not knowing anything else about me.  At a party.  I’m not sure she meant to be unkind, but I have now had that said to me more than once, so I know it’s a view that exists.  So  there are various places, conversations, groupings that I have excluded myself from .  Unspoken judgements made about me speaking loud and clear.

I facilitated an event recently where all the participants and the client were male.  I was referred to as “the glamorous assistant” at one point  – despite having an equal role with my male co-worker.  The spoken assumption that my male colleague was also the superior.   In another situation, where all the speakers were male –  I was told that they just couldn’t attract women to speak.  My response was – “”””try more, try differently”.

The speaker space – so easily claimed by men (not by all men) makes me think. If I inhabit a place that is traditionally male, what will I have to leave behind of myself to fit in?  Women don’t have as much testosterone so – they use up more adrenalin when there is some type of pressure to perform.  That depletes resources. So maybe I don’t do it.  I prefer to step back, and direct my energies elsewhere. These things may not be a “problem” for me as I have adapted, accepted, got used to them.  They may not be conscious choices – choices operating outside of my own awareness.  I exclude myself. No-one deliberately excludes me.

At the core of D&I work has to be the valuing of difference.. If in our hearts we value difference and want to understand more about it, we don’t need quotas, laws, training because our mindset, our thinking is rooted in knowing there are individual realities.

As someone (and forgive me, I can’t remember, but it was a tweet) who has MS recently said  “inaccessibility is what disables me”.

Physical adaptations are a vital part of inclusion; quotas whilst conflicting for so many of us do have a role to play I believe, and policies can enforce behaviour change – absolutely.   But there is so much about all of us in addition to race, gender, physicality which is invisible.  If we restrict our thinking and acting on Diversity and Inclusion to the workplace and legal compliance, what is obvious – we’re missing something about what it is to be human.

We are all unique, each of us.  I would like to see more conversation, more exploration along with the education.  Only when we create shared meaning are we able to really embrace and rejoice in our diversity and make our spaces – both physical and metaphysical – accessible.

Carl Rogers said –  (exploring whether we need a reality)- “the only reality I can know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment”.  He goes on to say, perhaps the human tendency could be “I prize and treasure you because you are different to me”.