Am I a monster because I’m prejudiced?

“I’ve got biases. Serious bias. If ever I tell anyone about them they say I’m prejudiced. I thought I was just a normal feeling, sensing human being so how come I now feel as though I no longer fit into our society, into the workplace? Am I really the dinosaur, the pariah the media suggest I am? The vitriol of those who would sit in judgement of me should what my thoughts become known is absolutely terrifying. They call themselves ‘the future’ but I just see them as terrifying, unstoppable, self-righteous dictators.

But I’m still thirty years off retirement. How can I avoid being sacked? I need to work or it will be the park bench for me… What can I do to fit in so I can save my job, my respectability and my sanity? I’m desperate. Help me! I’m not the monster they would say I am.”

I’ve often written about the dinosaurs in our society who need to shape up or ship out – so am I one of the ‘dictators’ who terrify mortal souls? I really hope not. I’ve pushed for fairness and equality but I feel life is getting increasingly complex. It’s no longer about just saying that women shouldn’t have to fight to be heard or paid fairly, that black people should not be treated as though they have less intelligence or are less educated or that where you were educated should not determine your status in life.

Whilst those issues continue to be important, the issues discussed in the media today are increasingly complex:

  • Do women in a women’s prison have the right to not to have to be locked up with a man who now identifies as a woman and who has been convicted of rape? Do rights to self-identify in any chosen gender trump their rights to privacy and safety?
  • Is eating spaghetti Bolognese cultural appropriation and insulting to Italians or are we still okay to do that as long as we don’t include our own Bolognese recipe in a cookbook? Do chefs rights to create and publish get trumped by a desire to ‘protect’ national culture?
  • Can we clap our hands in delight or congratulations or is that very act of thanking one person a demonstration of our ignorance, as are excluding others such as the deaf and autistic? Do our rights to display our feelings get trumped by the rights of those with disabilities?
  • Should someone who scaled the giddy heights in their bank to director level as a man now receive the accolade of being given a place in a list of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in the UK as he dresses as a woman for part of each week? Do his rights to identify as a woman part of each week trump the rights of woman number 101 who missed out getting on the list?
  • Should a convicted terrorist’s rights to a family life result in his early release from prison and, as a result, his rights trump the rights of those in the local community who would want to walk the streets without fear of attack?

Can you fathom out whose rights trump the rights of others? And what impact is that having on those in our society who have contributed to and worked in their communities but who no longer feel able to be themselves? Worse still, be made to feel like they are intolerant, ignorant pariahs who we need to oust?

As the owner of an HR business I would quite like a discussion about some of the issues I myself feel uncomfortable about. But I daren’t! Do you know what? I’m actually scared of the trolling and vilification that would occur if I dare to ask certain questions or explore the issues that are bothering me. Never before have I been made to feel in the UK that I can’t say what I want to say or open a debate about some challenging issues. So where does that leave our diversity and inclusion training? I deliver lots of D&I training but I like to get people thinking and discussing, sharing ideas and concerns, to encourage behavioural change through education, rather than through coercion.  I don’t believe you can’t force through behavioural change, that would never be sustainable.

If you are organising D&I training what do you want: a ‘tell’ style lecture on what can and can’t be said or a genuine exploration, involving all in the room, about where biases come from, how we can be ever more inclusive, what happens when our actions to include one, result in us excluding another and why so many of us find diversity and inclusion issues challenging.

In essence do you want to deliver 1D inclusion training where only the corporate inclusion message can be repeated or 3D training that creates a greater opportunity to encourage genuine behavioural change across the whole organisation?

But moving on from training, how did we go in the UK from being admired for our rights to free speech to this hell hole where certain sections of society are given the mike whilst others are denied the right of response. By all means be passionate about your cause, but our society really is in trouble if your passion turns you into a dictator with no tolerance for the opinions and rights of others.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a student being interviewed for the local news. She said she had gone to hear a local politician speak with the sole purpose of tackling him on his views about transgender rights. He said he would not embrace those rights as a result of his Christian faith. Her intention was to publicly embarrass him. I don’t mind that she has strong opinions. What I do mind is the journalist thinking the ‘accused’ had no rights of response and that transgender rights trump Christians rights. When did our society make that decision? Did I miss something? Has there been an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 that I missed out on?

I’d love to see that student being called out for her own intolerance and lack of inclusivity. Inclusivity is not just about parading the rights of the group that shouts or lobbies the hardest (race, religion, gender etc.) and vilifying everyone else. How did that message get lost?

I say in every diversity and inclusion or Unconscious bias workshop I deliver that with every ‘right’ given to us in law we also have a ‘responsibility’ to ensure that in asserting our rights we don’t ignore our responsibility to consider and be respectful of the rights of others.

The equality act of 2010 was great in bringing clarity to who is protected in law but it doesn’t say that certain rights trump others. Let’s be really clear about that. It also doesn’t encourage the vilification of people or suggest that free speech is only allowed to certain members of our society.

If you are interested in genuine inclusion and would like to create a more inclusive workplace through 3D training here is my 4 point plan:

  1. Create a safe space. Let people know in advance that what is said in the room stays in the room. All views will be welcomed as without a full and open discussion there will be important things left unsaid.
  2. Start with a wide open discussion about what we actually mean by free speech and why free speech is important in the UK. In Jaluch D&I training we already have a session on bullying versus banter, where’s the fine dividing line?…Well let’s extend that to free speech versus intimidation and discuss the fine line between passionate promotion of our views and abuse or discrimination of others who hold different views
  3. And when you’ve sorted the thorny issue of free speech, why not move onto discussing respect and what genuine inclusion means in terms of all of our behaviours. A discussion around rights and responsibilities and how no one person’s rights trump the rights of others
  4. And when you’ve cracked that, you can move on to a discussion of how you can achieve inclusion in a way that makes you the leading light in your sector when it comes to thinking and understanding about genuine and sustainable inclusion (including absolutely everyone, whatever their rights or views). Because that is when your profitability and return on equity, which are the exciting consequence of successful D&I programmes, make you the business everyone looks up to!

As a final note I would comment that increasingly we are seeing organisations offer D&I or Unconscious Bias training but making it optional. This means that those who feel there is a need for greater inclusion attend, leaving those who don’t care about inclusion not attending. To be blunt about it, what are you doing making it optional? You’re wasting your money and your time and I can tell you right now that this approach will not drive genuine inclusion in your business.

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This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.

2 replies added

  1. nicky192 24 October, 2018 Reply

    I also deliver training but primarily from an Equality Act perspective and I have to say that the vast majority of People Managers do want some clear guidance as to ‘what they are allowed to say’. I agree that this isn’t always straightforward but we still have ‘dinosaurs’ in the workplace who query whether saying P*ki (yes, truly), coloured (especially the older gen), the Darkie (Scotland), ‘Mad Margaret’ ‘pregnancy is not an illness’ etc. etc. is OK. If they genuinely don’t know, want to know (because you’ve started the day with an exercise on pros and cons of getting E&D right and because they are nice people who don’t want to offend people) then my view is that we have an obligation to tell them for the sake of their colleagues, company culture and the reputation of the business.

    I find it very interesting that you use the bolognaise example for Cultural Appropriation and I’d love to discuss this further.

    • Elizabeth McDonald 24 October, 2018 Reply

      Thank you for your comment Nicky. Let’s hope your post can lead to further discussion/comments – it would be really interesting to hear other people’s opinions and get a discussion going.

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