Ever seen the film American History X? One of Edward Norton’s finest films for his portrayal of a white supremacist who learned just how wrong his actions and thinking was, and what the consequences of this were for his family.
A while back, I was asked to deliver some Diversity and Dignity at Work training to a company who specialised in Fire Safety and First Aid training. It came about because one of their group was delivering a 4 day First Aid course, and through the course made non-stop sexual innuendos wherever he could about the human body. The course did have a lady delegate, but she wasn’t the one who raised the concern. It was a delegate who felt uncomfortable the trainer did this at all.
Organisational culture is a beast. It’s the result of a range of events, activities, beliefs, actions, processes, procedures, management, leadership, networks and more. And it’s one of the things a lot of employees can identify with easily on day one of work. But what happens when the organisational culture isn’t a good one? What do you do to combat this? Ford Motor Co. were probably the first high profile company during the 1990s to face such issues. There was open racism, discrimination and bad practise rife within their walls. It took a brave few, and the work of good journalists to bring this to light. At the time, the equivalent of the Commission for Racial Equality mandated that Ford change their business practise and to this day they have to report on the diversity practises they employ.
My concern, though, is in this day and age, when you might consider that institutional racism and discrimination are no longer open concerns, how confident can we be that this is the case? And what’s one of the few places you can see how evident this is?
The training room is a fascinating environment. L&Ders will be mindful of creating strong learning environments, effective learning materials, inclusive exercises, and an overall positive intervention. The delegates will have expectations, apprehensions, and issues they either bring with them, or want addressed in that environment. But what of the unspoken truths evident, and the audacity of a few individuals to make comments about the diversity of the delegates? I heard recently about a team away day for a group of sales people. One team were more ethnically diverse than the rest. A joke was passed around that it looked like an advert for the United Colours of Benetton. What a disgrace.
So when you consider who is entering that environment, and you see the make up of the group, what questions should be raised? Who should they get raised to? I don’t think it’s even a question of if it should be raised. Let’s not consider for a moment that training happens across the world, and this brings with it a separate set of issues. But in the UK, and I could support this with data but I have not searched for this, most training environments will consist of white males. The next ‘majority’ will be white females. Beyond this, the diversity of a group will and does split in small ways. Does the L&Der do enough to not favour one group over the other?
Who notices that? And what’s being done to address it? As I say, the training environment is one of the few in your face places that you can identify almost immediately what the diversity of the workforce actually is. And then linked with that are a host of assumptions – who is eligible for training, who is eligible for progression, who is eligible for investment.
Lastly, what happens, as in the initial paragraph when you have a trainer/L&Der who is discriminating, or being prejudiced, or being racist, but they’re blind to it? Going through training will help in one respect. It won’t take care of the issue though. Sacking them seems an obvious choice, but that doesn’t help them, and sends the wrong message to the company. Feedback and coaching may also seem like options, which would seem to be the better option.
The above is an observation on a certain state of play which I perceive to be an ongoing issue which L&D in particular can influence. Businesses will present arguments for and against diversity which is so bizarre a state I don’t even know where to begin with that. L&D are protectors of the realm. We promote our culture, and the way we do things around here. This can also mean we are unwittingly blind.