>Yesterday I had one the most surreal conversations I’ve ever been involved in so far. There needs to be some context behind this post though. On Friday 1st October 2010, the Equality Act was introduced in the UK. There’s been a lot of expectation about what this new Act will mean for employment legislation. Essentially it brings together all previous employment legislation into one Act, and with it all relating terminologies and nuances. If you want to know more please visit the Acas website.
In truth what this means is in the main, HR folk, employment law specialists and anyone involved in recruitment have one point of reference in regards to equal practices across all groups that may want to enter the workforce.
On the same Friday, Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne wrote an article in the Daily Mail expressing his thoughts on the new Act and what he thinks it holds for UK businesses. You can read that here
. On Monday, a lively exchange
ensued between Duncan Bannatyne and someone from the HR community (Darren Newman).
Darren wrote a post
for XpertHR. One of the Editor’s of this site is Michael Carty
(who is quite possibly the kindest man I know). He posted a request to Duncan Bannatyne through Twitter asking him if he’d like to respond. Duncan’s response was “I would need to read it first and I can’t be bothered”. Here’s that exchange
This is where I come bounding in. I like Michael, he’s a nice guy. I don’t like when good people get trounced on for no reason. I am also very conscious about the sensitivities that sit around Equality, Diversity and all topics that fall under this. I’ve written past posts on
Diversity and about banter. And there are a myriad of experts in the field who will defend the importance of this legislation, and rightly so.
So I called out Duncan and here’s my exchange with him
. I’ve been watching the conversation unfold over the last few days and have really had to hold back in commenting on anything to do with this topic. Well that didn’t happen! In the grand scheme of things, my little exchange with Duncan means nothing and there will be far more important people discussing the ins and outs of the Equality Act than either Duncan or me.
But – BUT – here’s the thing. Employment legislation causes a lot of anguish for a lot of people in businesses because they don’t take the requisite time to understand what the Act offers. So here’s common misconceptions people hold – and I have heard first hand:
1) I’m a white heterosexual male and I’m now in the minority
2) Laws like this only allow other cultures to take advantage of our society
3) But there are people who will use laws like this to make false claims
4) Laws like this make political correctness go mad
5) If someone overhears my conversation they can claim a grievance?
6) Why can’t people just mind their own business
And there are many many more. What’s annoying about the comments above is that the people who make those comments have zero clue what they’re talking about. They’ve read something in a newspaper, taken it as gospel, and formulate an opinion based on misinformation.
What Duncan Bannatyne has served to do is only feed into the insecurities of a lot of people who think that minority groups in the UK have far too much protection already. What his article does not help is inclusion, a multi-cultural society, the Big Society, or any other high and lofty ideals we might hold for being British.
As a high profile successful businessman in the UK, Duncan Bannatyne will never admit he’s been misinformed about what the Equality Act aims to achieve. He’s been told what the Act could mean for those in society who are malicious enough to act in disgusting ways. He’s taken that and decided he’s going to speak out against the Act.
That’s fine. Free speech and all that. The sad thing is that he thinks he’s done a good thing for readers of the Daily Mail. He thinks that he’s helped people see the folly of the old Labour government and that he’s unravelled the Equality Act to be a simple piece of nothing. He thinks that he’s educating people and helping them to understand the true motivations of the Equality Act.
What he hasn’t done is help people to see how disadvantaged groups of people have had to fight hard battles to secure a positive future for themselves. He’s made reference to the ‘Made in Dagenham’ film and subsequent laws which have been introduced to help minority groups, and then says we’ve gone too far to help them. To this day, minority groups face hardships Duncan Bannatyne can only conceptually perceive. Even I am sheltered from a lot of hardships faced by people from within my own community.
My plea is this. Before you get on a high horse and defend how ‘British’ you are, or how minorty groups are now favoured above you, think about who is the recipient of your message. Before you actively stand up against a Law which is in place to ensure we have a fair open society, think about which ‘good’ you’re trying to serve. The topic of equality and diversity will never go away. It will always be there. And there will be staunch advocates as well as staunch rebellions. Ultimately though, it’s about a society where we can live and work together with open and fair practices for all. No one should have to be subject to harassment, discrimination or bullying for any reason.