How to share learning to promote Equality and Diversity

Today I was involved in some very good discussions about how we help embed topics like Equality and Diversity into the culture of the organisation. The conversations really helped me to think about how we can cultivate inclusive work environments. One of the things we became focused on was on how to usefully share knowledge with others about the topic. Let’s take sexual orientation as an example. How do we help others to understand the impact of behaviours in the workplace that negatively affect people who are not heterosexual, but may define as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT). How do we normalise the conversation in the work environment so that it’s not a taboo subject? How do we help create such a safe environment that the person is allowed to just be without a thought to having to identify or disclose their sexual orientation?

I’ll say this now. I am not confident with the topic of diversity. I find it hard, and I find it a challenge. But I refuse to let that get in the way of valuing others, and finding ways to ensure we create inclusive workplaces for all. I might also add this extends to life in general, but we have to start somewhere.

There will be a population who will say – but this doesn’t matter, we should only be treating everyone equally. Well, yes, but this isn’t about treating everyone equally. This is about valuing difference.

If I think about only treating everyone equally, then I am shutting myself down to being genuinely curious about what life is like for someone who is LGBT.

If I think only about the language and being politically correct, then I’m missing the point completely and neglecting to understand the impact my words have on others.

If I paint a broad brush and say I don’t discriminate against anyone, then I’m falling into an awful complacency of treating people poorly and without consideration.

If I want fairness for all, I have to value the difference we all bring to the table, and thereby understand what fairness means for everyone.

There are some useful ways of sharing experiences which can highlight exactly why we should be concerned.

Case studies that are based on actual experience I think can be helpful. They help to show exactly what situation a person faced, what they experienced, and the impact it had on them. From these, we can create discussions, debate, argue, and disagree. But we’ll be talking about it, and raising awareness in ourselves and others.

Poster campaigns are clearly powerful tools. Used effectively they can provoke a reaction, and cause unrest. Good. That’s what they’re there for. If a poster doesn’t hit you in the gut and show you a stark reality that needs to be dealt with, it’s not been designed well. I’ve seen some very powerful ones, and when I see them I sometimes rescind. Have you seen the Changing Faces posters? They are not easy to look at. They’re not meant to be, because they show the difficulty people with facial disfigurement face, and it’s just a poster.

Sharing news through social networks can be highly useful. In the UK there are changes to the Marriage Bill being proposed, and in all likelihood will pass as law. This will upset a good many folk as we will all have to come to understand that the term marriage will potentially no longer be between a man and a woman, but any person who loves another and wants to commit through the institution of marriage. This is just one example of how the sharing of content can help the discussion to be had.

Where organisations have E&D networks, these are useful ways of highlighting the needs of various groups which may not be obvious. Are there prayer rooms for those who want to practise their faith? Is there flexibility in the company policy about which days can be classed as public holidays if you’re not a UK national? Is the building wheelchair accessible at all levels? The considerations need to meet some level of statutory (legal) requirements but also meet the needs of the local population – both those in your workforce, and those who make use of your services.

Videos are great ways of allowing people to follow a story without having to single people out internally. I recently saw a great example of how a suite of videos were produced by a large multi-national organisation to help raise awareness of how regular workplace behaviours can have negative impacts because we’ve not been mindful of the people we’re working with.

In L&D sessions we might think we’re being inclusive because we’re talking about topics which are neutral, and we have to really challenge that thinking. In a session on effective communication, why not include a piece on cross-cultural communication? In a session on conflict resolution, why not include a piece on personal identity and how this may be affecting someone in all parts of their life? In a session on team development, why not include a piece on eradicating discrimination against anyone? Any of those pieces can happen as a natural part of the session without needing a label that says “we’re now going to talk about diversity in relation to this subject”.

And then there’s just talking about it with others, which is probably the hardest of all, but the best tool we have available. It involves being curious, and asking questions we might think are uncomfortable, and hearing responses we may not be comfortable with, and having to process that information into a way of potentially changing your behaviour.

There’s certainly enough practitioners around who can and do help to keep the conversation relevant and prevalent. I’m glad I know them, and I’m glad to be minded that this is something which will take regular iterations in order to move an organisation to a positive place. The challenge is helping people to understand the topic and why we need to value others. I’m up for that challenge.