Our Head of Learning Solutions, Jennie Marshall, discusses what Equality and Diversity really means.
What is meant by ‘equality and diversity’? This question is not always easy to answer I find, as there are so many factors that need to be considered.
I used to think ‘equality’ meant ‘ensure everyone is treated equally regardless of their skin colour, sexual preference, religion etc’ and that ‘diversity’ meant ‘ensuring you had a good mix of these things in your workplace’, but sadly, I now realise that is a limited and restricted view, so I’ve been researching more, on a mission to increase my own knowledge and views on this hot topic.
One startling statistic I came across was this: 30% of people feel they have sacrificed authenticity at work. Wow, just wow. In 2023, that is truly shocking.
I started to talk to people outside of my networked circle – I wanted to find different views and opinions. From speaking to people, it quickly becomes clear that not everybody understands what is meant by equality and diversity and even inclusivity. It’s not uncommon that people don’t know what non-binary describes, whilst everyone is clear on the difference between male and female, as an example.
Every week there seems to be a new label for something, and it feels like after years of living with restrictive labels, people are keen to have a new one that describes them more clearly. But labels shouldn’t define us; they shouldn’t be all we are, so one has to question if these labels are of any use at work or not? We may need to use them in our work to ensure that we’ve been inclusive and I’m sure everyone will have some reasons why we shouldn’t be using them at work. The more people I spoke to, the more I find that some people are relieved they now have a label, because for years they thought they were the only one who thought or felt a certain way.
Consider religion – you may understand the differences between the mainstream religions but what about the nuances of the other religions? I’m classed as Christian and there is a whole host of variations of Christianity – some drink alcohol, some don’t, some take communion, some don’t plus many more differences – and that’s just one religion.
I quickly found that at the bottom of all of this is a lack of understanding. And when we don’t understand, we fear. We fill in our own blanks and draw our own conclusions.
It’s apparent that equality and diversity means different things to different people. I for one have always celebrated the uniqueness that we can all bring to work, even down to what hobbies we do or our background life story.
I also found something that warmed my heart and that’s that more people seem readily willing to talk about the topic and it fills me with hope that more people feel more confident to open up to those around them. But I also celebrate other people where they show a humble side and vulnerability as they tell their stories to help others learn.
One such person who does this is Maggie Alphonsi MBE. Maggie spent 15 years in the England Rugby Team, winning back to back 6 Nations and a World Cup. She is now the face of 6 Nations rugby punditry. I had the pleasure of listening to Maggie at a recent event (she is one of our global expert speakers). What she had to say really resonated with me and made me think about how all this links more to what our organisations do. Maggie said:
“Managing equality and diversity is crucial for any organisation to ensure different perspectives are considered and represented. It is also important as it shows an organisation has values and attitudes that are progressive and reflect the society that we live in.
Managing equality and diversity is not an overnight process, or something that can be outsourced. It’s a commitment to change, to want to make your company a great place to work, to saying no to how it’s always been done. By integrating equality and diversity into all aspects of operations, companies will be at the forefront of innovation and in turn open to a range of opportunities that will attract top talent.”
“Integrating equality and diversity into all aspects of operations.”
Maggie Alphonsi MBE
Ask yourself, does your organisation do this? What does this mean, in reality, to your organisation? Does your organisation have a policy for E&D because they have to, or is it something everybody lives and breathes because they crave the uniqueness that everyone can bring to work? Is your E&D policy just a black and white document that sits on a file share somewhere, or does your organisation truly push beyond it to include things that aren’t necessarily in the nine protected characteristics and do they champion diversity?
When researching and assessing the value and meaning of equality and diversity, one thing’s for sure – it is something that touches all parts of our personal experience; awareness, performance, leadership, authenticity, vulnerability, self-acceptance (I could easily list more). People I spoke to told me it was about awareness and visibility.
For me, it’s about being human and bringing your whole self to work; strengths and weaknesses.
At the end of the day, no matter what the colour of your skin, your religion of choice or even where you were educated or your sexual preference, if we get to the bottom of all of this, there is one thing we all share; one thing we all have in common: a heartbeat – with a heartbeat comes emotion and feelings. Surely that’s the one thing we should be more focused on in a world so desperately craving kindness.
The equality and diversity landscape has evolved significantly and more organisations are now investing in this area to increase awareness and expand the responsibility of their E&D initiatives across the entire organisation. Get in touch with us to help grow your equality and diversity initiatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.