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Action for culture change and inclusion

By Deirdre Golden

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The first quarter of this year has shone an unforgiving light on the endemic issues of racism, sexism and socio economic inequality in the UK. Whilst these issues have long existed, as a society we have, to all intents and purposes, colluded in accommodating them, by accepting them as just part and parcel of everyday life, but recent events are challenging this.

The murder of Sarah Everard, a woman walking home alone in the evening, unleashed pent up anger at everyday indifference to sexism; The death of George Floyd in the US acted as a catalyst and gave voice to the racism experienced by many ethnic minorities here in the UK through the Black Lives Matter protests. The current trial of Derek Chauvin has re-catalysed this movement. 

We know that gender stereotypes start early in life and effect how girls and women view themselves, and of how they are viewed by society, and the recent on-line sharing of the experience of thousands of students of sexual harassment and abuse shows how early and deep it runs.

More recently, algorithms once seen as the objective means of debiasing decisions/choices has been shown to be just as flawed as the people programming the systems. The recent exposure of Spotify’s algorithm that drives listeners to male artists long before female artists is evidence of this, and in fact contributes to the already deep inequality in pay between men and women.

The anger in the UK at racism and racial disparity has not been assuaged by the report on Race and Ethnic Disparities as mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the debate continues, but the findings have not been made more palatable for that. Reflecting on the events mentioned, proves that for anything to change for the better, it will take more than words and reports, particularly when report recommendations are not always fully followed through.

Diversity, inclusion, and equality go beyond developing a strategy to deal with specific events, but point to the need for deep and sustained culture change. We all have a part to play, but employers have a leading role. The workplace is a microcosm of society and by unplugging talent pipelines and providing equality of opportunity for everyone, deep and sustained change can be effected.

And thanks to the activism of the last year in particular, we’re already seeing organisations play a major role in advancing racial equality: Major League Baseball moved their All-Star game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new voter suppression laws, outdoor gear company Patagonia has donated millions of dollars to support racial equality efforts, and companies all over the world – including many of our clients – have renewed their commitments and taken action to improve racial and gender equity in the workplace.  There is certainly still work to do, but the momentum for change is the highest it’s been in decades.

Later this month we will commemorate Stephen Lawrence Day on 22 April, honouring the memory of Stephen murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993. Stephen’s legacy is a call to action to eradicate racism and social injustice. And is a reminder that deep and sustained change can only be effected through action.   https://stephenlawrenceday.org/

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