This page is an introduction to the topic of Equality and Diversity. We are also going to look at Human Rights which drives the Equality and Diversity agenda. These are not easy topics, but they are crucially important in a world where difference is increasingly the norm and and fairness is demanded not only in the workplace but also in the delivery of goods and services. This is such a huge topic that there is no way to cover it in a single page and I am in the process of writing a number of pages and bringing together links to resources so that this can become the start of a journey - or a great place to begin looking for information.
Just over a decade ago when I first began coming out, telling people that I was transgender, I didn’t really understand what the term diversity meant. I searched the term on the internet and got the impression that really it was all about race issues and most diversity practitioners seemed to focus on race relations. So much has changed in a decade and with the Equality Act 2010 covering 9 protected characteristics, diversity is a far more inclusive term today.
Diversity is about difference and the recognition that we live in a world where difference is the norm.
The challenge we face is that we humans are Tribal by nature – and the essence of a tribe is that its members have common characteristics. The ability to recognise those differences can often be survival instinct. Lone humans can be vulnerable to predators from other tribes. Being able to recognise that someone was different enables us to quickly identify an enemy. The common characteristics of our tribe give us comfort and feelings of safety. Skin colour, hair colour, clothing, language, accent, behaviour pattern are some of the indicators we take into account in determining if somoene is a member of our tribe.
But what if we treat people who are different unfairly in work, or when they come to our shop, or access our service.
Equality was just as badly understood a decade ago. I knew about the Equal Pay Act and sex discrimination, but I thought that because we had had legislation governing those issues for over 30 years, that people were largely treated equally. It wasn’t until I began living as a woman that I realised just how unfair people can be when dealing with difference.
Equality is about Fairness and the recognition that all people, no matter how different, are entitled to be treated fairly at work and in the delivery of goods and services.
At its worst, treating difference unfairly brings about Human Rights atrocities and it was the attempt by Nazi’s to erase difference during the Second World War that brought about a global response in 1947 through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which has been the driver behind all Equality and Diversity legislation since.
The underlying principle of Human Rights legislation is to:
Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect
How do you feel about that as a principle for life?
I ask this question often in workshops and seminars and generally the initial response for most people is positive. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect so we all initially will feel that this is the right. This is after all in harmony with the Golden Rule or Ethic of Reciprocity that appears in every major religion as far back was records exist although I like the version promoted by the Dignity and Respect Campaign - “Treat others the way they want to be treated”.
The challenge comes when I ask people if they understand that this does mean everyone – that includes murders, paedophiles, sex offenders, rapists, terrorists... When we say everyone, that’s what it means.
The moment you say everyone except... then who decides on the exceptions – who is going to have the power to decide whether you are entitled to dignity and respect and do you have the right to challenge them... - can you see where this goes?
Treating everyone with dignity and respect does not mean condoning unacceptable behaviour or punishing people for transgressions of our laws – but it does mean that we treat such people with dignity and respect in the way we punish them.
I was once the victim of a month long hate campaign by a group of children and young people aged from about 10 to 15. Every night my house was targeted with stones, mud and abuse. By the end of the month I had abandoned the human rights principle and I was ready to attack these kids with anything I could lay my hands on.
However when I confronted them they backed off and began asking questions.
I put down the iron bar I was holding and started answering their questions. By the time we finished I had more than 20 young people engaged in an impromptu seminar on the grass outside my house. The left better informed about transgender issues and there was never another incident.
If I had resorted to violence all I would have done was to have gotten myself into trouble and aggravated an already difficult situation.
Most discrimination and harassment arises out of ignorance – We are afraid of difference and react negatively on the basis of information we have gained about those “other” people. That information is largely based on stereotypes promoted by the media and misinformation suggesting that certain people do not deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Researching this article I came across Dignity and Respect Campaign. It’s a campaign I knew nothing about – largely because it has started in the USA in Pittsburgh, but I really like whey they are doing and have decided to see what we can do to promote the campaign her in the UK.
The following video promotes 30 tips to Promote Dignity and Respect - I hope it inspires you as it has me to get involved.