At the end of Pride month, am I proud?
29 Jun 2020 - Estimated reading time: 4 mins
John Dickson reflects on a landmark month and considers whether our firm’s work to champion diversity & inclusion is enough.
Has diversity and inclusion ever been more relevant? It’s always relevant, urgent and vital (yet often “understood”, deprioritised, even side stepped). But in June, officially Pride month for many years now, and in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy which has rightly sparked a global call for action, it feels at its most relevant, urgent and vital.
We celebrate Pride and how far we’ve come in 51 years, albeit lament why it has taken so long. And we look forward to the day when Pride is 24/7 and is an appreciation by everyone about the diversity of everyone’s sexuality, rather than just a specific community.
I’m no poster child for diversity – I’ll constantly urge all of us in our firm about taking truly positive action to improve it, but can’t ever be a genuine role model. But I completely believe in and embrace the need for inclusion in society as a whole and across our firm. Why should anyone be viewed as better or worse based on differences in appearance or life choices? – let’s focus on skills and capabilities and also on variety, which is essential in providing a completeness in how we think (anyone thinks) about anything – whether that’s our perspective on the world we live in, or the decisions we make in running our business.
Maya Angelou said “it is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”. But it strikes me that it isn’t the young people who have created the situation we are in today! They have an innocence and freshness in their view of the world that might teach the parents about the beauty of diversity. Lucy Steers, our Head of Marketing, tells a great story of her 6 year old daughter who, when having racism explained to her, offered the analogy that she didn’t like carrots and her mum did, she liked tomatoes and not everyone does – “but that’s ok mummy, everyone’s different”!
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”
Maya Angelou - Poet, writer and civil rights activist
We should reflect on the need for these movements – Black Lives Matter or Pride - or any other for that matter. They are born of prejudice, against them, not by them. If what’s happened in June has inspired us to do anything, it has to be to educate ourselves and understand the scale of repression or suppression of some of our colleagues and their peers more broadly. I was not unaware of these issues. I’m the sponsor of our approach to dealing with them, but have also learned a lot myself in recent weeks. The reflection on what I’ve done and what we’ve done as a firm doesn’t feel as positive as I would have hoped.
We’ve done a lot as a firm to champion diversity and inclusion, starting largely with gender, but with a more recent focus also on ethnicity, sexual orientation and identification and social inclusion. This includes working with ENEI (Employers Network for Equality) to improve the way we do things; mandatory D&I training; anonymizing some aspects of CVs (e.g. school, university) to avoid subconscious bias against those from more disadvantaged backgrounds (a focus on social inclusion); family friendly policies (we have an exceptional rate of maternity leave returners); and, of course, our funding of the Foundation, which seeks to secure better futures for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s also been great to hear about the positive experience my transgender colleague, Brenda, has had this past year, both within and outside the firm. I was delighted last year when she told me that we were the first firm she felt comfortable making her transition with.
But, on reflection, this feels like the minimum we should be doing – we could, should, must (!) do more. I believe (I certainly hope) that as a firm, we genuinely believe in diversity and the need for inclusion. I believe we don’t put up barriers or hurdles to thwart it, certainly not intentionally; and I believe we’re all appalled when we witness or hear about high profile instances of brutality and prejudice. But subconsciously or unconsciously (again, I hope it is only this), we can create an invisible headwind for black people, gay people, and others. I’ve just done it! We marginalise through labels and language. Often referred to as communities or minorities – the words immediately create separation or a sense of being less – we even use mnemonics (LGBT+, BAME and so on…), which to me seems to serve to pigeonhole and certainly focus on appearance, background or life choice rather than skill, capability, energy, passion and …. diversity!
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Desmond Tutu - Cleric and human rights activist
I’ve read a lot of commentary in the last month. I agree with Gill Tait (our People Director)’s sentiment from her recent blog that ignorance is the enemy of inclusion, but increasingly I feel that so is inaction. In an interesting article on Black Lives Matter, the author says you can “join the movement … you can choose to stand on the sidelines … but don’t silence the cry with “all lives matter”. However, my colleague Shireen Anisuddin reminded me of a quote by Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”, i.e. choosing silence or inaction is not enough, you have to choose a side; there is no middle ground to fairness.
We do a lot to encourage diversity and to recruit a diverse range of people; we seek to remove any kinks in the system at that stage. In a great article Dawid Konotey-Ahulu talks about those kinks being all the way along the hosepipe from very early in life. We are (I am) guilty of hiding behind the lack of availability of enough people from very different (particularly disadvantaged) backgrounds as a reason we struggle to be more diverse as a firm. We hide behind the need for time to improve our diversity at senior levels. It’s because we only focus on the immediate kinks that we think we can influence and make a difference to, but don’t do more to iron out the kinks along the whole hosepipe. It’s here we need to do more to encourage everyone at an early age, to stop the invisible headwinds that slow their progress and make them lose interest. Even if we feel we only have limited influence, we still have to try.
It’s often the high-profile instances of brutality and prejudice I mentioned that kick start us to take a step forward; we need to make sure it has more impact this time round. To try to do something more meaningful and lasting in improving diversity and inclusion in our society as well as our firm – that’s what positive action is really about. I’m not sure I know where to start, but I know that together, with others across the business, we’re committed to not just trying harder, but making real positive change. So, as we come to the end of Pride month, I look forward to next year’s Pride month and hope that I can look back with a little more pride at what we have achieved.