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So what is diversity anyway?

Tod O'Brien

Tod O’Brien, director of 2B Leadership and Diversity, kicks off his new regular blog by tackling the diversity issue head on

Equality legislation has been with us now for over 40 years, born on the back of racial riots and civil unrest unseen on that scale before. It stemmed from large-scale visible immigration and the fears of an indigenous population about jobs, housing and access to public services. Sound familiar?

This is happening now, in our country, fuelled once again by xenophobia and the fear of “other”, whoever and whatever “other” may be. A quick snapshot of the newspapers over the last couple of weeks has seen evidence of scaremongering, depending on your point of view, of epic proportions.

Sol Campbell, an eminent footballer, drawing a conclusion that because he is black he never attained the highest footballing position in the land of his birth, team captain for his country. Easy to dispute if one is of a mind to deconstruct his footballing ability perhaps and ignore his colour.

The Army is currently managing up to 200 alleged sex crimes, including the high profile coroners verdict of the bullying of an RMP female Corporal who alleged rape and was subsequently hounded to death by her own hands by her comrades in arms.

Female Ministers in government being allocated smaller offices than their male counterparts - insignificant it may seem, unless of course you are one of
those women.

Unequal pay for women, stifling the productivity of the business world currently emerging from deep recession.

Mr Farage of UKIP insisting that our communities are unrecognisable and are not the sorts of places fit to be handed on to our children and grandchildren.

Dominic Grieve the Attorney General stating openly in print and on ITV that people of Pakistani heritage in politics are endemically corrupt (he later
apologised when taken to task by the media and other commentators).

Finally, the poster campaign in racially sensitive areas of London encouraging people to go home if they have overstayed on their visas.

Looking further afield, anti-gay legislation in Russia and Uganda demonizing people for no reason other than their sexual orientation.

Take a step back

When did it become so acceptable, 40 years after legislation spanning national, European and international boundaries to treat everyone with respect and dignity, to generate fear and loathing of others based only their difference from others, even at the highest levels of our society, with such impunity? When did diversity become such a dirty word that diminishes its importance in business and public service with the terms ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘hat about my human rights’ or ‘it’s that lot again!’

The diversity training industry has a lot to answer for in this respect, having in the past provided transactional training, which made people fearful of what to say and do and without encouraging an emotionally intelligent approach to the subject of managing difference. We are all different and it is no more acceptable to use any language or behaviour, which may offend or cause hurt to others based only their difference, by anyone.

The business of diversity

There is a real business case for diversity in all parts of society and these
benefits have been well researched and documented. Difference is not just about the legislative “protected characteristics” but also education, socioeconomic background and all the other factors that make us who we are. It is time to explore them in a transformational way in all walks of life. This is not about telling people how they should behave or what to say, but it is about understanding, accepting others for the skills and qualities that they bring to society and eradicating inequality and injustice.

People from minority groups almost certainly did not ask to belong to those groups but they do ask for respect, dignity and to be treated fairly by the society in which they live.

That is a leadership imperative, not only a question of difference and I believe that the sooner we mainstream diversity into the leadership paradigm the sooner we as individuals, in our teams and organisations, will genuinely embrace difference and begin to fully recognise the benefits that different people can bring.

Society is changing, sometimes at a pace we find difficult to fathom, but to ignore it is to atrophy as a society. Leading in change management principles is no different whatever the change or rate of it. So to formulate a more rounded debate and to create a greater awareness of the subject, maybe that is where the issue of diversity should be firmly placed.

Tod O'Brien is director of 2B Leadership and Diversity

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