“Your colleagues may feel that if you’re getting more, I must be getting less. It’s not a cake!!!”
Thank you Bernadette Thompson, Ministry of Justice
This is a quote that I picked up from a recent diversity summit I attended. It really resonated with me. Bernadette ended the piece by highlighting that equality is not a finite thing and we are all entitled to be treated fairly without a fear of it “running out”. It’s one of the barriers. It’s a big barrier. It’s also a big fear whether it’s said out loud or not. That’s also part of the problem, let me tell you why.
Being a white male in the workplace can also be tough. Before you say the facts (the facts I will publish in a future piece) surrounding white male dominance in today’s society gives a very different picture. Let me start by taking you back to my quote in an earlier piece The Journey begins…
“My journey began when I was born, I had no choice in that.“
THIS applies to EVERYONE. None of us chose to be born the way we are, with the privileges we are given and who influences us as a young child. There was a time when it was thought Aristotle was correct in saying,
“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man”.
There are many ways that this statement still holds true. Being in education, we all will have heard stories of truly horrendous journeys some of our students have endured. We try our best to negate or compensate for the negative impacts that these journeys bring. (This is a whole other topic that I won’t even try to traverse at this point). We try to level the playing field. However, when faced with the facts we can’t (and don’t) ignore some of the positive outcomes our actions have. However, the the way that Aristotle’s quote has been used has been to suggest that after a certain point in someone’s life the person has formed. We now have more research and studies that seriously contradicts this. We can choose to keep growing if that’s what we want.
What’s my point? How much choice does my white male colleague have for being born a white male and me being born a brown Indian male? None. So it’s understandable why my white male colleague may feel marginalised or even threatened and think that his piece of cake will get smaller if mine gets bigger.
A great article to read is from The Telegraph Pale, Male and Stale looks at the issues that surround this in the workplace.
The worst strategy and to be honest, one that is more prevalent, is to introduce policies and practices that only benefit the few in the hope that it “appeases” those that feel disenfranchised. It has been shown that the actual impact is that it disenfranchises other groups as a result. Think of the plate spinner analogy, it works for a while but it requires continuous and consistent focus. Eventually a plate will drop. You then congratulate yourself for spinning plates for so long and reconcile the fact it can’t be done for an infinite time. So, great idea but let’s not do it again!
Disclaimer: Although this quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, some say it dates back to Chinese proverbs.
The preferred and more daunting proposition is to just look after the professional wellbeing of ALL of your staff, fairly. Taadaaaa! Ok, maybe that sounded a little too flippant?! In reality, fundamental change in cultural behaviours requires fundamental change in processes.
Going back to the cake situation, it is true that there is an endless supply of cake so don’t be shy in dishing it out. In reality there are things like budgets and resources and profit and shares… AND a concrete organisational structure that only allows for a small number of promotional opportunities that are finite. Ok some of these don’t apply to schools but in essence the impacts of these constraints all do. All of these are finite and therefore you could argue if pay is increased then others could suffer, irrespective of the fairness. If one person is promoted then others would have to wait. Essentially, fairness is perceived to have a “cost”.
Gender Pay Gap has been very much in the limelight over the last few years. The BBC story was one of the most prominent. What it revealed was a picture that women already knew existed. To be honest, we all knew. So why the shock? The shock was seeing this disparity in black and white. The choice you then gave as an employer is: do something or do nothing. We know the latter is unpalatable and the first seems unsellable. There lies your dilemma in a nutshell. The government has produced this framework on Gender Pay Gap.Gender Pay Gap search tool launched by the U.K. government shows it can be done and published. To get to this stage has been momentous bearing in mind how many decades it’s been since the Dagenham revolt and subsequent equal pay legislation. Since the new legislation on publishing the gap, has anything changed? Well the signs have been sketchy.
This isn’t just about pay. It never was. But if it was, how long do you think it will be before Ethnicity Pay Gap is raised as an issue? Article
The Telegraph made the bold move to not only publish their Gender Pay Gap but also there Ethnicity Pay Gap. Having listened to Asif Sadiq MBE, The Telegraph’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, speak recently and subsequent conversations, three things became clear. One, they didn’t have to publish Ethnicity Pay data. Two, they knew the picture wouldn’t be good at all. So why do it? That leads me to the third point, they wanted to make a change. Asif laughingly says that with such poor findings in their own organisation, none of their competitors chose to broadcast this horrible picture. Why? Because how could they when they don’t publish theirs. Some cynics may suggest that this was a publicity ploy on behalf of the Telegraph. It may have been. But please remember that by publishing you either act or you don’t. Can a large organisation afford not to act when the data is visible?
When you add social status to ethnicity the impact deepens. Poverty + Ethnicity is covered in this article by Society Central.
My point is reporting on facts scares people, employers to be more precise. The fear also spreads to employees (their slice of the cake…). It scares them because then you have to make a decision to act or not to. This, I will be covering in a piece about the importance of DATA!
If the cost is financial one especially, then it makes it finite and therefore excusable. The “cost” however is rarely financial in reality. The cost in not being “fair” is in most cases, has far more negative impacts on the organisation BUT only if we chose to not see. In my experience, keeping stories of unfairness and cost anecdotal allows an organisation to shield itself from reality. Transparency is seen as a dangerous path to go down. It forces the best in us all to act and make efforts to actually address the issues. That is the scary prospect that faces those leaders that chose not to see.
In reality, those organisations that have chosen to see realise that the cake is not actually a cake. It’s the golden goose that keeps on laying because a diverse and inclusive culture provides policies and structures that not only allow everyone to thrive, it purposefully encourages it!
Read the following article to see the actual impact creating a meaningfully diverse organisational structure that has policies that celebrate diversity.
Changing from a “normal” hierarchical structure to one that promotes inclusiveness and diversity is a mammoth task. Even insurmountable. When you realise retrofitting “diversity” or “equality” or “inclusiveness” or “equity” is never going to make the business case. Maybe it’s the structure that binds us together that needs to change.
“Let us all eat cake… there will always be more than enough!”