What is it that you do and what is diversity anyway?

Victoria Lewis

12

February

2021

This week I found myself being asked this question - the person who shall remain nameless (as surely they are now in some kind of witness protection scheme), was getting a little hot under the collar. This wasn't in one of my training sessions I hasten to add! Maybe it's the boredom of another lockdown but I decided to answer the last part first:

"... it's about creativity and innovation, it's about ensuring you are exposed to new ideas" said I.

"...... are you sure?" he said.

"... errr yes I am" I responded. 

"Well I went on this diversity course once and that was about women and different races and stuff" he explained. 

[To be honest, I was trying to work out how to get out of this conversation by this point, I didn't think it would end well - I tried to stay calm.]

"....Well diversity is much wider than that, it's really just about difference I think. When did you go on this course?" I respectfully enquired.

"..Can't remember, and don't remember anything about it!" he proudly exclaimed.

You might be pleased to hear the conversation didn't go on for much longer! But I thought of this conversation when I saw the recent Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) decision of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen. In this case the employer attempted to rely on "the reasonable steps" defence in the Equality Act 2010 arguing it took all the reasonable steps to prevent the harassment of an individual of Indian heritage in its employ. The steps? The fact that the alleged perpetrators had attended some diversity training two years before. The trouble was that the perpetrators did not understand that the "banter" at issue could amount to racial harassment and the managers did not know what to do when it was raised with them. For these reasons the EAT found the training to be ineffective and stale. There had been no refresher training and the original training was not fit for purpose.

Language like diversity, inclusion and belonging can seem intangible and theoretical. People may not connect with it. Surely the purpose of D&I training is to make it relevant, practical and impactful. It needs to mean something on a Thursday afternoon by the water cooler. It needs to mean something to those of us who sometimes find ourselves in conversations which spiral far away from where we started. It needs to help us slow down, to notice what is going on and to apologise if we've allowed it to get out of control. It's complex - humans needs to communicate and we can't always know how different people might feel about things. But unless we really value diversity, see the opportunities it presents us, we won't pay attention, we'll think the training session is directed at other people - not me.  Diversity is just about being human and living or working with other humans. Oh, and let's be clear, if you are a manager, you need to really pay attention. There's no excuse not knowing what to do if someone says they are being harassed. 

Had I read this decision when I had my conversation on what diversity is, I think I would now answer:

"...... diversity is about all of us ..... it's about the things we say and the things we do and it's about us looking out for each other." I might also say "and if you want some really good diversity training, that isn't stale, that will stay with you, then come and talk to byrne.dean!"