Diversity and Inclusion

Workplace bullying – why are we still having to talk about it? Part II

Part II – A minefield of perceptions

In our previous article, our MD Bradley Honnor and Deputy Director of Civil Service HR Casework, Salina Bowen discussed how harassment and/or bullying is still an issue for organisations, and HR departments in particular.

A challenge that was highlighted is how we define what is—and is not—inappropriate language and behaviour. Here, Bradley and Salina take a very honest look at the nuances and complexities that can create a minefield to traverse in the quest to be properly understood.

Bradley begins “In an ideal world, we’d all have grown up conversations, adult to adult. So if I feel you’ve said something inappropriate, I can have that conversation with you. And you can respect my position and not do that again, and I can forgive you because you weren’t aware that I might be offended by that. And that’s the end of it – there’s no grievance, I don’t feel bullied, you’re not harassing me, it’s a conversation. Unfortunately, things quickly get formally escalated to managers because people don’t know how to have those conversations.

There’s a great model, the Transactional Analysis Model, which illustrates how to do this. You have two people with a view, they can understand each other’s perspective and, if for example, one finds a type of humour offensive, then the other is mindful of that. But this doesn’t happen enough at work.”

“I think that’s a little naïve” Salina counters. “You might, for example, think something’s just a joke, but there are some things that aren’t actually a joke or funny. So you need to have baseline?”

“If you look at someone like Ricky Gervais”, Bradley responds, “everything is a joke. He jokes about all sorts of things. It’s comedy unless you’re offended because it impacts on you personally. That’s why we just have to be able to talk to each other.

People make jokes with their friends that they wouldn’t dream of saying at work, even to shock just because part of humour is being shocking” Bradley says. “But does it make that individual sexist, or misogynist or racist or any of those things in a private conversation? I do think this is where we get it wrong sometimes. There’s no forgiveness at work for clumsiness.

“You do have to establish a baseline of acceptable behaviour though” says Salina. “For instance, a customer used an extremely offensive and widely acknowledged offensive word when talking to me. For them then just to say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was unprofessional to say that’ is just an excuse. Aren’t we excusing poor behaviour by saying ‘anything goes as long as you say ‘I’m sorry. You have to have a baseline of acceptability before you can move on to that adult model.

There are all sorts of things that can be considered as micro aggressions, too. For instance, I’m hard of hearing and find the expression ‘it fell on deaf ears’ offensive, given what the expression implies.”

That’s a good example, I wouldn’t have even thought of that” Bradley exclaims. “But if I’d said it, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘just to make you aware, I’m deaf and actually that’s a bit offensive’, my response would be ‘I had no idea, and I’ve definitely learned something today. I won’t do that again, I apologise’. But they’re more likely not to do that. They’ll thank me for the session, and then go to the manager and file a complaint. And that’s what’s wrong, that’s the crux of it. But I guess if you’re feeling bullied, you’re not going to go to a bully and have a conversation. If you’re feeling harassed, you’re not going to feel comfortable that you can go and have that conversation. So it ends up with everything being formalised and in my opinion, that’s not a very effective way to deal with things.

Sometimes, we’re going to get it wrong, and that’s the point. I was in a three-way conversation recently where I accidentally misgendered a trans person with the wrong pronoun. I felt really bad about that, but actually, they weren’t offended because it happens. I made a mistake, but I could have been held really accountable in a disciplinary because of that.”

“I’ve had a similar experience” agrees Salina. “Some time ago, I encountered my first person who transitioned from being a woman to a man. I had never met anyone who had gone through gender reassignment, and I didn’t know the correct language to use. I was asked to support him from an HR perspective, and I had to say to him ‘I don’t really know the right wording to use’. And he said, ‘just say it – if it’s the wrong word, I know you’re trying to understand and you’re coming from a good place’. We’re now friends and have been for the last ten years. Another colleague, who’s a Muslim, gave me a good tip. She said ‘if you want to know something about me being Muslim or a woman, or in an arranged marriage, just say to me, ‘do you mind me asking? If I don’t want to tell you, I won’t. But if I want to tell you, I’m really happy to share.’ She also offered how helpful it can be to read about a subject before asking questions.

The takeaway is not to be so anxious about getting it right so that right that you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid of using the wrong words, or even sometimes getting letters muddled – like LGTBQ+.”

“That, by the way, is hell for a dyslexic like me!” laughs Bradley.

“It can be difficult to keep up with language or terminology changes, but we’ve all got a responsibility to try to” says Salina. “I think it’s important that we also keep talking and asking questions of ourselves and one another.  Sometimes we don’t do that because we’re worried how others will perceive us or that we will unintentionally upset someone.

Navigating all this can be hard, because of how things move on, what’s appropriate and acceptable one day, the next day isn’t. LGBTQ+ is a really good example of how things change continually LGBT to LGBTQ+.  But for me, I think the navigating comes from people being bolder and more forgiving. So if I want to know something, I ask. I try to make it easier for the other person to ask me questions about my disability, as well.”

“It’s almost as if we need our own personal working charter, where we describe how we want people to engage with us; this is what we feel is acceptable” suggests Bradley.

“We already have a personal charter when we feel bullied or harassed or discriminated against, it’s because we feel someone’s broken our personal charter, our personal rules, our value system.

It really is contextual, as well. For instance, if we were in Ukraine right now, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination would not be a priority for discussion. Some of the misunderstandings are cultural, or generational. There are constructs we grew up with, using common language, which actually wouldn’t make sense to somebody from a different generation. For instance, the term ‘hen-pecked’ was common parlance, but now might be considered misogynistic. I remember when I started doing my psychotherapy training, and talking in a group about what we’d be doing at the weekend. When it came around to me, I said ‘I’ll spend most of the weekend with my bird’. The group were shocked, but I didn’t know any different, all my peers used this kind of language.  It led to a really great conversation about derogatory language and the impact it has.

You do have to keep up with the times. But I do think there is room for more conversation and a bit more forgiveness, because most people aren’t doing these things deliberately.”

“Absolutely” agrees Salina. “I really believe that the majority of people don’t actually want to upset anybody.  For example, when I go on a Teams call and a person’s name comes up and I’m not familiar with how to pronounce it, I can actually feel that horrible sense of dread because I can’t say their name.  And then I worry about saying it wrong, and them thinking that I don’t care. You can get yourself in a pickle over it. But actually, if I just say, ‘how do you say that?’ no-one’s going to be offended. But if I keep saying the name wrong again and again, it is rude”

“Actually, all jokes aside, if you’re dyslexic like me, that’s exactly what you do” Bradley explains. “You get it wrong again and again and again. And what’s really interesting is that then I could be accused of not showing any diversity awareness. The irony being that maybe it’s the other party who are not being inclusive and aware, because part of being dyslexic is that processing new, unfamiliar words takes ages. If I’m looking at a screen, with its tiny writing, that compounds the problem.

We don’t always know why someone has done what they’ve done, do we? They might be aggressive because they’re really stressed; their partner might have cancer. Quite often we don’t know what the root cause behind a person’s behaviour is. And there’s no real understanding or acceptance before we jump to accusations of being bullied, discriminated against or harassed. Being online has made it worse, in my view. People hide behind technology – they’re more aggressive over email than they would be face to face.”

“Another reason is the lack of general rapport-building” adds Salina. “I took a call the other day and the person started the call by saying ‘there’ll be no chit chat or jibber jabbering on this call”. And that means you don’t build those relationships with people which allows you to understand and get to know them. You don’t have that five minutes of face-to-face time getting coffee saying, ‘how are you?’ You don’t see the human side of people.

Cancel culture is also interesting. We do seem to be very bad at being non-judgmental and forgiving at the moment. If someone does say the wrong thing (I don’t mean deliberately or repeatedly), people can overreact, and even if the person apologises, it can still lead to a formal complaint.  Surely we should be able to have an honest conversation and say ‘don’t do it again’. We need to break that really vicious cycle.”

Yes, it’s interesting, cancel culture, because it’s exactly what’s not needed” agrees Bradley. “It shuts down those feelings and views and puts them behind closed doors, which is really unhelpful. People aren’t necessarily going to change; they’re just not going to say it out loud anymore. That defeats the object, as nothing is overt anymore. And then for me also, who actually gave them the rulebook? You know, what makes one opinion so right and another so wrong? For example, I can think of a black comedian that got cancelled based on his act. Most people I’ve spoken to about it found him funny. So who’s doing the cancelling, and where did they get the power?

I think what I find quite disturbing about the whole thing is that it’s not okay to just say sorry. It’s almost as if people are being punished for even thinking the wrong thing, before they’ve even said it or had a chance to reconsider. But the reality is that we all have an unconscious bias. If you take my earlier example, mine led to me misgendering someone because I made an assumption based on how someone appeared to me.

But you know, the thing about unconscious bias is you cannot not have it. You can become better at thinking about what you say before you say it, and why you might think it. But if, for example, you associate a group of young blokes with getting stabbed—maybe because of the area in which you live, or you know someone who has had that experience—unless you do a significant amount of work, your natural inclination is always going to be ‘be a bit careful here’ when you are around a group of young men.

We need to be honest about that, and have those adult conversations in a framework of respect, forgiveness and understanding. The truth is that the majority of people that we will all cross paths with throughout our lives will never intentionally be trying to offend.  Having a conversation will usually not only resolve the situation but allow us all to be that little bit better informed the next time.”

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Bradley Honnor talks NatWest and how great it is to see a large organisation supporting a small business

With MatchFit’s strong NatWest partnership flourishing, the end is in sight for the development of an online training app that will not only prove hugely beneficial to organisations looking for inclusivity across their employee base, but has also been used as a mechanism to retrain at-risk staff at the bank.

“The idea of creating an online app for the MatchFit programme came about because of that need for inclusivity,” says managing director and MatchFit owner Bradley. “If you’re going to develop a high-performing culture, and want to engender culture and values that everyone can buy into, understand and play their part in, you really need the right tools to do that.”

With MatchFit’s typical client profile being well in excess of 200 staff members, highly inclusive face-to-face programmes can take significant time and resources to implement successfully. 

“The app is a way to bring some of what we do face-to-face to a wider population whilst keeping the content tailored and unique for each individual.”

Accessibility is key and the app will allow participants to consume content that is relevant to them in their own time, in bite-sized chunks. The high-flexibility infrastructure will also enable a client organisation to select what subjects are available to which groups, so the training can be very tailored, yet with everybody being involved and having their own specific journey.

“NatWest’s agenda was to reskill and redeploy a number of at-risk staff into IT roles. And for them to work on a live project of this complexity from start to (almost) finish has been fantastic,” said Bradley. “In the process, NatWest has been able to support my small business, which I personally think is a brilliant thing to do and something larger companies should do more of.”

The app in action

“One of the things I think the app does very well is enable measurement. Managers can see how far their team members have transitioned through their personal development journeys and that’s incredibly useful,” Bradley continued.

With the app driving users to content they need to know more about, managers can see metrics on individual journeys. This provides insight into what developments are necessary for teams and how far each member has progressed.

“The app has been built such that any content can be added, so it’s really flexible, right from the top to bottom. Clients can use the tool to address any concerns their particular organisation has,” he concluded.


Ready to ‘go’?

“Right now we’re in a position to go completely end-to-end. So we’ve got all of the content in for the CLIMB with GRIT programme as proof of concept, and clients can start right at the beginning—at Basecamp—and work all the way through to the summit,” according to Bradley.

With the main functionality up and working, including the ability to see where you are in the journey and what you’ve completed, the MatchFit team needed to convert content that was used in a face-to-face environment to work online.

“Now that we’ve been through that difficult process once, we know exactly what the developers need so uploading content for subsequent modules will be that much easier,” said Bradley.

In fact, implementing a technical solution for a non-technical team has been a challenge for MatchFit.

“There were lots of iterations of the content and lots of backs and forth with quite a few lessons learned. But we started to work pretty effectively as the project went on,” said Bradley. “I think what we’ve ended up with is very innovative and market leading, and it’s been great to work with such a supportive partner in NatWest all the way through.”

Workplace bullying – why are we still having to talk about it?

Despite an increased focus on employee wellbeing, inclusion and adaptation in recent times, harassment and/or bullying is still an issue stubbornly adhering to the list of challenges that organisations, and HR departments in particular, have to deal with.

A widespread issue that’s not going away

In a 2018 TUC survey, 45% of safety representatives listed bullying as one of their top five workplace concerns, and the second biggest workplace issue after stress. The survey found that bullying/harassment was worst in local and central government.

And it’s not just in the public sector. A 2020 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report found that 15% of workers experienced bullying in the last three years, while 4% said they’d been sexually harassed at work and 8% experienced other forms of harassment. Moreover, 24% of employees thought challenging issues such as bullying and harassment were swept under the carpet in their organisation.

Whilst research suggests that the most common type of bullying is by a manager against a subordinate, 9% of senior managers report being targeted in the past nine months.

An HR perspective

Someone with a particular insight into this area is Salina Bowen, Deputy Director of Civil Service HR Casework & HR Technical Consultancy Service. Bullying, harassment and discrimination figures have risen in the Civil Service in many areas, as shown by the Cabinet Office Bullying, Harassment and Misconduct Survey 2018. MatchFit has been working with Salina and the HR Casework team to deliver the CLIMB development programme, and address some of these issues. One of the very positive outcomes has been the increased tendency for people to speak out and stand up when they feel that they’ve been subjected to harassment or bullying.

MatchFit Managing Director Bradley Honnor says “when we do this kind of work, we often see an increase in grievances, or an increase in people wanting to report or talk about this particular subject. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it enables people to be more transparent.”

“And people become more confident in calling out bad behaviour” says Salina. “Once they’ve been through some of the processes of the CLIMB programme, people know each other better; they feel an obligation to speak out and more empowered to do so. They also feel more competent in delivering that message as well.”

“An increasing incidence of grievance reports is no bad thing” Salina agrees. “Because to me, this actually shows that people are happy to complain formally, rather than behind your back, when you can’t actually do anything.”

How useful are staff surveys?

“This is one of the problems we’ve had with staff surveys, because they are anonymous. You can’t work out what the problem is, you just get a general, often blurred picture of the issue, without the context, and without actually being able to ask people directly what they mean.

But that’s what’s so good about the CLIMB programme and the work that goes into that. It digs down to actually, what is the real issue?  Harassment, discrimination, bullying, victimisation: this is only headline information. What sits behind it, what is the root cause?

People think they know, but actually, the root cause could be very simple. It might be the way I talk to you, or you talk to me. It might be that you don’t make me a cup of coffee but make everybody else one. We can jump to conclusions after a survey that we’re all harassing each other, we’re calling each other really inappropriate names, when actually some of it could be quite simple stuff. And I think that’s what we’ve discovered – there’s often something far more straightforward that sits behind these headlines, which is actually solvable, if known about.”

Is the focus in the right place?

Bradley agrees. “We had a similar case recently” he says. “The client’s employee survey cited bullying, harassment and discrimination as all being disproportionately high. And then when we looked into it, it wasn’t their staff or leadership causing the problem at all. It was their stakeholders; essentially their clients phoning in and acting inappropriately and their staff feeling like they were bullied by the customer. So, without that context, the organisation was being lead to believe they had a negative culture of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and it wasn’t like that at all.

When we looked at the issue at hand, we could see that what was needed was to develop staff resilience and stakeholder management, so they can have those challenging conversations without feeling intimidated or being bullied. So you do have to ask if a survey that doesn’t give you clear information is something you can actually act constructively on? You might make decisions based on those survey results which could be entirely the wrong course of action.”

Defining terminology

One thing that’s important to consider is the definition of the terms, because one person’s perception of bullying could be another person’s perception of assertiveness.

Bradley explains “When we’re consulting, often clients will say that they think there’s a bit of sensitivity around a diversity, or harassment, or discrimination issue. If I think you’re harassing me, that’s my reality, my truth. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it is an issue. You may not even have done anything wrong. But it’s still real to me. This creates conflict. Identification of how we define these things is really important.”

“But then it gets even more complicated, doesn’t it?” Salina adds. “A common survey question is ‘have you witnessed harassment?’. That’s a very complex question, because people’s perceptions can be so different. The person supposedly being harassed may think nothing of it at all, but the ‘witness’ may have a completely different set of boundaries which mean they view the behaviour in a very different way.”

In the next article in this series, Bradley and Salina look at the nuances and complexity of defining what is appropriate language and behaviour.

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A forward-thinking reskilling project with NatWest

There is no doubt that technology-driven changes to working practices can cut business operational costs, increase efficiency and deliver incredible benefits to customers. However, this can come at the cost of employment as automation replaces jobs, and the loss of intangible human skills and knowledge built up by employees over many years of experience.

This has been an area of focus for the NatWest Group, where a number of employees were at risk of redundancy due to the closure of branches and increasing digitisation of functions. The Group were interested in testing whether some of these employees could be reskilled and redeployed as software engineers within the organisation, thereby avoiding the loss of talented staff with customer-facing knowledge, as well as supporting staff at a difficult time. The third phase of this reskilling programme—and the point at which MatchFit became involved—entailed developing a suite of learning resources via an app, to develop the software engineering skills of the reskillers.

Heading up this project on behalf of the bank was Damian Sellers, Head of Tech/Change Workforce Capability at NatWest Group. We spoke to him about the project, whether he thinks it’s been successful, and what it means for the future.

Firstly, we asked Damian how and why he became involved.

“My role involved heading up the tech capability stream of our workforce enablement in our services space. Services in NatWest covers a broad area, but it comprises most of the system support functions; so mainly tech and change. It employs 30,000 people—half the bank—and what we were trying to do is look at what today’s skills are, and then, in this rapidly changing world around us, what skills would be needed in the future and what the gap will be.

Banks are also changing massively and instead of being these big grey monoliths, we are all trying our best to be agile, digitally savvy, and digital-based across everything we do. Everything is changing around us and the workforce needs to change too.  

NatWest are a purpose-led bank as well. That’s the strategy under new CEO, Alison Rose, the first ever female CEO of a ‘big four’ bank. Climate, enterprise and learning are the focus of our purpose, which is to champion the potential of people, families and businesses.

What we were looking at in our capability stream was ‘how can we align everything so that we’re doing the right thing for our people’, because NatWest don’t want to be a bank that hires and fires.  They want to take the talent out of those parts of the organisation where roles are being automated or digitalised and retrain those people.

So one thing we did, amongst others, is to pilot an upskilling programme. We invited at-risk colleagues—people that had already been told they were going to be made redundant— to apply for one of 20 software engineering training places.

Applicants were assessed and interviewed, and then the successful candidates became a cohort of 20 to be reskilled into software engineering roles within the bank. It’s quite an investment for the bank, because it takes roughly nine months to train people and place them in the businesses. We started with a three-month software engineering bootcamp, which trained them in the fundamentals of software engineering, then another three months of self-led tailored learning, with access to learning materials. Then crucially—and this is where MatchFit came in—we also suggested the idea of the reskillers actually doing a builder project.

A builder project is a recognised term within this kind of learning space and within technology. In this instance, it was to work on an external application build for one of our customers on a ‘no regrets’ basis. So essentially our customer, MatchFit, potentially benefits from the app build, and the bank gets a risk-free training area to test the project participants’ skills and develop their confidence.”

What have been the outcomes?

“The actual outcome is that the reskillers have been brilliant. They’ve built the app, with full front to back coverage and it is going to be great!

There have been some terrific stories! I would get a presentation from the reskilling cohort every week, where they reported on what they’d done; how the sprints went. There are some amazing stories, and for some this has been life changing. People have been really worried about the way forward, but we had no age cap on the project and some people in their 50s have taken the plunge and decided to try and re skill as a software engineer, which I think is so brave!

And now the bank also benefits from the fact that all of these customer-savvy people who know the products, know the customers, demonstrate great behaviours and are about to be deployed into the mix with quite a homogenised group of software engineers. In general, this is still male-dominated, still very tech-focussed, they’re all come from the same STEM university background. We’ve added in some people with very different backgrounds and that is really going to shake things up in a positive way!”

How does the app work?

“The MatchFit CLIMB model itself starts with a review across all the workforce which looks at ‘how good are you at: commitment, leadership, intensity, motivation and belief’. There are similar lenses for the HUMAN and TEAM models as well. This is explored via a questionnaire, produced as an analysis and then recommendations can be made according to any issues highlighted, with the appropriate intervention delivered. This is usually done face-to-face, with whiteboards, and people in a room.

The task was to translate this to an app. We coded it so that teams can be set up within the app, team members can answer all those questions in the app and grade themselves one to 10 on the answers.  It then produces a result and gives tailored learning based on any development areas, in all of those different categories. A matrix calculates which learning content a person should be directed to according to their score, and that content might be a video, recommended reading or a task.

There’s also a manager view, so a manager can get an anonymised aggregate score for their team in each of those categories within the CLIMB, HUMAN, or TEAM model. That manager can then see whether there is an area of weakness, and MatchFit can be called in to do some targeted leadership training, for example.”

What have been the challenges?

“The matrix is quite a complex algorithm to actually figure out – it’s really intermediate training rather than beginner. So the challenge was whether our trainee software engineers could build something that was getting more and more sophisticated. There were the security elements of it, as well as things from a functional perspective, such as password resets, and ‘what happens if I want to take someone out of my team; someone leaves; I add someone to the team? How does someone actually get access to the application in the first place?’  

It was also a challenge for me, in a small team, and I had to ensure I could translate the MatchFit brief accurately, and consider all the complex technical scenarios.”     

What would you consider a successful outcome from this project?

 “From a NatWest perspective, a successful outcome is that their reskillers benefit from it. If they’ve learnt key skills, keep their skills fresh and develop themselves through building this app, then that’s all I really care about. There would be a sense of pride for them, however, if it goes live and they can log on as a user and see what they built.


Although the cohort are now being placed in their new business units across the bank, they will continue to work on the MatchFit for a minimum of 30% of their time for at least another three months, because they won’t all start coding straight away due to the critical nature of the systems they’ll be working on.

The internal goodwill that was generated off the back of this has been fantastic. NatWest CEO Alison Rose heard about what we were doing, and sent each of our reskillers a personal email. The feedback was great – everyone recognises that it’s brilliant that the bank is supporting their people in this way, and it aligns with NatWest’s strategy and focus.

It’s not been without cost, but measured against the financial—and human—costs of redundancy, it has proven to be a very sound investment.”

A winding path through the countryside

The Diversity and Inclusion Journey: The Role of Neurodiversity and How to Change Mindsets

In the third of our series looking at current D&I practices, Bradley Honnor from Match Fit and Yasmin Egala, Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Champion at the MOJ discuss whether too much emphasis is placed on physical differences, ignoring hidden differences like neurodiversity, and how to bring those that are resistant to change on board.

Yasmin Egala

If we were to focus more on hidden differences and celebrate those differences for the positives they give us, we might address some of the other big issues that we seem to be going round and round in circles with. Something like neurodiversity cuts across identities. It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, what group you belong to, what your background is.  It doesn’t discriminate in that way. I do think that’s an area of diversity and inclusion that has been neglected, because we focus so much on the outer appearance. You can’t make assumptions just because someone appears a certain way or someone looks like they belong to a group. They may relate completely differently to how we might expect given their outward appearance.

Embracing these hidden differences is something we could use to cut across all areas and create equal ground. It could maybe help us to find something to unite on as well, rather than just our exterior differences. So if we add that to the journey towards becoming better people, I think we could really reap the benefits.

Bradley Honnor

I agree. What you can see is generally more obvious, and we make assumptions about people and weigh them up in a few seconds, but we don’t really see what is underneath.

I also think we need to accept that not everyone wants to do this. That’s a challenge. Can we still hear and have empathy for those people that don’t want to integrate, that really do fear the direction that things might be taking? Here’s a challenging question: Are we so sure that this is a path that everyone has to and should go down? Because I don’t see much integration anywhere – I see pockets of communities of different ethnicities for example, but that true integration – I just don’t see it so much.

What do we do with the people that actually don’t want to engage in this? There are a number of people like that, so do we just leave those people behind? I don’t actually think an organisation can get everyone on board en masse. They can put some behavioural rules in place that if you break them you get disciplined, but that’s not really what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to make people do certain things and behave in certain ways so they don’t get punished while still secretly believing something different. We’re trying to shift mindsets and have people see the value in a more inclusive culture.

If you look at the MatchFit Human model, not everyone is going to be in a position where they are ready yet to change. Beliefs are really strongly held, to the point that we think they are the reality. There will be people that believe ‘this is the wrong way’ and people who believe something very different. What do we do about that? With the best will in the world, until that belief is changed, they won’t come on board, so it does need to be a journey. This isn’t a ‘let’s do a workshop’ model. This is something that should be daily practise, and when that is something we’re engaged with constantly, the culture changes over time.

I watched a documentary about a well know dictator in history and one of the things that really struck me was just how many people followed him. There’s footage of him travelling around in the car with literally hundreds of thousands of people screaming for him, like he’s some kind of God. Look what happened to their mindset, following one person. My point is that it’s possible to shift perceptions and beliefs, but I wonder how we respond in a group or a session to someone who’s not ready for that conversation yet?

Yasmin Egala

 I agree with you. The reality is you’re not going to take everyone with you and it would be naive to think that we can make everyone be open to it. Some people are very fixed in their views – they don’t want to grow, they are happy with where they are, however negative that is.

If you think about the workplace, there should be certain boundaries. So while we’re saying ‘yes, you can be here, you are entitled to your views’, there are certain views and behaviours that aren’t acceptable. I think that’s all workplaces can do – create the boundaries for what’s okay in terms of being respectful and how colleagues can expect to be treated. That’s not saying that if you express something that’s negative it should automatically be taken down a disciplinary or grievance route, as actually that doesn’t resolve much and can make the work environment very tense going forward. But I think as a minimum, for those people that don’t want to come on board, we can create boundaries that they should abide by to create a safe space, because that space isn’t just about them.

We need to create an environment where everyone feels safe. We can then hope that through other people getting on board, the work, the journey and the things that are being put in place, those that are resistant to change will become curious. When people are curious, they want to learn more. I think that’s all we can do, really.

The Diversity and Inclusion Journey: Next Steps?

In our second of our discussions around D&I, Bradley and Yasmin delve deeper into the issues, and explore some of the next steps.

Bradley Honnor

When you look at all the division, it seems we’re a long, long way from being able to live together in harmony. Maybe as individuals we are capable of doing that, but collectively, we can barely get on. It’s the lack of maturity in our ability to shift our perceptions and world views that’s the real issue for me.

Yasmin Egala

 I feel that we need to reflect inwards more. A lot to do with diversity and inclusion is very outward-focussed, so I think we need to look at ourselves, not be so defensive and actually listen to understand.

But what do we do with that understanding? There’s the defensive ‘what’s the big deal, we all have problems’, for example the ‘all lives matter’ stance. Not being able, in the moment to listen and understand what’s going on for that person, or that group, belittling the issue as they see it. If we all, could get to the point where we can resist the urge to dismiss, that would be an ideal step. We need to be able to reflect on what we, as individuals, can do differently, rather than arguing or pointing the finger.

So how do we make that happen? As individuals we can be encouraged to just stop, listen to each other, and make those positive changes. But when there’s such an appetite for conflict, exacerbated by mainstream and social media, how do we get people en masse to that same point?

Yasmin Egala

Well that’s a million dollar question, because we know it is going to be difficult! I read something recently that said not talking about religion and politics has led to a fear of talking about them, in case it leads to conflict. But if we got into the habit of having healthy conversations about challenging issues, by training ourselves to listen, be empathetic within our own circles, whether that’s our families, or workplace groups; if we did that more often, it would become normal to sit down and talk, listen to what everyone is saying and hear where everyone is coming from.

The truth of the matter is not everyone is mixing with people that are the ‘other’, whatever the ‘other’ looks like. It’s not realistic to tell everyone ‘go and find somebody that’s the total opposite to you’. But at work and, I would even say at schools, if we start getting into a habit of actually sharing conversation and experience, we would really reap the benefits.

Bradley Honnor

There’s definitely benefit in people experiencing something as opposed to talking about it. When I went to India for work, one of the things that struck me was how included I felt. Whilst you can’t generalise Indian culture, as there are many different types, I really felt the collective wider community ethos, in contrast to the very individualistic culture experienced in the UK. It certainly broke some of the assumptions I had before I went.

What is it really like to sit down and have a meal a with a family that you would never normally eat with because you don’t know anyone from that community? Learning how they really live, what their fears and their dreams are; that experience is really different to talking about it.

Perhaps the focus of D&I is often wrong as well. I do think there’s a tendency to focus on the negative rather than look at some of the good practises going on. If we’re starting off from the point of ‘how can we be inclusive’, we’re implying that we’re not. We could come instead from the position of ‘where is being inclusive working already?’ ‘How can we maximise more of what we’re doing that works?’ ‘Where have we felt included, and how?’ ‘How do we engender more of that behaviour?’

Yasmin Egala

 I would challenge that. While I agree that the language we use implies there’s a problem that needs fixing, and there are benefits in bringing people on board through positive language and reinforcement. An important thing we have to look at is the elephant in the room – sometimes there are issues that haven’t been dealt with. When we talk about inclusion or people feeling there is justice, if there are areas that haven’t been addressed or people that have felt marginalised for a very long time, the risk is we don’t look at the areas where we’re not making any progress, or are getting worse. The danger is that we just do more of the good stuff, but those other areas get neglected because it’s uncomfortable and opens up wounds.

The issue is how do you do that in a healthy way so it doesn’t create conflict, or cause people to shut down? I think that’s what 2020 showed us – when you open a can of worms, what do you do with that? Some people avoid, some go full throttle for it and some are resentful. So how do we reconcile all those feelings and move forward? I think, right now, what we’re seeing with diversity and inclusion is that people are tired. They’re tired of seeing the same things; doing the same things, which are not getting results.

So actually, what can we do to get the result that we all want to see, which is living better in harmony?

Bradley Honnor

I think it’s a good point. Maybe the answer is about both. Being clear that we’re not coming from just the position that we’ve got it wrong but that yes, it’s significantly wrong in places and in other places we are making inroads. That in itself is quite a sensitive issue sometimes though – there can be a backlash of ‘how dare you be so ignorant to what’s actually really going on’.

If you take women’s rights, for instance, some might argue that nothing’s changed since the 1930s, but actually, yes it has. Of course more needs to be done, so this is a good example. We could perhaps encourage people to get more involved if they could feel that they’re not going to be attacked for what’s not working; that sort of approach pushes people away. So I think you’re right – we have got to take the lid off Pandora’s Box.

In the next article, we look at an area of D&I that can get ignored: neurodiversity

The Diversity and Inclusion Journey: Are we getting it right?

Kicking off a new series of articles on the important and globally topical issue of diversity and inclusion, Bradley Honnor, Managing Director of MatchFit and Yasmin Egala, Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Champion at the Ministry of Justice discuss how D&I is currently being addressed, and why it is such a difficult area to get right.

Bradley Honnor

I do feel that fundamentally, diversity and inclusion are currently being addressed in the wrong way!

People are grouped together and categorised, placing them in boxes of things that they might identify with, whether that’s their gender, sexuality, ethnicity et cetera. For me, that polarises and divides people right from the outset. Straight away, you have a group being used as an example or that are speaking about feeling excluded from their own perspectives, and then those on the outside of that group. For instance, if we’re talking about women and women’s experiences, then as a man that’s going to exclude me from sharing in that. But when we break that group down, are we talking about heterosexual women, white women or disabled women? The reality is that each of these  may have different experiences.

When we get away from the polarised groups and start to look at the experience of an individual, and ask ‘what is at the heart of what we’re actually talking about?’, I think we can get into a more meaningful conversation. This individual focus doesn’t seem to feature in much of the current delivery of diversity and inclusion awareness, in my mind.

Yasmin Egala

I agree with a lot of what you’re saying – this whole idea that there’s always one size fits all, putting people in boxes. What that doesn’t take into consideration is intersectionality. We don’t fall into just one box – just because you are a man or just because you’re a woman, that’s not all you are. There are different sides to all of us, so I agree with you that the problem with diversity and inclusion initiatives is that deficit models always look at the people that feel excluded. That makes everyone else feel as though they don’t have a part to play in diversity, or even guilty or ashamed because they belong to a majority group.  

For change to come, I agree we need to move away from that and move to looking at people as individuals. We all have needs, we all want to feel safe, we want to feel like we belong and are included. This way, you get everyone talking and on the same page, so it will start off under equal footing, and away from the ‘them versus us’ mindset.

Bradley Honnor

Being included or excluded from groups is not a nice feeling for most people, unless it’s a group we choose not to be associated with. If we look at the psychology, we know that humans need that social connection, to be part of a ‘tribe’, not out on our own, where we might be more vulnerable to danger. We want to be part of a family, part of the community and there is a natural tendency to gravitate towards a group, and towards things that we perceive are similar to ourselves.

If you look at what’s going on in American politics, it’s very unusual to hear a balanced view. It’s a very binary system, people are either Democrat or Republican, and feel that that their beliefs and values are correct and the ones that everyone should live by. When views are this polarised, it can make people reluctant to sit in a room and have a conversation. The irony is that when people do listen openly to each other, very often they can come up with an agreeable resolution.

The psychologist Carl Rogers developed a method of running encounter groups for conflict mediation, for example, with members of the IRA and English counterparts. You can imagine the tensions and hatred! But spending some time working with propositions such as unconditional positive regard, and really hearing and listening and understanding before judging, means that people came to a greater understanding of why others value what they value and believe what they believe. Where do we ever learn this way of communicating? We’re taught to debate in school, but not to actively listen – that is without thinking we already know what you’re going to say; forming our response in our head before you’ve finished speaking; or relating what you’re saying to ourselves.

Another challenge is how do we actually define inclusion? If someone in a categorised group within an organisation doesn’t feel included, does that mean the organisation is getting it wrong?

Yasmin Egala

I agree with you and in terms of how we’re going to move forward, if you do what you always did you will get what you always got. So we have to do things differently. As you mentioned, we’re not taught to try to listen and to understand others. I think inclusion should be viewed as a journey, because human nature is that we are programmed to favour people like ourselves and to be more open to people that we perceive have similar experiences to us. Appreciating this is a journey recognises that sometimes we will be more open than at other times, rather than simply saying ‘you’re inclusive, you’re not’; ‘you’re good, you’re bad’. There will be times where we will fall short and then times when we make progress. It’s a roller coaster.

Our constructs are not always factual – while we know exactly who the president of the United States is, it’s not always like that when you’re listening to other people’s values, norms, beliefs and experiences. So listening to understand, not listening to put down or be defensive is a skill we need to develop. When people are listening to others’ experiences or way of life, there’s this tendency to try and categorise into good or bad, relative to our own beliefs. If instead we can try and understand each other, maybe we can appreciate where they are coming from.

That’s where we need to get to.

In our next article, Bradley and Yasmin share their thoughts on how to take the next steps on the D&I journey.