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