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Has Diversity become a sugar coated concept? January 23, 2012

Posted by Sneha Khilay - Blue Tulip Training in Uncategorized.

The UK has celebrated major religious events in the last few months – Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali and Eid.  I am continually enthralled when I note the sections and products that cater specifically for these religious days in local large supermarkets.   Staff also wear large lapel badges saying ‘Happy Diwali’, ‘Happy Eid’ and so on.  Equally, I am amazed at the plethora of restaurants, including Mexican, Indian, Italian and Lebanese in my local high street.  Curry is now widely recognised as a British national dish.

It is also common to see TV programmes and adverts with key characters from Black and/or Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Certainly on television, and to an extent in wider media, we have moved away from the stereotypes of young black men being muggers / criminals or Asian families working in corner shops and acting submissively.  In cities, theatres actively celebrate diversity through productions which present music and dance from many countries.  As a result, audience participation is now becoming more diverse, as opposed to the historical attendance profile of white / middle class.  I do believe that Britain is now truly multicultural.

From organisational perspectives, and partly due to the changes in legislation, organisations are now taking proactive measures to ensure Diversity is high on their corporate agenda.  Savvy organisations recognise the business case for promoting diversity as a core value; this increases credibility when working internationally.
Further, organisations have a better chance of securing large and / or public contracts through proving their commitment to and showing evidence of diversity.

I have seen a gradual change in the attitudes of staff and managers attending Diversity-led training programmes over the past few years.  Former levels of resistance and avoidance tactics / excuses used when attending (or not attending) these events is now rare.   When conducting recent training programmes for managers (including traditionally male-dominated areas such as Engineering firms), there have been more women participants although trainee groups remain mainly white. The biggest change is in attitude.  Managers want to learn about the law and genuinely want to ‘get it right’, particularly when working with colleagues from different cultures.

In further education establishments, most universities have key representatives specialising in promoting Equality and Diversity.  They in turn seek support from their network of colleagues in other universities, thus helping maintain the momentum of Diversity into practice.  Some voluntary organisations, working collaboratively, have nominated specialist staff to support school children (and parents) who are experiencing bullying and harassment at school. Head Teachers are asked to be accountable for resolving and ending this, at times with the involvement of children, again helping to maintain the Equality and Diversity momentum.

So, you could argue that we have made huge strides in taking Diversity to the next level. However as the title of this piece indicates, has Diversity become a ‘sugar coated’ concept?  I recently read an article in a national newspaper whereby a reader was advised to bring her complaints of sexual harassment at work to the attention of her manager and human resources.  I was disheartened to read other readers’ comments, the majority of which indicated that they thought it less detrimental for the individual to leave the company rather than seeking resolution / recompense.  Many told stories of raising concerns of discrimination in their workplace only then to be penalised by demotion or exclusion in key decision making processes (or both).  Staff surveys in both the private and public sectors indicate a significantly higher level of bullying and harassment than that brought to the attention of Human Resources.  The question is whether staff surveys indicate a truer picture of bullying and harassment because of anonymous participation.

A black, female journalist wrote candidly of receiving racist and sexist comments in response to anything she writes on line.  Although her articles do not focus on race or gender, she continues to receive abusive comments (she describes this as ‘bile hurled at her’) such as ‘Go back to where you came from’.  She has also had the usual tirade of ‘If you don’t like it here…’  She described someone even taking the trouble to send a postcard showing a monkey sticking up its middle finger and listing reasons why black women had no place in a British newspaper.  Although the paper made every effort, it was unable to identify the sender.

Similarly, there is an increasing number of homophobic tweets regarding celebrities who have disclosed their sexual orientation.  Whilst some organisations have taken proactive measures in reprimanding staff for such behaviour, including on occasion dismissal, nonetheless negative and abusive comments continue. Whether these tweets are written in work time or private time, this sort of behaviour is unacceptable.

We now have comprehensive policies and legislation in place to prevent discrimination, with language controlled and policed as never before.  There is a growing consciousness of the need for Equality, valuing individuals because of their differences.  However, even if the incidence of blatant, in your face, prejudice has receded, the reality of the ‘fog of discrimination’ remains.  It is subtle, blurred, and sometimes anonymous but, more often than not, unfortunately it’s still there.



1. Dean Cowan - January 24, 2012

A lot of what you have mentioned is about service delivery and commerce and it is good that Sainsbury et al recognise a market. But the black woman journalist’s experience shows that the UK has a long way to go. When minorities of any kind feel safe walking down any street as themselves then we will definitely be making progress.

2. Ann - January 25, 2012

About the sugar coating: that is always what is the question when there’s a (mostly) top-down approach to change people’s behavior. It takes a long, long time and continuous communication and attention to make the change. And there will always be some who do not adopt the change… So unless you let go of those non-adopters and recruit people of ‘like minds’ re. inclusion in the workplace, there is no 100% change. But if you do this, how ‘diverse’ are you recruiting??? ¨-)

3. Michael Mallows - January 25, 2012

Is Diversity a Sugar Coated Concept?

Bias, prejudice, bigotry, Isms in all their guises, xenophobia … they are all alive and kicking and will ever be so, at least until we evolve another few notches so that our limbic system doesn’t have so much control over our reasoning, thinking brain.
The policing of language is ‘necessary’ because people act on their thoughts, and their/our thoughts are often directed at what’s wrong with other people.

A lot of training stirs no affect (except maybe boredom or frustration) makes no obvious difference to the way delegates think, feel or act outside the training venue. This is the case with various training on race / diversity / equality / etc., Anodyne, bland, ultimately pointless with little or no lasting effect in the workaday world. I know that from feedback I get from people who attend my workshops on ‘Celebrating Diversity’
The ‘sugar coated’ metaphor makes sense, the consequences can be bitter.
I must go – I hope that you go well.

4. Vijaya Kotur - January 25, 2012

It is a paradoxical question- chicken or egg? Diversity has always been in this society. Women have fought for their rights, disabled people are still fighting, Stonewall – a big movement, now religion is at the forefront!

We have come a far way in Britain on celebrating Diversity. Sugar coated – not sure more like tolerance than accepting! If Diversity is good for business- yes its taken seriously – like Sainsburys and the banks – as they need their custom.

Legislation has made the concept of organisations to change and adopt. Policies and strategies and action plans are in place. When it comes to questioning the authorities, legal team is working hard so that their organisation is not at reputation risk or go into legal debts!No one is there to question of what the outcome is, so long as the boxes are ticked! Been there and done it myself to satisfy my past Employer!!

But we still celebrate Diversity, go and get awards for the good work you do – wonder what it is most of the time! ( a cynic when it comes to awards as there are plenty of unsung heroes continuing to do greater work than these few)

But in the real world no one is bothered of Diversity. What’s diversity in ones perception might be a normal thing for another! Out in the communities no one wants to hear about this unless it affects them!
Some of the prejudices are inherent that it might take a whole generation to wipe it off.
Well sugar coated it may be for some- but it is a bitter pill for many to swallow!!

5. Dean Cowan - January 25, 2012

A healthy democracy tolerates diversity in both ideas and expression, even if it may result in some pretty nasty opinions being expressed in the public sphere. If educators and others were given the tools to both educate and challenge, instead of tow a line and repress, then I think change in attitudes would be more likely, as ant-diversity arguments aired are generally unpleasant and offensive and therefore less attractive. When they given a subversive allure, then they are at their most dangerous. On the whole in practice the UK is a tolerant country. As people who are broadly in favour of a diverse society we should not fear opposition if our own arguments are clear and well articulated. The diversity would not be a sugar coated pill but a lived reality.

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