The hardest questions to resolve are those where people on both sides of the debate think that their reality has an automatic truth, a rightness to it that should automatically be recognised by others. That what they believe to be right should fit into a ‘we hold these things to be self-evident’ basket of truths that have universal acceptance by all right thinking people. Essentially where people believe that there needs to be no debate.
I’m nervous about writing this post because it is the sort of area where people easily take offence, because it strikes so closely to people’s sense of self.
Society’s attitudes have shifted significantly on issues regarding sexuality, religion and language over my short lifetime. What was legal is now illegal, what was illegal is now legal, what was taboo is now acceptable and what was acceptable is now taboo.
I’ve never found men attractive, it has just never happened. I therefore never had to deal with the challenges that I would have had to in terms of ‘coming out’. I didn’t have to deal with the judgment, abuse or strain that people all too often still have to deal with. I got to love, and be with, who I wanted, without any barriers or concerns, and I never had to worry about the impact it might have on my career if people found out who I was seeing. I’ve been very lucky.
I never felt anything but comfortable in my own skin. I had the odd bit of minor racist abuse at school, but, again, that was to be expected 20 years ago. I never had to consider a medical intervention to make me feel like my body and identity were properly aligned. I never had to face the jokes and the judgment that I know people who make that decision can face. I’ve never had to be brave in that way. I’ve been very lucky.
I’m lucky enough to have a 5 year old daughter who I love very much and who was conceived in traditional marriage and with no third party involved. I never had to struggle through the tests and challenges and questions that people who want to have children outside of that situation often have to pass through. I don’t have to read the newspapers whilst columnists ponder if a family like mine is a suitable environment to raise a child. I got very lucky.
If I take my wife to a company event I never have that moment where someone does a double take and says ‘oh, I didn’t realise you were… sorry, anyway lovely to meet you’. They just say ‘lovely to meet you’ – I’m very lucky.
I’ve never had to worry much about the Equality Act or other pieces of law that protect my rights – as people like me have pretty much always had their rights looked after. People like me made the rules in the first place. I’m very lucky.
I wasn’t raised with such strong religious beliefs that they have brought me into potential conflict with colleagues or with company policy. I haven’t lived through a time where those views have been seen as increasingly radical, despite the fact that I haven’t changed my way of thinking. I haven’t been abused by people who say they are doing that in the name of promoting tolerance. I’ve been very lucky.
If you are like me – and if you are in a leadership role in a company the percentage chances are quite good that you are straight, middle class and not strictly religious – then you are very lucky to have lived a life without those challenges. And the thing about being lucky in a civilised society is that it is incumbent upon you to try to pass it on.
It is incumbent upon you to attempt to influence your environment so the happy, beautiful accidents of birth, genetics and environment that make each person unique don’t place them into disadvantageous positions. Or positions that make their lives uncomfortable. It is incumbent upon you to even things up so people aren’t ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’, they are just people. We know that is how it should be, but we also know that the reality of interaction in society hasn’t quite caught up to that not particularly lofty ambition.
There is a business case to be made for diversity and inclusion. As with all business cases it will rest on pounds and pence and conception of brand and the ability to attract talent and the ability to be innovative due to diversity of thought and X and Y and Z and all those other things we often talk about.
I like to think there is an ethical requirement that can still trump a business case. A decision to do something because it is right. Thinking about how to respect identity in the workplace fits into this category. Thinking about how you handle potential conflict in these areas is a complex issue – again not due the business ramifications, but because it is about belief. We can easily hurt people here. Beliefs are tricky – but core to who we are. So working out how you elegantly accommodate beliefs and identity of those around you into a positive environment isn’t a business issue, it is one of the most important personal, societal and leadership issues of our time.
Apologies if a turn of phrase has offended. I’m sure someone will take offence somewhere. Modern life is tricky.