Few of us enjoy feeling uncomfortable.
Blame it on our ancestral drive to survive. From a time when every unknown and unfamiliar situation posed a real, physical threat. Things have changed a little since then. We no longer need to outsmart or fight-off carnivorous predators just to find a meal – though a post-pint Saturday night at the chippy can come close at the best of times. Still, for the most part, day-to-day discomfort no longer equates to danger. Yet still, it can take something as unthreatening as an uncomfortable conversation to send us back to our primitive ways, running for the hills.
A recent study by strategic consultancy, The Unmistakables, found that over half of the UK population are still afraid to talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We’re not just defenselessly staying silent either. We’re deploying tactics. The results revealed that 32 percent of us turn away to focus on something else when it comes to conversations about gender. While 28 percent pretend we weren’t listening when a colleague talks about sexuality, and 16 percent have a knack for suddenly remembering that super important meeting we have to attend when the topic of age arises in the workplace. Oh, how our prehistoric cousins would have been proud.
Do you see yourself in any of these findings? Because I see myself there. The truth is, just writing about them, I feel a bit uncomfortable. What makes me even more uncomfortable however, is the fact that I’m coming into the industry at a time when 1 in 7 people will leave it due to a lack of diversity and inclusion. That, I would consider a real danger. For some, discomfort can’t be escaped with the turn of a blind eye. For some, safety and security aren’t guaranteed by merely laying low and keeping quiet. For people living and working in a minority, every day poses a very real, very persistent feeling of vulnerability.
It’s not enough for those affected to ask for equal opportunity and respect in the workplace. It needs to come from each and every one of us. It’s not enough to create work that strategically features a person of colour. It’s not enough to hire someone of a particular gender identity in order to appear more diverse. Such actions are surface level. They’re not getting to the roots of inequality. Human connection and empathy and understanding are the only things that will nurture true inclusivity in the workplace. And the only way to get there is through honest, open conversations.
Evolution is a wonderful thing. Our ability to develop and adapt to the world around us is a gift. It’s not just physical. Evolution is psychological and behavioural too. And it’s happening faster than ever. Because it needs to happen. Because societies have accepted the unacceptable for too long. We need to create a work environment that feels safe enough to ask the tough questions. We need to be curious about perspectives other than our own. Only then can we improve the space for all. Don’t be the one who falls behind for fear of change. Don’t be the one who still uses hot rocks to boil water. Put the kettle on. Sit down, and let’s talk about the things that matter.
Valerie O’Connor, Copywriter.
Here at The Union, we’ve recently launched our own Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee. This group aims to develop a greater understanding of what equality really means. We are working to improve accessibility and representation across our advertising, while fostering conversations around how we can push ourselves to do better when it comes to diversity and inclusion, both within our team and the work that we produce.