Morbid Obesity – a barrier to successful employment

On reading the news about obesity in yesterday’s Guardian, I was struck at the scale of the problem facing the UK. In a BBC item a leading bariatric surgeon said “severe obesity threatens to bankrupt the NHS”. Clearly the problem is more than a passing difficulty and will probably get worse, as our lives involve ever reducing amounts of physical exercise and increasing food consumption. I found myself thinking about the futuristic humans from the Pixar movie Wall-E. This apocalyptic animation presents people as so obese that they are unable even to stand; all their actions are performed in a reclining position. Perhaps the film-maker’s image is not so far from today’s truth.

Futuristic person from Pixar's Wall-E

Futuristic person from Pixar’s Wall-E

Unlike previous articles about obesity this one presents the problem as one facing young people, under the age of 25. Indeed 550 bariatric surgeries have been performed on them between 2010 and 2013. Furthermore, 62 of them were on under 18 year olds. Staggeringly, a quarter of us are considered (according to BMI figure) obese and 2.4% morbidly obese. That equates to approximately 1.5 million people in the UK.

The growth of obesity in the UK

The growth of obesity in the UK

The cost of obesity is not just about medical expense.

Last year, I ran a series of workshops in a medium sized company who were struggling to integrate a new employee, a 22 year old graduate who was morbidly obese. Derek got the job on merit, being the best candidate for the position – it was a creative post needing no physical exertion. Little were his bosses expecting the rejection he would receive from his new colleagues? It seemed unfathomable to them that their willingness to employ him would be so questioned by other employees.

No one on the staff team accepted that they were being discriminatory, but clearly they were less accommodating towards Derek than they had been to other new recruits. My intervention was to try to prevent the employment breaking down with a potentially costly and likely successful, tribunal claim being made.

Being able to see the person behind an individual’s physical appearance is a challenge for many – personal prejudices often come to the fore. As an exercise, try to picture someone who is morbidly obese. Where do you see them and what are they doing? This image is likely to drawn from your own pre-judgement. Responding to this image and its expectations it is how unconscious bias comes into play.

I supported and encouraged Derek to share some of his other features and characteristics that were more appealing than perhaps his physical appearance was to his colleagues. It took a while but with time and careful interventions he was able to do this. In the year since we were together, his colleagues have learned to appreciate his qualities, both professional and personal, and he is now a well-established member of the team.

How many people like Derek get the chance of good employment prospects, do they have promotion opportunities and sit on senior management team or in the boardroom. I suspect not as often as they should.

I wonder if you work with someone today, who is struggling to be part of your group. Have you ever thought that their failure to integrate could be as a result of messages received from you and your other colleagues? Situations like these are always co-created and with minimal intervention negative patterns can be broken. You may be able to do something about it today – right now!

Posted in Bullying & Harassment, human rights, inequality, management, Prejudice, workplace bullying | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Political Leaders and Feminism – an uneasy relationship

Wearing a t-shirt that says “This is what a true feminist looks like” is relatively easy, but being a true feminist is more demanding. Perhaps there ought to be a test to determine whether you are or not, before wearing the aforementioned garment.

It is easy for our political leaders and others to don the shirt, but do they have the understanding or care about its meaning. Wikipedia claims that “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women”. There is however a marked distinction between ideology and actioNick & Edn.

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband clearly believe they are feminists but if they do, their claim should be backed up by their actions. What are our political leaders doing about….

Women in the boardroom – accepting Lord Davies’ view that quotas would be necessary if FSTE 100 companies do not achieve 25% women members by 2020. NOT ENOUGH!

Equal pay – putting pressure onto all companies to ensure the law against gender pay discrimination is upheld in all cases. Women still got paid 15% less than their male colleagues in 2012 according to The Fawcett Society – NOT ENFORCING!

Prize money and payment in sport – the prize money received by Arsenal women for winning the FA Cup was a third of one percent of what the men achieved for the same feat. The government could insist that golf, football, snooker and darts (and many others) follow the example set by tennis. NOT GETTING INVOVLED!

FGM – according to NHS statistics there are 66,000 women in the UK who have experienced female genital mutilation and about 20,000 girls under the age of fifteen at risk of it each year. Though it is illegal, in many communities, it is still happening. NOT PRESSURISING!

Page 3 – despite much pressure from across the political spectrum and beyond the daily red-tops continue to print their precious Page 3 glamour pictures, objectifying women. Politicians in power could make this illegal, but don’t. NOT RECOGNISING!

As a result of the above and other issues Britain has fallen to 26th in the gender gap’s global rankings, according to the World Economic Forum.

Yet our politicians wear the T-shirt with pride. Irrespective of the recent findings that the item is not Fairtrade (which, by the way, they should not ignore), they should be ashamed of themselves and work harder to generate real gender equality; do more, enforce, get involved, pressurise and recognise.

No-one is suggesting this should be easy but please try; this is, after all, 2014 and sexism is alive and kicking.

Posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, human rights, Prejudice, Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Question of Language – foreign or not? (guest blog)

It is my pleasure to reproduce a blog written by a friend and colleague of mine, Chris Markiewicz. He writes weekly, always producing something of interest. This week his title is Inwazja Angielskiego - not a phrase I readily understand, as it is his second language, Polish.

multilingual signs

What country am I in?

Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by language; the use and misuse of it. As a diversity practitioner, how words are used and phrases formed is fundamental to successful communication in the workplace and beyond. So I welcome Chris’ words to my blog page. I would be pleased to hear what you think and, if you find it of interest, you could visit his blog for more of the same.

Imagine walking down your local high street and seeing advertising slogans, signs and other such items written in say French or Czech or even in Cyrillic or Arabic script. I’m certain it could feel quite alienating and even invasive.

While working away in Central Europe (Czech Republic and Bulgaria) over the past two weeks, I was struck by the prevalence of English language about the place.

As I passed through my local shopping centre the day after my return, I tried to imagine how I might feel at such an intrusion from a foreign language.

Granted, English is considered to be the global lingo of commerce and international politics, but does it need to permeate so into peoples’ day to day lives through billboards, packaging and the like?

Maybe it’s a generational thing and, being a bit of an old timer myself, I’m pretty sure I’d find it doubly difficult to adapt. I fear though that nations’ cultures and individualities are being eroded by this onslaught of the English language.

Scanning the shelves of Bulgarian and Czech supermarkets I was at times lost and baffled by what might be contained within boxes, jars and bottles labelled in the local language. I accept this as part and parcel of visiting another land. However, many products had English as the prime language pasted across them – handy for me, yet how do many locals cope with that, and how might they feel? I’m not sure we’d tolerate the equivalent here in the UK – oh dear, is my “inner Farage” bubbling up here?

And this extends beyond the written. A few years back I was checking into the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw. I decided to engage with the receptionist in my mother tongue, to which he declared, in a US accent – “I’m sorry sir, I don’t speak Polish”. Looking around the place, I noticed that all the signs in the hotel were in English. Interestingly, the only signs in Polish were those denoting emergency exits!

Last Friday evening, on my way home from my trip, I was going through security at Prague airport – the bleeper sounded, alerting that some metal on my person had tripped the alarm. An airport employee approached me and said “Do you speak English?” You’d have thought that, being in his native country, he would have been perfectly within his rights to first ask whether I speak Czech and, only suggest English as a second option.

I find that quite sad.

Thus, I turn the tables with the Polish title to this post. Worked it out?

Do zobaczenia!

Thanks Chris, for your thoughts and stimulation. The inequality of language impacts on us all locally and globally. Next time I travel abroad I will work hard to leave my English in the drawer from where I take my passport.

Posted in communication, community, Guest, inequality, Prejudice | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Everyday Sexism – university campus misogyny

Having read the article in this week’s Guardian by Sally Williams entitled “Campus nightmare: female students on the rise of sexual harassment” I began to look at other article about gender inequality in the UK university system. I found another by Ms Williams from earlier this year called “Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages: everyday sexism in universities for all to see”. I felt obliged to make comment.

We are aware of the historical (and current) objectification, harassment and misogyny of women (No more Page 3), but these oppressive behaviours seem to be alive and kicking for female university students up and down the country.

I have spent the past thirty years working as a diversity practitioner. We all recognise that working environments have moved a long way towards gender equality, though recognise that there is still a way to go. Indeed, with regard to boardroom equality there may yet be a need to bring in quotas, as Lord Davies suggests, if public company boards to not achieve 25% women members by 2020.

With over forty years of gender diversity legislation, improvements are everywhere. In September one of the last bastions of men only space, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally voted to admit women. So why would misogyny be on the increase in our universities.

With a seventeen year old daughter about to enter the complexities of university application, comparing one against the other for courses, results and environment, I wonder should the level of misogyny also be part one of her assessment criteria.

Facebook allow (or at least do not prevent) university “spotted” sites from existing. It is on these pages that level of public objectification, overt sexism and humiliation can be seen. In the Guardian article there are several extreme quotes about sex and what the contributor would like to do to the object of their desire. Being inquisitive, I went to explore a Spotted page for myself and chose at random, the UCL Library Spotted Page. This is the text of the eighth post.

To the sexy medic brunette sat across from me…
I couldnt make out your full name but your surname is Bangham?!
I would bang you over and over again. Come on over, you can feel my hair and maybe something else*
The stud with the Afro xx
* In case I wasn’t explicit enough, I was in fact referring to my penis

This clearly does nothing for Ms Bangham, but neither does it do the writer any good, or for that matter, the high quality educational institution from where it emanates. What I found quite staggering is that the post has thirty-five “likes” from male and female students alike and several reinforcing comments too.Student

Perhaps I should also add that it’s not only comments from men about women on Spotted sites, but these seem to be the most humiliating.

How has our youth society dropped to this level of public sexism that in the workplace would clearly be considered illegal?

Sally Williams’ feature this week goes even further, describing pranks, practical jokes and initiation ceremonies that have no place in our higher education establishments or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I am not a prude, but cannot find any part of me to condone or accept the behaviours described in the articles. I wonder whether Facebook and the universities are themselves complicit by allowing the sites and the behaviour to continue.

Perhaps it’s time to take control and start campaigning against these Facebook pages. If your daughter or son is going to apply to university, why not check out the Spotted Pages from the institution they are applying to (easily found via Google or another search engine). Have a look and see what is going on. Amongst the many inane comments there is plenty of misogynistic harassment. If enough people report these sites for their content, eventually Facebook will have to respond.

I am fearful that the long term impact of this behaviour on young men and women will be a regressive step in the journey towards gender equality in the workplace. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s employees and managers. Hopefully they will leave their behaviours at their colleges and not take them into their future lives, potentially damaging forty years of gender equality work. If not, where will the glass ceiling be in twenty years – lower than it is, I suspect.

Perhaps it’s worth asking, what did you learn at your university?

Posted in gender equality, inequality, Sexism, teenage sexism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A small step for Lego – or a new management style

I was reading an article today entitled “Lego addresses gender gap with female scientist range”. Lego is introducing a new set, to include a chemist, an astronomer and a palaeontologist, all women. WOW! The Danish toymaker has launched the female figures with science jobs following a campaign to address gender bias issues. ILego' Women Scientists cannot imagine a smaller step, albeit in the right direction.

Let me explain. If you take a look at their website, you will see Lego feature four main pictures on the home page, gender neutral monsters, men only super hero, a men-only building site and women only friends posing in a range of modern provocative stances. Perhaps the men on the building site are wolf-whistling at them!Lego Friends

Nearly every page of the Lego website seems to have has a product for girls, it doesn’t say so specifically but the evidence of pink is there to be seen. Indeed, on each of the pages there is predominance of male orientated merchandise. On glancing through the site it appears that less than 10% is directed towards girls – until you get to the “creative” tab on the Games page. Here pink predominates as do the themes: Beauty Salon Game, Pool Party Game, Dressing up Game etc. Clearly not for boys!

I grew up when Lego was a toy for all. There were very few complete sets to buy, just blocks of various sizes and colours, windows and doors and the occasional wheel, hinge or connector. The result was a completely gender neutral toy which was also 1970s Lego Advertreflected in Lego’s advertising. As the toy has changed, so has the marketing, but is that an indictment of Lego or of our broader society?

The Boardroom of Lego (Statistics from their website) reflects similar gender ratio to the products – six men and one woman, whilst their management board has three women to twenty-two men. Is it any wonder that the company is male orientated. What influence, if any, do the women in Lego management have on the development of the product range?

All our companies are duty bound to serve their customers with the products they want and require. But they are can also be trend and thought leaders for society. It is time the toy industry (and all others) to be part of the solution rather than the problem that perpetuates gender inequality in our societies.

Not all girls want pink and not all boys want monsters and building sites. The challenge is to develop a gender neutral product range. Not only will this be more widely acceptable it will bring massive media coverage and public interest. This will bring more children into your customer numbers and therefore increase sales and profitability; a good deed for society and yourselves.

Be radical Lego, give us more than a female chemist or palaeontologist. I’m sure there are many diversity practitioners around the world who could advise how this could be done!

Posted in beyond diversity, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, inequality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Search for Justice – or just getting your man.

This article is a little different from my usual offerings, but I have felt compelled to write something.

Like the rest of the world, I am not in a position to know what went on that February night in Oscar Pistorius’ bedroom. Indeed, the only person who really knows the truth is the man himself.

In August 2012 Mr. Pistorius, as he is now referred to, was the subject of another blog article I wrote, just after he competed in the London Olympics. He was one of the three disabled people taking their place against able-bodied athletes. Then he was a hero, not just to me, but to many people around the world; a role model and a beacon of hope for so many.

Things have changed – but now, as then, I find myself gripped to the unfolding drama that is his daily life. I do not make any judgement about what he did and why. Nor will I comment about owning and being prepared to use a loaded gun; I do not know what is like living in a crime-ridden city, being really afraid for personal safety. I can only comment on what I am hearing daily; Mr Pistorius in tears; a broken man.Oscar Pistorius

Certainly, I have massive sympathy for the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp; her life violently and abruptly ended that night. I cannot image the pain and suffering they must have gone (and been going) through.

What I can comment on is what seems to be unfolding in the courtroom. This drama is drawing watchers in from around the world, even people who would not previously have heard of Oscar Pistorius. What are they seeing, a man seemingly broken by his own action, being attacked by a professional interrogator? Clearly Gerrie Nell is an accomplished lawyer, insisting on the story being told over and over. In the dock, Mr Pistorius, often in tears, forced into reliving the night that changed his life.

He fully accepts his part in Reeva’s death and is full of regret and remorse. He has apologised to her family and his followers, a heartfelt and truly genuine apology. Either his pain is real and deep or he is the best actor I have ever seen, providing an Oscar-winning performance. I suspect the former.

However, I know not whether he is innocent. I cannot make that judgement, but I have been horrified at the bullying tactics of the prosecution. Is this what any of us would expect if we found ourselves being cross-examined? Facing an adversary with a professional tenacity that refuses to let go. Though I have nothing to do with the case, sometimes he makes me feel guilty too. I cannot imagine what it must be like being attacked face-to-face.

I always believed that judicial systems are designed to get to the truth, not purely get a conviction. In this case, I wonder whether Mr Nell agrees?

Posted in Justice | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal

I found this blog listing the countries where forms of homosexuality is illegal. It makes for uncomfortable reading for some. Unfortunately, judging by the number of unsubscribers from my distribution list after my last blog, comfortable reading for others.

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Posted in Equality & Diversity, Sexuality equality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment