Getting Language Right – helping immigrants settle.

I am indebted once again to my colleague and friend Chris Markiewicz, who has previously guest blogged on these pages. Yesterday, he brought the issue of accuracy in language to my attention in his blog. He suggests that getting one’s message across clearly and unambiguously is more important that doing so with exact spelling and grammar.

This is an interesting concept for someone like me, who tries hard to be precise and correct in the presentation of both my work and blog, regularly using the dictionary and thesaurus to ensure correctness, though as perhaps some of you will have noticed, not always succeeding.

I wonder, what is the impact of language in the UK’s ever increasing diverse society?

The indigenous language in the UK is eclectic mix of dialect and accent, sometimes non-comprehendible when travelling around the country. A couple of years ago I needed a translator when I was working with some young people in Glasgow and had to be very careful in my listening with a client in rural Devon. Today, I was intrigued to hear the news that the Government is to launch a new dictionary for parents who want to know how to decode social media language being used by their children; another addition to our contemporary vernacular.

English as a spoken language is, to say the least, variable and has been further enriched by the many immigrants that have come to the country in past years.

The UK with its ever widening cultural diversity is now getting readySyrian refugees to welcome 20,000 Syrians to our land. Many will come here traumatised by their recent experiences seeking a safe place to live, work and raise their families and, most likely, will only have a few words of English. How are we to best welcome them to our homeland?

We will need to be extra sensitive and particularly tolerant and understanding of these Syrian settlers. They will need more time to communicate successfully and we will need to listen more closely and carefully to hear not only what they say but also to what they mean. We must be conscious of their recent experiences, knowing that it will likely impact on their behaviours and responses, which may well emphasise the cultural differences that exist between us.

Perhaps this also provides for us a template for better general communication – even with people who share the same spoken language. If we created for ourselves a model of communication best practice, it would demand that we become actively aware of other people’s cultural and social difference – and the influences these may have – giving everyone the time they need to get themselves heard and understood. If we able to achieve this, the homes we live in will be happier places, our society more cohesive and our working environments more positive and profitable.

Surely this template is the Equality Edge “Working with Difference” model in practice – understanding individuality and communicating respectfully. The coaching and workshop services of Equality Edge result in the implementation of successful communication models, on personal levels and in the workplace.

Posted in communication, Equality & Diversity, Language | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My friends in the North

I have previously re-blogged one of Chris Markiewicz’ blogs. His weekly offerings always make me think and challenge my perceptions and occasionally my prejudices too.

This week, Chris has highlighted one of the social problems of our day: the employment of disabled people. There are at least 5 million disabled people of working age in the UK, of whom only 45% are actually working, compared to 75% of the total population. Which means disabled people are not fighting on a level playing field.

What does this create – a culture of dependency and welfare; not what disable people want or need. Employers, it is time to address this issue – what would happen if a disabled person applied for a vacancy within your organisation. Would you give them an equal chance. Some would, most do not!

Chris Markiewicz's Blog

This weekend I took a trip up to the wilds of the north east – Newcastle to be precise. It was to be only my second ever trip to that city and the reason was a tad unusual.

I’d agreed to do a stand up comedy set for a meeting of the Northern Alliance Ushers & RP Group.  This is a get together of folk who have the same eye condition as myself along with those who have Usher’s syndrome – same condition but with added “bonus” of gradual loss of hearing.

I was wary of the trip. Partly because I could find myself in the company of people who speak an unusual form of English, but also because I wasn’t sure what to expect from a large crowd of people with such conditions (would the room be full of bods tuning pianos or weaving baskets?  I’m joking of course)…

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Uni-Lad Culture – still going on, but a challenge at last!

I hope this short post will be the re-kindling of my efforts to write a regular article; sorry to those followers who have missed my missives.

On Monday this week, The Times published an article entitled “Crisis on campus: the rise of the ‘uni lad’” (thanks to Bernadette Nagy for bringing it to my attention). It reminds me of one of my former blog post from October last year that I called “Everyday sexism – university campus misogyny”. In it, after cataloguing serious sexist behaviour, I challenged parents of pre-university students, of which I am one, to investigate the level of sexism at their off-spring’s chosen establishments and include their findings in decision making and final choices. I wonder if anyone did this, as it would certainly have make university administrators “sit up and listen”, if their application numbers reduced.Uni Lad

What is going on at our institutions of higher education and is anything being done to challenge these horrendous macho behaviours? Maybe something is being done, at last.

I just read in the Mail Online that Oxford University will be sending its rugby players on hour-long ‘good lad’ courses in how not to be a misogynist. Participation at this workshops is a condition of their participation in the inter-college cup tournament and comes amid growing intolerance of the pervasive ‘lad culture’. Though a very small step, it is nonetheless a movement in the right direction.

This “Good Lad” initiative was the idea of an Australian Oxford graduate, Dave Llewellyn, who considers himself to be a good guy and think that other like him need help in challenging the status quo of sexism in the colleges. Is there a better place to start than the rugby club, which have notoriously bad reputations. This can be highlighted by Pembroke College rugby club which was suspended in 2013 after an email – entitled ‘Free Pussy’ – was sent out encouraging players to pick a fresher and spike her drink.

Good luck Dave with the initiative and maybe it’s time for other universities to sit up and listen.

Posted in gender equality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Women in Sport – and the workplace too!

There has been much publicity surrounding the centenary of the football match that interrupted fighting in the trenches during WW1. Indeed, Sainsbury’s have used the story in its Christmas advertising. I was intrigued by a news story last week that presents another, less well known part of football’s history from the war years.

As a generation of young men signed up to fight, the women who were left behind took up employment in the factories – in many cases coming out of the home into the workplace for the first time. The factories in which they worked previously had football teams, constituting much of the professional game before the war.

Beginning with informal kickabouts, it wasn’t long before the women became more serious about the game and challenge matches were put on between factory teams. Up until this time, football was considered a wholly unsuitable pastime for women; it was neither necessary for them to have such physical exertion and was also thought to be “unladylike and somewhat immoral”.

However, as the war progressed, the women’s game became formalised, with teams from the munitions factories playing competitively and in 1917 the Munitionette’s Cup was inaugurated. Large crowds watched the games and as the war progressed, more teams were started and people began to recognise the women’s game for the skill and ability of the women, rather than for any other spectacle.

Dick Kerr Ladies, 1917

Dick Kerr Ladies, 1917

Dick, Kerr Ladies FC from Preston, founded in 1917, regularly drew crowds in excess of 10,000 people. In fact, on Boxing Day 1920 their match against St Helen’s Ladies was watched by a crowd of 53,000.

Once the war over, the factory workforce once again became male and women who had become the main providers for four years, found themselves fulfilling the same role they had been in before the war. For many, going back into the home was considered the “right and proper place” for women and on 5 December 1921 the Football Association bowed under growing pressure, insisting that their members should no longer permit women to use of their grounds, which effectively close that chapter of women’s football.

Today however, women’s football is once again in he news and on 23 November 2014 at Wembley stadium a crowd of 45,000 watched England’s women play against Germany.

Engalnd rugby team - 2014

England rugby team, 2014

Football is not the only team sport where women are in the headlines. On Sunday the England Women’s Rugby Union team was awarded the BBC accolade of “Team of the Year” for 2014 and the England women’s cricket team won the Ashes in 2014, when the men so spectacularly failed. Now all they have to do is persuade the schedulers and the sponsors, that their games are worthy of mainstream television deals and equal prize money.

It is clear that women are finding room for themselves and, more frequently, in traditionally male the spaces like the sports-field. But how does this compare with the workplace or the boardroom? Have women achieved in the same way, or do they still have to fight for the right to be there, as managers and senior executives. Who are the proverbial schedulers and sponsors of women in the workplace, because it is certainly time for increased presence and equal reward – after all the FA removed their ban in 1971.

Posted in armed forces, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, glass ceiling, management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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