Racism in Football – 2018 and still going strong !

It doesn’t seem that difficult to imagine that racism still exists in football – as it does in so many other areas of life. Our country is so divided with the media using language that separates people, one individual from another and one group from another.

Responses to Brexit in the media have exaggerated differences between people, at a time when efforts should have been made to draw them back together. Some elements of the press have exaggerating these differences for their own agendas and this has created a new breed of intolerance, ignorance and racist attacks and comments.

Twice in recent weeks we have heard news of comments and actions directed at black footballers, minimising the great successes of the Kick it Out campaign over recent years.

The Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling received verbal abuse at Chelsea on Saturday and, last week the Arsenal player, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown at him from the crowd at Tottenham. Really – how can people be so stupid?

What do the perpetrators of these unpleasant actions think of as they perform them – surely, they are not thinking of themselves as football fans and supporters. Perhaps some of the following are in their head space.

  • The player will play less well if I racially abuse them.
  • My team is more likely to win.
  • The people around me in the crowd will respect me.
  • I want to be banned from going to football matches for life.
  • I want a criminal record.

Is there a likely positive outcome – well frankly, no. I just hope the authorities (football, police and judiciary) do their stuff, catch the culprits and make the necessary example of them, to discourage others from acting similarly?

And not to let the media off their part in this – we must start to heal the rifts in our society not exaggerate them. Every person, no matter what their difference, deserves respect, value, tolerance and acceptance.


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Lego revisited – (mis)creating aspirations in the young

Last evening, I attended a Graduate Fog event called “Rethinking fair access: How level is your playing field really?” The keynote speaker was Dr Ger Graus from KidZania talking about the impact early learning has on the employment aspirations shown by young people today – in a survey of many thousands of young people, they found girls still gravitate towards traditions female job experiences and vice versa.

Clearly, the way children are parented impacts on their learning, but so do the toys they play with. Because of Dr Graus’ talk, I reviewed an article I wrote about Lego in June 2014 and its lack of gender neutral building sets. This morning, I revisited the Lego website to find not a great deal has changed. Perhaps there is greater evidence of female characters, but have they changed their gender roles – no!

I went to the “truck” section and opened the links to the forty-four sets in this section, the clear majority being action sets, nearly all with male characters and female ones hardly in evidence.

But wait, girl sets are there too. “Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van”, “Flo’s Café” or even “Mia’s Organic Food Market” – no great adventure here, but plenty of pink and bright colours. How are Lego informing the long-teLego 2018 (2)rm ambitions of their girl audience? The “Jungle Exploration” or “Mining Experts Site” sets are clearly designed and marketed to their boy users, without pink or pastel shades in evidence.

Gender behaviours and responses are learnt, at home, in the classroom and in the media. We all, as individuals or organisations, have a responsibility in helping to create a ‘level playing’ for our young people growing up into the tomorrow’s workforce.

Come on Lego (and many others), it’s time to get your act in order.

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Gender Equality – when will it be enough?


Of course there is a simple answer to the question of how long will yin- yangender issues be the mainstay of the daily news – until real parity between women and men is achieved. The power imbalance between the sexes must be equalised at work, in the media, in entertainment, in government, in sport and in the home. Will this happen in the near future – probably not, so get used to the fact that the reporting of it will continue – and so it should.

After the 2016 fiascos that led to Brexit and Trump, I have found it difficult to write, so my blog pages have remained in a dormant state. These events and other global upheavals have been compounded by the accusations against those in the entertainment industry, yet still I did not write. At the time I thought about Harvey Weinstein’s claim that “I have never had non-consensual sex with anyone” whilst others said “he raped me”. How can two people see an event so differently – only as a result of a massive power differential?

The BBC has also come under fire recently for the gender pay gap it created and allowed, though as a result of a transparent response, it seems to be dealing with this issue, but still with a long way to go.

This morning there is another report stating that over 250 members of staff of the UK’s Parliament buildings have experienced sexual harassment in the past year – perhaps not all women, but I hazard a guess that most are.

I used to be stimulated by such stories from the daily news, but in the past year these reports seem to have stifled, rather than encourage writing – but not today. As a man and an equality practitioner, I recognise that it is time to do something about it – beyond writing.

During the past month I have been working with a close colleague, Chris Markiewicz (also a man) to develop a new programme called “men@work”. This project has been devised to help men to understand issues related to attitudes and behaviours that negatively impact on the imbalance between the sexes in the workplace.

How does men@work do this, you are probably asking? The programme is designed to create a safe space for men to explore and recognise aspects of their personality and actions that might be seen as oppressive or challenging to women, particularly those they share working space with. Likely to have derived from their upbringing, education and early years socialisation, they can address their attitudes and unconscious biases that impact on who they are and how they behave, all in a supported and understanding environment.

It is time to cut through the complexities of what is acceptable and what is not. Traditional testosterone fuelled behaviours are unsuitable for the modern workplace and are likely to stifle an organisation’s potential. Men can, all too often, be confused about what is or is not “appropriate” and are increasingly being accused of bullying or harassment as a result of their practices. Furthermore, given recent events regarding gender issues, men may be feeling increasingly uneasy at work and many need help.

men@work is delivered to staff groups in organisations that want to help their male employees realign themselves for a 21st Century working environment. It is also offered as a coaching intervention for men who have had accusation of bullying or harassment levelled against them. The result of the men@work intervention is greater wellbeing at work for all employees with more cohesive and productive staff teams.

The objectives of the programme are to:-

  • Explore the impacts of gender difference in the workplace – attitudes, unconscious bias and behaviours.
  • Examine how masculinity has a bearing on workplace wellbeing and performance.
  • Understand the root of men’s power and how it can be used or abused.
  • Recognise how their masculinity informs a man’s attitudes and behaviour.
  • Develop strategies to manage gender difference and other related differences in the workplace.
  • Learn how to apply these understandings in our day-to-day work.

I’d be pleased to hear what you think about this programme and will be even more delighted if you contact me to hear more about it.

Posted in gender equality, glass ceiling, inequality, Sexism, Uncategorized, workplace bullying | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EU referendum – what are your thoughts?

I have the pleasure of being a friend of Malcolm Parlett, a senior Gestalt therapist and practitioner, who has recently published Future Sense, in which he offers a radical rethink and new perspectives on human wellbeing and global sustainability. During the past couple of years, I have come to respect and care about him personally, his wisdom and great understanding of the world we live in. 

When, last week Malcolm sent me the twelve reasons why he will vote “Remain” I knew it womalcolmuld be a document worth reading, particularly for people still in the undecided camp. I am delighted to publish his paper here on my blog and maybe it will help in decision making.



I must vote – a tiny contribution towards the huge decision. But how shall I know? The ding-dong of verbal argument and exchanges of guesswork do not do justice to the weight of what’s required. I realise I need to draw on my own “whole Intelligence” – that is, take a long view, attend to what deeply resonates within me as being true and wise, honour my convictions and values, and make as mature a judgement as I can – recognising I am a reasonably well-informed ordinary citizen but not an economist or diplomat. I notice that when I engage with my whole intelligence, the answer is clear: I shall vote for the UK to stay within the EU, not to walk away from it.


Uncertainty is inevitable – none of us knows the future. In a card game, a player can stay with the hand they have, realising that in time they can exchange cards they do not want. Alternatively, the player may opt to discard their whole hand – a vote to leave. But why would they want to exchange all the known cards for a bunch they cannot know? The answer: Only if the cards they have are so appalling that they believe they cannot do worse. Well, the EU isn’t perfect – we all know that – but it’s not all rubbish either. On this analogy, my inclination is to stay, not quit. The Remain campaign acknowledges there are difficulties and challenges in being part of the EU. By contrast, the Leave campaign fails to acknowledge ANY benefits and advantages of being in the EU! That degree of one-sidedness strikes me as absurd.


I have multiple identities. We all do. I am a Londoner (by birth), English, British, a UK national, European, and a citizen of the world. Each of these is valid and important to me, and each carries a sense of belonging, rights, and responsibilities. My grandchildren have roots in England, Scotland, Spain, Ireland, and Denmark, as well as the USA and Columbia. Like other families, we visit other European countries, and welcome friends and colleagues from across the continent. I treasure the breadth and depth of my European identity, and do not want this part of me diminished or dishonoured. Those voting to quit the EU believe our freedom of movement and contact with the rest of Europe will not be adversely affected. I do not believe them.


The Referendum campaign has reminded me that when I travel to other European countries, I often notice things that strike me as civilised, efficient, and relaxed in ways we seem to have lost in Britain. It’s possibly a “grass is greener” reaction. But in terms of indices of social wellbeing, education, and health, the UK often comes out poorly compared to other European countries. In other words, we are not in position to strut around and regard ourselves as superior, or that “we can do without Europe”. I am someone who is proud to be British AND I also think it’s healthy to have close access to other countries’ experience – and to learn from them sometimes. An economic lens is not the only one to look through. Other kinds of influence enrich our collective life.


In Britain we tend to follow America culturally and politically. If we quit the EU, and thereby weaken our European connections, I fear the UK might become even MORE Americanised than we already are. I remember before the Bush/Blair war against Iraq, how other European countries stood against the UK taking part in it. I know who was right, and to whom I wish our government had listened. English-speaking Britain stands in a bridge position between America and the rest of Europe. Overall, we have benefited immeasurably from this position. Blowing up part of the bridge would not advantage us – rather we would be less relevant internationally. In an age of increasing interdependence, the bridge is a prize worth fortifying.


Across the globe, Britain is perceived as a central player in the EU, along with France and Germany – the big three. I imagine that to quit the EU would be seen by the rest of the world not as an act of strength but of weakness: like someone walking away from their family or sports team in an act of pique and pride. From a distance, such public departures are seen more objectively – often as pathetic and narcissistic protests that prove to be short-sighted and self-damaging. Some never recover their position and dwindle in importance. The political fallout of Leaving could well be similar: a loss of status in the world – a sign of political unreliability and national decline.


I profoundly mistrust a number of politicians who advocate Leave. Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, David Owen, George Galloway, and Michael Gove do not have identical politics, but all are political mavericks, who enjoy being oppositional, wanting to stand out against the mainstream of opinion. They like to exaggerate differences, have a very high regard for their own talents, and are happiest when questioning assumptions which are widely shared. In this great matter, regarding the dangers of an isolated Britain, the weight of informed opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU. The listed individuals command attention because conflict is entertaining media-wise, and they are psychologically disposed to attract attention to themselves. But this does not mean they are right in what they say. I prefer to listen to other political figures – like Alan Johnson, John Major, Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas, Hilary Benn, Sadiq Khan, Kenneth Clarke, and Margaret Beckett – who strike me as altogether more mature political figures, and are all very clear in wanting Britain to Remain in the EU.


I understand the romantic attraction of “Britain standing alone”, or of celebrating “Englishness”. I have huge pride in my country. But I think such feelings are best confined to support of the English cricket team, or pleasure in UK universities scoring well in world rankings. They should not take away from sober attention to safeguarding the UK’s position geopolitically. With the rise of other economic and political powers – like China, South-East Asia, India, South America – our remaining solidly part of Europe’s alliances feels prudent and strategic. NATO is also part of our geopolitical positioning, and it would be just as absurd for us to withdraw from that alliance at this point in history. The sinews of connection to our immediate neighbours deserve to be strengthened not squandered.


The idea that “Britain independent and outside the EU” would somehow become “free of regulation” is distinctly optimistic. We have a pronounced UK tendency for regulation quite independently of the EU – witness what’s happened to our doctors and teachers. The EU’s emphasis on employment and social protections has been taken for granted and appreciated yet may not be understood as largely EU-driven. Billionaire newspaper proprietors do not like EU regulation, any more than they like regulation of the press. My own sense is that the EU has often “raised standards” in areas where British lawmakers left alone might well have dragged their feet – environmentally, for instance.


At the root of all right-wing popular movements – whether nazis and fascists in the past or Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, and (shockingly) much of the pro-Brexit press today – one finds certain states of mind that are deliberately cultivated: first, fears and insecurities (for example, “we’ll be over-run, we’ll lose our identity, Brussels will bully us”); second, promises of simple solutions, (“pull out of the EU and all will be well”); and third, a tendency to blame others (“Brussels, migrants, eurocrats”). All three tendencies reflect a narrowing of minds and attitudes. We cannot allow such impoverishment of our national character. We have a mature and tested tradition in Britain – to be internationalist, tolerant, diversified, inclusive. We’ve long been a trading nation, and have welcomed refugees, exiles, and successive waves of migrants – many of whom have been talented and who have brought valuable new ideas and ways of working, (and cooking!) to our shores, from which we have all benefited.


There will always be forces at work favouring go-it-alone nationalism and assertive self- promotion. To maintain a balance, human beings and human societies also need rules of engagement to offset unbridled pursuit of self-interest. British political maturity is demonstrated when we uphold the need to compromise as well as pragmatically advancing our own case. We gain influence and respect by fashioning agreements and building collaborations. The EU, with its institutions and compromises and its late-night negotiating is not perfect, but it represents the dogged, grown-up work of peaceful cooperation over time. We need to remain part of the EU and to preserve, reform, and build upon this proven international framework – that commands huge respect around the world as a model of working cooperation. If Britain were to walk out of the EU now, it would be to pursue a smaller, more limited, meaner, and more parochial vision of our future – and to neglect the best of our past.


Those wanting to leave the EU overlook the strongest reason for staying as members: its effectiveness as a counter to war. The extent of disruption of people’s lives in 1945 represented a human catastrophe beyond anything previously known: what we are witnessing in Syria but vastly more extensive. Memories of war lessen over time: the absolute imperatives of “Never again!” and “Preserve peace at all costs” get eroded. Beginning in 1945, creating the various institutions of European cooperation was the unifying ideal by former enemies. It was their primary goal – supreme above all others – to cement the bonds of connectivity to such a degree that war would become inconceivable. We have to keep this fundamental purpose of the EU in mind, and strengthen rather than weaken its structure. This was its founding purpose. We forget it at our peril.


May 18th, 2016, by Malcolm Parlett, author of Future Sense: Five Explorations of Whole Intelligence for a World That’s Waking Up, Troubador, 2015. http://www.fiveexplorations.com


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Inspired to Write – prejudice from an American airline

Why have I been so absent from this blog for the past months? Surely it is not because I have nothing to write about; indeed, it is probably quite the opposite.

I watch, listen to and read the news daily and have been disturbed and often really shocked about some of the stories that have been broadcast. I could have written about the treatment of refugees on Greek islands and across Europe, global or local poverty, the continued lack of equality for women, the US presidential election candidates, the removal of benefits for disabled people in the UK or any of the multiple numbers of items about discrimination and prejudice, but I chose not to – why? I think I reached a state of inequality over-load and needed a break.

Having spent the last two day in the company of Malcolm Parlett, exploring his concept of Whole Intelligence, from his book Future Sense, I felt inspired again to write again. Malcolm teaches that there is a way, through the five explorations that underpin his work, for us to be hopeful about the future – though we must all play our part. Maybe writing is one of my responsibilities.

So, when today a news story came my way from the New York Times, I decided to write.

The paper reports that a college student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, was removed from a plane, owned by Southwest Airlines, after another passenger overheard him southwestspeaking Arabic on the phone and reported him to the staff. He had been sharing with his uncle in Baghdad his excitement of having just attended an event where the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, had spoken. Once off the plane, he was asked “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”

From time-to-time we hear of people having been arrested for joking with airport security staff about having a bomb in their suitcase – clearly a stupid comment in today’s cautious society – but does the speaking of Arabic, a language spoken by 300 million people, constitute such a threat? Definitely not! According to the article, this is one of at least six cases where a Muslim has been removed from a flight in 2016, without any apparent legitimate reason.

Who is at fault here? Certainly not Mr. Makhzoomi, who has at much right to speak Arabic as I do English. Maybe the guilty person is the passenger who overheard and reported the non-incident definitely an over-reaction. In my opinion, the fault lies exclusively with the flight crew who responded to the complaint in any way.

What should they have done? Sure they have a responsibility to allay the fears of the concerned passenger, but if there was an issue it was with this person. Unless the staff had a concern themselves, any intervention, no matter how discreet, with Mr. Makhzoomi would have constituted prejudiced and been discrimination. After all, he had passed airport security to get on the plane in the first instance. In the event, they responded to a cultural characteristic, different to their own, with no regard for its normality. Their intervention work should have been exclusively with the anxious passenger.

Southwest Airlines, and other service providers, have to ensure all their customer serving staff are well enough trained to understand cultural differences and perhaps even learn to embrace them. In understanding more about their own identity and difference, behaviours of tolerance and acceptance are created.


This exemplifies the essence of “Working with Difference”, the project introduced by Equality Edge; learning to recognise and embrace personal difference, acknowledging the impact it may on behaviour in any given circumstance, communicating effectively with other people, whilst developing a tolerance and understanding of their differences. Perhaps this is also a demonstration of Whole Intelligence

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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.

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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.

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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