Keep Prejudices Where They Belong – deep inside!

In a recent blog, I describe David Cameron’s apology about his sexist outburst in Parliament. This week we are reading John Terry’s assertion that he did not make a racist comment to a black footballer – although the police are getting involved today.

Mr Cameron’s excuse was that in the heat of the moment, during Prime Minster’s Questions, it is easy to loose control of ones language slips and make mistakes. We are yet to hear what John Terry has to say on the matter, though he denies the allegations.

What we can say conclusively is that when a person is wound up by their surrounding or put under extreme pressure, they become more likely to use words and phrases that betray their inner prejudices. How often do we use profanities or other abusive language when involved in an argument or conflict, even with close friends and family?

So what happens in the workplace? In the difficult financial time in which we live, employees are being pushed to perform better and to increase output in order to maintain profit, whilst staffing levels are being decreased. At the same time, managers are put under increasing pressure to maintain the high functions of their teams. These factors seem to be creating a fast track to abrasive management and an increase in the use of discriminatory language.

How many people have prejudicial attitudes towards people of difference? From my experience, I suggest the answer is many. In the past two years I have heard these phrases from managers “homosexuality is a moral abhorrence” (a public sector manager), “black people are untrustworthy and lazy” (a health service worker), “women should be at home with the children” (business entrepreneur) and “there’s no place in senior management for fat people” (SME owner). Each of them knew that they had to hold these views in check in fear of exposing the attitudes behind the phrases, which if released could have got them into deep trouble with employment tribunals or worse. None had yet been exposed to the pressure generated by prime minister’s questions or an intense football match, but what would happen if they had been involved in a conflict with someone they thought to be lazy, untrustworthy, abhorrent or just shouldn’t be there. Then what – would they still be able to control their language?

It is probable that they would be caught out, exposed, likely to say something they would regret, allow their prejudices to become a discriminatory action. Just in the way David Cameron did.

So, is it any wonder that in today’s workplace there are an increasing number of allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia? It is definitely not a time to make it harder for individuals to make claims of discriminatory behaviour, as George Osborne has suggested – it should become easier.

Manager and employers must stay in control, all the more so if they are under pressure themselves from senior management. Organisation should be reflecting on the managerial culture they employ – it is usually set from above and reflects the style of CEOs and other senior executives. How can they achieve this control – ensuring they don’t “lose it” when embroiled in an argument or heated discussion. One way is to be more aware of who they really are and where their own prejudices lie. Learning more about one own difference enables a person to become more tolerant of differences in others.

As a specialist tool “Working with Difference” coaching helps managers gain an understanding of how their personal differences and individuality, beyond their diversity, impacts on their workplace behaviour and management styles.

Now is the time to be in control – no Cameron or Terry (unproven) hot-house slip ups for you!

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, Bullying & Harassment, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, human rights, inequality, management, NHS bullying, Prejudice, race equality, Sexism, workplace bullying. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Keep Prejudices Where They Belong – deep inside!

  1. Alan Og says:

    I agree that in the business world today, leaders have to be so careful not to divulge “what others may consider” to be their inner prejudices though their actions and their language. I draw attention to the “what others may consider” in the last sentence, as it seems that people jump to conclusions and become judgemental on the basis of the words that are spoken. Now I agree that there leaves little doubt in the examples Michael refers to in his excellent article (although one should first consider the context in which the comments were made), but often people say things perhaps to be funny, to gain ascedence with their peers or simply to be seen as someone who has a light hearted view about life. I am not sure in these cases that this necessarily exposes their deep prejudicial views. Take the example of Ron Atkinson with his “nigger” comments several years ago. Crass, stupid, insensitive … the list goes on, but I don’t for one minute believe that he has prejudicial views about black people, indeed he was seen as a pioneer for introducing black people into football, and for many years was viewed as an icon in this regard. But, as ever, people pick up on the actions and language and draw their own conclusions which is clearly their right, but doesn’t mean that they are correct in their assertions.

    To swerve away from the main point for a moment, one thing that interests me particular with football, is that the authorities are prepared to turn a blind eye to the ugly disrespectful behaviour of footballers and managers, but yet when there is a hint of “racicm” they are down like a ton of bricks. Now I applaud the stance taken with racism, and if John Terry is found to be guilty, then he deserves all he gets because his alleged comments were made directly in an aggressive manner to Anton Ferdinand, how can there be any doubt. I would however like to see the authorities take a much fimer line on other aspects of unacceptable behaviour such as cheating, feigning injuries, verbally abusing match officials … the list goes on, but by not taking action it is almost as if they are happy to tollerate these behaviours which are a poor example to the youngsters who treat them as role models. Or, to put it more simply, the Authorities are not doing their job properly !

    • equalityedge says:

      Thanks Alan for yet another lengthy reply.

      I think, as with most topics, that we need to maintain a pragmatic view of situations that arise. You mention the Ron Atkinson affair, which was a fairly extreme case. Yes, he did much to help black footballers get a start in the professional game in the UK, but his mistake was to a major error of judgement. Whether it was enough to end his career is open to conjecture and individual judgement. However, it should be stressed that he was not under pressure when he made his comment, so what does that say about his real attitude, irrespective of his previous actions and deeds.

      The concern presented in this article is directed to business owners, employers and managers – find ways to take the de-pressurise the workplace, give managers and workers a bit of slack (they may even perform better) and try to to locate the prejudicial demons inside yourself and other members of your staff.

  2. Jose Jacobs says:

    people should think before opening their mouth one should prejudge. there is no excuse because busy or tired A bully is a buly I would not employ or work with

  3. Sugel says:

    Workplace Flexibility Improves Employees’ Health Behavior December 6 2011 – Employees who have flexibility in the workplace tend to sustain healthier lifestyle habits.

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