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!