Last week, I was delighted to listen to Barack Obama’s speech in support gay marriage. I thought this would make an excellent subject for a blog article and readied myself to make appropriate equality statements. As a question of human rights and as an equality issue, I am very clear where I stand on the matter, but I haven’t felt stimulated to write about it.
Each time I brought my metaphoric pen to paper, I became distracted by one particular factor – the concept of risk taking at work.
When President Obama came out with his stand, obviously with guidance from his political advisors, he took an enormous risk. It is just a few months before the presidential election and his electoral team must have weighed up the potential anticipated losses and gains they can expect in the autumn poll. This is an understood political hazard all politicians face, but the public support of gay marriage comes with a personal risk too. It was this that has inspired me to write.
Like most people, I go to work on a daily basis and am incredibly lucky to be someone who is hugely satisfied with what I do. When thinking about my work, I realise that I am fairly removed from active risk taking. You are my “electorate”: the readers of my blog, participants of workshops or clients of my coaching. You know what you are going to get, because I wear my equality badge openly and with pride.
Can you remember the last time you were exposed to an Obama-like risk, when your “electorate”, perhaps your customers or clients, could be so affronted or insulted by the stand you take that they could dissociate themselves from you completely. Would you risk losing customers because you wanted to do what was right, as opposed to what was expected of you?
I am reminded of George, a client I worked with some years ago, who was the managing director of a private leisure centre. He wanted to open their facility to a group of adults with learning disabilities, who had requested to use their swimming pool. Other board members were unwilling to accommodate. He brought me in to run a session on disability equality for the directors and the facility managers who were also unsure. I heard comments like “why don’t they go to the public pool”, or “our existing members won’t like it” or even “why should people like that have access to our luxury facilities”. However, George was adamant and he was, after all, responsible for the facility. He was warned that if this decision cost members, he would lose the support of the rest of the board and it might cost him his job. Risk taken and decision made. He was amazed by the level of positive feedback he received from the members, who were not only willing to share with the disabled people but also gave support to them if needed.
George took a real risk – one that paid off for him.
Equality based risks surround us every day. How do we respond to them? Are we prepared to intervene or stick our heads above the parapet? Are we prepared to make a stand that puts us in a dangerous place – out on a limb? It may be about changing language, modernising systems and procedures or initiating new policies. Whatever it is, do you have the courage to take the risk?
Yours would be great story to hear. Please share it with us.