Equalities in the News – drip-drip, but is it enough?

Let me start in my usual way, by describing the stimuli for this article and prepare you for the usual questions I am posing at the end of it.

Yesterday I read with interest findings from a BBC research into women in senior managerial positions and prepared to write about it today. But then, listening to the news this morning on Radio 4, I was distracted by three further equality related news items presented back-to-back. In fact, each would normally be worth their own article, but today have included them in one. I wonder, when was the last time four substantive issues were offered as stimuli to us writers on the same day?

The first issue relates to research being conducted by ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn, who is looking into issues of social mobility, although it could probably be better described as social immobility. He suggest the 1950s and 60s were the golden years and is calling for a “bigger drive” to open careers to young people from poorer backgrounds, stating that many of the professions are narrowing the universities from which they accept entrants to graduate training schemes. He cites journalism, medicine and the law as three particular culprit professions.

A second piece of news was taken from a moving interview with Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP. He explained that being gay and working in business in the 1960s was, for him, “a little grain of personal terror”. He acknowledges that although things have improved since his time, he know that many gay people still choose their employment based on their ability to come out. I have recently written on the impossibility for openly gay footballers. I really recommend you have a listen to this four minute radio interview.

The final topic explained how the government is contemplating brining in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons in all schools. They have indentified that girls as young as five now worry about how they look, while cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% since 2008. Apparently, over half the population of the UK are unhappy about their looks. One recommendation from the All Party Parliamentary Group on body image was a review into whether the Equality Act 2010 should be amended to include appearance-related discrimination. This being very topical; indeed I wrote an article on it at the beginning of May suggesting the same amendment.

So this takes me back to what I was originally going to write about, women in senior management. The UK is a poor performer, languishing lowly in the EU table, though achieving better statistics than the Mediterranean countries; it is being out-performed by our northern European colleagues. Indeed, in Norway where there was a quota system for women in the boardroom, a policy which has now been withdrawn, but nevertheless it made a substantial impact. They have over 40% women on board of top listed companies, compared with the UK’s 17%. The government has asked FTSE 100 companies to achieve a 25% figure by 2015 – I think they will really struggle to realise that target.

What gratifies me is that equality issues are still making the news on a regular basis. I do not believe that any one article, interview or news story changes people’s perceptions or deep rooted unconscious biases, but the drip-drip approach of positive message will, in time make an impact. Certainly, we have come a long way in anti-discriminatory practices since our first legislation in 1970, but there is no room for complacency – there is still a long way to go.

What about your workplace: are people free to come out without the terror Lord Brown described. Do overweight people come to work knowing they are likely to be teased or derided? Would someone from an inner city estate have little chance of promotion compared to someone who has been privately educated? Are women unrepresented in senior management?

Undoubtedly, the questions still need to be asked, and unfortunately far too often the answers are still the same. So we may be able to applaud ourselves for the work we have done, but know we still have a way to go.

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 age equality, beyond diversity, Bullying & Harassment, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, Equality Act, gender equality, human rights, inequality, management, Prejudice, Sexism, Sexuality equality, Uncategorized, workplace bullying and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Equalities in the News – drip-drip, but is it enough?

  1. As I said in another place you and I will be long dead at the present snail like pace of change.
    To put this into context it has taken 23 years for the percentage of CEO,s of Times 1000 companies who are woman to rise from 3% in 1989 to 7% in 2012.
    Assuming the rate went up to 12% every 23 years(a quadrupling),getting to 50% female board representation at this level the process would take another 100 years so on present form it will take 400 years or 13+ generations.
    The solution is therefore quotas plus a lot more transparency about secret society membership which seems to be de rigeur for main board appointments.

  2. While it is absolutely true that we need to eliminate biases based on gender issues, an area where all countries are even further behind is in the area of disability equality. Disabilities cross all lines — gender, age, education, race, religion. Yet equality for people with disabilities is barely a dream.

    It is very true that one interview, article or broadcast will not create the change that we need to see. However, if it changes one person to the point of carrying the message, there will be one extra interview, article or broadcast. While the pace may appear glacial — and for people like me it truly is glacial — it is the best avenue we have right now. No change will happen without a change in attitude.

    Keep up the work.

    • Marlowe Shuffler says:

      The govt is comfortable talking about the lack of women in board rooms less so about the low representation of other protected characteristics including race on the boards of FTSE 100?

  3. Our company Equality Matters Ltd., has a superb programme available for e learning called ‘The Difference is You’, which looks at all the topics you mention (social mobility, ‘coming out’, and gender discrimination issues) and gives the student useful and current information about how to avoid the pitfalls contained in the EqA 2010. The course mentioned is in 2 parts with the titles ‘Understanding Diversity’ and then ‘Applying Diversity’. A DVD version will be available soon with narration by a famous British actor who will be instantly recognised.

    • equalityedge says:

      Hi Keith
      I am in receipt of your response to the blog post I wrote last week. I thought I would contact you before I approve it; your comment does not actually add to the blog and is purely a self advertisement. However, I am a firm believer that collaboration between companies with similar objectives is an asset for all concerned. I wonder what my return will be for giving you this free advertising space.
      Let’s connect through LinkedIn, or via direct contact and see what emerges.

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