Why Liberate is launching DIFERA and what it’s all about

by Vic Tanner Davy, CEO of Liberate

The moment we come bawling into the world, much of our future is determined. We are handed a set of identities by society based on characteristics over which we have no control – our skin colour, our nationality, our gender, our sexual orientation, our social class, our school year, our mental and physical abilities, our religion – and, depending on how these identities fall for us, we may go through life never experiencing prejudice and discrimination in any meaningful way or, for others, it may be a daily occurrence.

Over the last forty-seven years the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands have put in place legislation that recognises that there is an inequality at the heart of our society that is biased in favour of particular groups, and that those who are part of a minority or visible minority require the support of governments, through the laws they make, to address that inequality by levelling the playing field.

Last year, the “Female FTSE Board Report” found that fewer than 10% of the three most senior positions at FTSE 100 firms were held by women, compared to nearly a third of less powerful non-executive roles; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Report” found that half of people living in poverty are either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person; and, the Social Mobility Commission reported that young people from black and Asian Muslim communities are more likely to be unemployed and face social immobility later in life than working class white boys despite doing better at school. I could go on…

The question then poses itself, “Why do inequalities like this still exist after nearly fifty years of talking about equality and diversity?” A large body of psychological research tells us that the answer lies within us. Our brains are wired to categorise and to do so very quickly. From an evolutionary standpoint, this has advantages but from a social integration standpoint it is problematic. As we categorise ourselves and others, we hardened the neural pathways that associate certain characteristics with certain groups of people – in other words, we stereotype those who are not like us. These unconscious biases form the basis of our prejudices.

In a chilling echo of the murder of Stephen Lawrence twenty four years ago, in April this year, twenty onlookers stood and watched as a 17 year old standing at a bus stop in Croydon was kicked and punched by ten people for no reason other than that he was born Kurdish-Iranian and was seeking asylum in the UK. The victim and his assailants did not know one another. The assault was based entirely on the prejudices of the assailants to the victim’s otherness. (Fortunately, this assault did not end in murder, but this was more by luck than design, and – unlike in the Stephen Lawrence case – the response of the police has been entirely without reproach following the force’s transformation after criticism of their institutionalised racism by the Macpherson Inquiry.)

In the wake of Brexit, the UK saw a spike in racial hate crime; in Holland and France the far right parties had sufficient support in the last twelve months to make them a credible force in elections; and, the United States elected a president on a platform that was openly hostile to Muslims and Mexicans, and disrespectful of women.

It is in this climate, then, that we are launching DIFERA – the Channel Islands first accreditation scheme that offers your organisation a way to demonstrate to employees past, present and future, suppliers and clients that you value diversity, inclusion, fairness, equality, respect and acceptance.

On joining the scheme, Liberate undertakes an audit of your employees from which we produce a report that sets out where your organisation is now on its DIFERA journey. Liberate then facilitates the forming of a DIFERA champions group from within your organisation and works with you to produce a DIFERA strategy.

Liberate offers your champions training to enable you to train your colleagues and provide inductions to new starters. Depending on your organisation’s goals, Liberate might also be required to provide further specialist training.

Having met the above requirements and completed any remedial work required by the audit, your organisation will be admitted as an accredited member of the DIFERA Scheme.

Becoming a member of the DIFERA Employer Accreditation Scheme also entitles you to a number of other benefits that are listed on the leaflets available in the room.

The scheme’s pricing is based on the number of employees in your organisation. The first year is more expensive due to the work needed to induct organisations onto the scheme. Subsequent years’ membership is charged at a nominal amount.

To sell DIFERA to you, I could talk about the business case for equality and diversity initiatives in the workplace – the return on investing in DIFERA for your organisation – but the arguments for inclusive workplaces are extremely well-documented and can be Googled easily. Instead, I want to shift the conversation away from treating DIFERA as you would a new computer system, say, and offer you this thought.

Had you asked a Victorian industrialist about the health and safety of his workers he would have asked you to provide a business case for why he should care if they suffer in his mills and factories. Today, we know better. We know that, as leaders of organisations, we have a moral duty to keep our employees safe, irrespective of any legal obligations.

In a global ecomony that, through technology, is shrinking the gaps between peoples and countries almost daily, this is how we should also approach diversity and inclusion in our organisations – as a moral duty rather than as an investment that provides a return.

In five days time, it will be the 27th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sodomy in this island. The Sexual Offences Jersey Law 1990 decriminalised sodomy provided the act took place in private and was between consenting male adults over 21 years of age.

During the debate, Deputy Jack Roche, the then President of Public Health, warned of the dangers of promiscuity due to the sexual appetite of some men having many partners in a very short space of time and the risk caused by AIDS transmitted by what he termed ‘such unnatural acts’; he also expressed concern about gay nights in clubs where transient homosexual tourists could proposition locals; he characterised Denmark’s then relatively new legalising of same-sex marriage as containing the AIDS epidemic by saying, ‘In other words, if we can lock ‘em up somewhere together they won’t be running around all over the country doing naughty things’; and, he concluded that we were now ‘in a world where morality seems to count for little’.

In the end, the law was passed by 29 votes to 8, with most members grudgingly admitting that the law had to be passed because, if we didn’t, Jersey would place the UK in an embarrassing position with regard to European commitments to human rights. The repeal of the old law was actively supported by only a handful of speakers including the Dean, the Attorney-General Sir Philip Bailhache and Senator Betty Brooke, herself a Methodist lay preacher.

These supporters might surprise you – the church and LGBTQ community seem an unlikely alliance when one considers the arguments concerning equal marriage, but it is an alliance that has precedent. It was the same in 1954 in the UK when the Wolfenden committee was established to look into homosexual offences and prostitution. This move was in large part due to pressure from the Church who were concerned with the morality of incarcerating men based on their sexual orientation.

This demonstrates the importance of not relying on those stereotypes our brains create for us. Groups that we are not members of are as varied in their make-up as the groups to which we belong. We must not assume that those from other groups who hold opposing views on a particular issue may not also be our biggest allies on other issues.

It is difficult for me to not mention the events of this week in Manchester. The radicalisation of young Muslim men that results in these sorts of atrocities will only be reversed by connecting with them, by finding out what is at the heart of their disaffection. The community who are best placed to reach these young men are the Muslim community themselves, which is why we must resist the easy stereotypes based on the otherness of Islam and work to change our view so as to see the Muslim community as allies in the fight against ISIS not somehow complicit in its rise.

This year, we will welcome same-sex marriage across the Bailiwicks. Within and outside of the LGBTQ community there are those who think that marriage should only be between a man and a woman; that marriage is a patriarchal construct that has had its day; or, that if marriage is to be opened up to same-sex couples, civil partnerships should be available to opposite-sex couples, too.

The debate has been passionate on both sides, but we must now come back together again. Just as the Brexiteers and the Remainers have to work together to figure out what a Britain looks like outside of the European Union, so we must not allow differences of opinion, over marriage or any other subject, to blind us to the good in those with whom with differ or who are different from us. We may not always agree with our partners, with our families, with our colleagues at work, with our teammates on the sporting field, with our friends supporting charitable endeavours, but we must find ways to accommodate other viewpoints. Difference is challenging but, if embraced, it also makes us stronger.

At the heart of DIFERA is the message that we must talk about our identity and the identities of others, not allow legislation to close off that avenue of conversation. Done in a respectful way it will allow us to learn. We must challenge constructively when we need to, and respect others have a right to challenge us without assuming that their challenge comes from a place of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. But, most of all we must listen. Listen even more closely to those voices that we disagree with or that disagree with us. We need to hear in order to understand why they are voting for the far right, why they feel their way of life is threatened, why diversity tests them.

Social media had at its inception the desire to connect people, to enable conversation, but all too often it does the opposite. We need to ask ourselves whether it is the right forum in which to have conversations about identity, values and beliefs. Is it likely that in the space of a few characters you will be able to change someone’s beliefs? Hardly.

The anonymity social media affords us gives us a false sense of confidence that we can behave in ways that would be unthinkable in a face-to-face situation. And that applies to those of us who consider ourselves liberals as much as to those of us who consider ourselves to be more conservative. Using political correctness as a stick to hit people with is just as bad as using religion for the same purpose. There are fundamentalists on both sides. Interestingly, studies have shown ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives are equally as prejudiced – bias on both sides was largely driven by seeing the opposing group as limiting one’s personal freedom.

Consider the list of groups maligned by liberals: rich people, Christians, men, whites and the police, groups that would generally seem to have more power today than the list of groups maligned by conservatives: immigrants, gays, blacks, poor people and goths. Understandably, we would receive some dissent were we to suggest that prejudice towards Christians and conservatives is prejudice. To many it’s just standing up to bullies.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at New York University who studies politics and morality, suggests that conservatives don’t view it that way. As they see it, the left has won the culture war and controls the media, the universities, Hollywood and the education of everyone’s children. Many of them think that they are the victims, they are fighting back against powerful and oppressive forces, and their animosities are related to that worldview.

So, conservative or liberal, what should we do next time we see a remark that incenses us on Facebook or Twitter? Instead of shutting down the debate with a flaming rant, we need to ask that person if we can have a cup of tea with them. Ask them about their view, allow them to speak and respectfully say we disagree. One of the most consistent ways to increase acceptance is “contact with the other side”. If that contact can encompass sharing the experience of working toward a common goal, even better.

As someone from a distinct minority group in Jersey, I have often been told, “Well, Jersey’s a very tolerant place”. Meaning that, in general, we have a culture that shows a willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with. So far, so good.

But, it is not so good when you read that tolerance is especially marked by forbearance or endurance. Hang on a minute – I’m being endured? Who wants to be tolerated by someone else? The implication being that you are judged in some way inferior to the person doing the tolerating.

This just isn’t good enough. We all deserve better than that. We all deserve to be accepted for all that we are, for our characteristics – those we are born with and those we choose – for all our idiosyncrasies, foibles, eccentricities and quirks.

Today, in the maternity wards of the Channel Islands, new lives will be handed their set of identities. As well as those identities I would like those children to be handed a pledge, a wish, a hope today: that they get to study the subjects they want to study, not the ones we think they should based on their identity; that they never experience playground bullying and harassment based on who they are; that they have a fair and equal chance of being accepted into their choice of further education and are not barred based on where they were born; and, that, in twenty years time, at their first job interview they are assessed on their qualifications for the role, not what they look like or how the interviewer thinks they might behave in the workplace.

Twenty years – that is how long we have to make the move from tolerance to acceptance. It isn’t a pipe-dream, acting on our prejudices isn’t inevitable, it is possible to make this change, but we cannot rely on legislation to do it for us. It will take every single one of us to acknowledge our biases and to work to minimise them in all that we do and all that we are in the world.

I entered the workplace in Jersey in 1992, two years after senior politicians here delayed and tried to block the passage of legislation to decriminalise homosexuality because of their own prejudices and, in the States chamber, proclaimed their own ill-informed views as if they were facts about a minority. A minority who, at that time, were watching friends, partners and icons die from a disease for which there was no cure. Because when the gay communities of New York and San Francisco first alerted the medical profession to what was happening to them, the Reagan administration in the United States refused to acknowledge it and under-funded research into it. A prejudice against a minority that cost lives, and whose legacy continues today.

In twenty years, my generation will be leaving the workplace, let’s see if we can leave it a diverse, inclusive, fair, equal, respectful and accepting place for those babies being born today.

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