BIO E&D blog editor Ros Brown suggests five things you can do to support equality and diversity (E&D), both in and out of the workplace, in 2018.
It’s easy to feel powerless in this world of systemic discrimination, to feel numb and drained at the sheer scale of the problem. Personally, whenever new celebrity sexual harassment allegations come to light, I find I no longer the energy to get really shocked or angry. I want things to change, but channelling my limited resources into clear, impactful action seems harder than ever.
If you feel at all similar, but also still want to make a difference, here are a few small actions you can take in 2018 to further the cause of equality, diversity, and social justice.
1. Call out offensive comments and language
Yes, it can be daunting. Yes, you can sometimes get hostile reactions. But the more you practise, the more skilfully you’ll be able to gently make your point. You don’t need to go on a warpath – you can’t force others to care about equality and diversity if they’re resistant to it, and getting angry or aggressive probably won’t help. A calm ‘She’s actually a woman rather than a girl’, or ‘I don’t think that’s actually true’ can go further than you think. And choose your battles – we can help to make others more sensitive to how their language comes across, but it’s not our job to totally re-educate people. That’s up to them. This New York Times article has some great tips for calling out offensive speech.
Of course, if it’s more serious – if you’re experiencing or witnessing sexual or racist harassment, for example – then take action. If it’s you who’s suffering, keep a diary of what’s happening – this will provide you with a lot of evidence if you need to report someone’s behaviour. If it’s a colleague or friend, ask them if they feel uncomfortable, offer a friendly ear, offer to go with them if they want to report it. Don’t make assumptions about what you’re seeing, but try not to just ignore behaviour you think is out of line.
2. Check in with people around you
Whether or not you consider yourself an activist, you can make a huge difference by looking out for the welfare of your colleagues and loved ones. Remember that people aren’t always good at realising or saying when they need help, and that men are less likely to ask for professional help with mental help problems. Ask people how they are, and leave space for their answer, more than you think might be needed. Don’t rush to fill the silence. Follow up with them about things you know have been bothering them. Really listen to the answers. Start from the premise that they’re telling the truth. (This podcast about mindful listening was transformative for me.) It’s amazing how much more grounded and confident people feel if they know they’re being listened to, believed, and supported.
3. Give yourself a mini E&D audit
Time to be really honest with yourself. Do you make jokes about sensitive issues (e.g. rape, sexuality, terrorism) that might actually be bothering the people around you? Do you let your family members or partner take the lion’s share of emotional labour or housework, which still tend to fall disproportionately to women? Do you try to recruit staff who will ‘fit well with your team’ and end up looking for candidates similar to yourself (a form of unconscious bias)? Do you make an effort to understand your colleagues’ different opinions and concerns, or do you just dismiss them as silly, naive or humourless?
You can change this. The cost to employers and employees alike of an unsupportive or hostile environment is well documented in studies of workplace stigmas. Ask your friends and colleagues if they ever experience discrimination, and try to make sure you’re not repeating the behaviours they might describe. Find out about the nine protected characteristics so you can make sure you’re not being unwittingly discriminatory. You can also find more official ways of committing to equality and diversity — for instance, everyone can take the GenderAvenger Pledge (“I will not serve as a panellist at a public conference when there are no women on the panel”) to try and encourage conference organisers to be more aware of diversity issues.
4. Donate to a charity supporting equality and diversity
Although a lot of great organisations like the Equality Challenge Unit and the National Centre for Diversity don’t accept charitable donations, there are plenty of directions you can go if you’d like to support E&D financially:
- The Fawcett Society campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights in the UK; Equality Now works for the same things globally.
- Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) promotes the education of women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Diversity Living promotes social integration, focusing particularly on ethnic minorities and refugees.
- This helpful list of LGBT charities covers a huge range of causes (though it’s a bit light on trans issues)
- Specifically transgender charities like the Beaumont Society provide support and lobbying for issues affecting trans people.
5. Look after your own wellbeing
The instruction to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others doesn’t just apply to emergency situations. It’s much harder to support the people around you if you’re not doing OK, and you’re more likely to end up feeling resentful or stressed if you’re overstretching yourself. We’re brought up to believe that love and care mean putting your loved ones’ needs before your own, but I’m a bit skeptical about this as a life strategy – it assumes others will take care of your needs for you, which, let’s be honest, isn’t possible all of the time.
I find it helpful to distinguish between needs and wants – I’m quite fierce about protecting my needs (sleep, food, time alone, exercise), but try to be more flexible about letting my wants come second. Again, I find mindfulness and meditation really helpful for creating a bit of space between wanting something and totally panicking if I don’t get it. I’m less impulsive, less irritable, more patient and gentle. Progress is partly a matter of changing laws and policies, but it also radiates out from individuals.
So if you’re really struggling with your own stuff, don’t feel ashamed of focusing on yourself (the Mind website has some useful tips for this). It isn’t selfish – even from a purely economic point of view, your employer will get more out of you if you’re well – and if we’re going to make any difference at all, we’ll need an army of strong, confident, healthy people to fight our battles.