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Can someone help me articulate my discomfort with this? Inclusion and diversity training.

(41 Posts)
mcmooncup Wed 14-Aug-13 08:42:41

I am involved in a work project that ultimately has some good aims however there is a phrase that keeps bothering me.

They are talking about creating a better work culture where there is less sexism, racism and homophobia (hurray - great intentions), yet keep talking about the use of Inclusion training and diversity training.

My senses keep going off at these phrases - can you help me understand why.

I see it that what they are saying is that there is an organisation that is very male dominated and macho and that is the culture of this organisation. They 'want' to change this to meet "Diversity targets", yet they use phrases like 'inclusion" and "diversity". Don't these phrases somehow say, "we want to maintain the Status Quo (of the male dominated hugely misogynistic culture) and include other people in that who are not part of that culture (e.g. women, LGBT). Same with the phrase 'Diversity Training' - it assumes that the main culture is still blokey bloke misogyny and we might add a bit of diversity.

When rather what they should be saying is that they wish to change the status quo to change the misogyny. Is there a word for this? I see this approach of 'diversity and inclusion' as being a maintenance of the status quo, a bit of lip service to make the wimmin and gayz happy.......include them in our fun......."maybe not swear around the women, be respectful and all that".......

I may not be making much sense here.
The fundamental problem here is that I am working with a (high profile) organisation that is hugely sexist, racist, homophobic and they 'apparently' want to change - that remains to be seen right now. But the initial framing of how to do this as "diversity and inclusion training' seem to be coming from the very wrong angle.

Can you help me make sense of this at all? Are these phrases ok after all.
I can't find any research on this. And I am having an early morning head spin.

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Wed 14-Aug-13 08:55:23

Mmm. Tricky.

I know what you're saying. I applied for a job recently that came with the disclaimer that they were committed to diversity whatsits and particularly the hiring of women, which had me raising my eyebrows and muttering about half of the human race.

But I think diversity itself isn't a bad word, because even in a perfect, equal world, we'd still exhibit diversity, wouldn't we? We'd not all be the same.

I think it'd be a difficult one to argue, TBH. But I'm familiar with those phrases being used a lot.

Wonderstuff Wed 14-Aug-13 08:57:56

So you feel that culture change is needed rather than including others in the current regime? I get where you're coming from, but inclusion and diversity training is a good start. I'm in education and its all about inclusion, which is no bad thing, you do have to change attitudes and mind sets to be inclusive, recent conversation, I don't think x child can do woodwork, the noise of the machinery is upsetting him, response - child wears ear defenders and gets to do woodwork. Currently your workplace is excluding women and homosexuals, only a culture change will include them.

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Wed 14-Aug-13 08:59:55

I think the thing is, it is a bit insulting to be told 'you need diversity training because this workplace is sexist, woman', isn't it?

But I would imagine they'll reply that the bit of the diversity training aimed at you is the bit that's alerting you to your privilege over [insert non-white-male-group that you're not here].

mcmooncup Wed 14-Aug-13 09:24:55

Ok, thanks.
I completely agree it is about attitude change.......but then I come back to that point that by using words like inclusion and diversity.....what we are actually saying is that 'non norm' groups are going to be included in whatever the 'norm group' decides to change to.

True attitudinal change is massively hard......see all our lovely trolls for the type of men I am talking about.....and I work every day to do this but with this one I suppose I don't want this all to be framed from their seems to automatically assume that the 'macho men' will still be holding the power at the end of it all. The starting point is so crucial.

There is a better way on the tip on my tongue....I can't get it out.

Wonderstuff Wed 14-Aug-13 09:28:19

So maybe equality training would be a better way of framing it?

mcmooncup Wed 14-Aug-13 09:31:40

Or How Not To Be A Dick training...?

Seriously, I mean the emphasis for change should be on them...

scallopsrgreat Wed 14-Aug-13 09:34:31

I see what you meen I think mcmooncup. Are you saying you feel that the oppressive group(s) are getting to dictate how and by how much the changes in the organisation occur. Which is, of course, no liberation at all.

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Wed 14-Aug-13 09:43:23


I love 'How not to be a dick training'.

I do think you're totally right, the language is really important. Paradigm-shift training or something.

scallopsrgreat Wed 14-Aug-13 09:50:16

Shifting the Overton Window training smile

LRDYaDumayuShtoTiKrasiviy Wed 14-Aug-13 09:52:56


Actually, that'd be brilliant because they'd have to look it up and wonder what it meant, which I think would be a useful exercise in itself.

KRITIQ Wed 14-Aug-13 10:36:26

It seems like there may be two issues here - one about the language used and the other (bigger one) about whether "training" is the solution to institutionalised discrimination and bigotry.

On the first one, language and the meaning of words change all the time for all sorts of reasons. In the 80's, the term "equalities training" or "equal ops training" was often used. But, then it was recognised that the issue wasn't just about having an "equal chance" because that implied that there was already a "level playing field." In the 90's, there was more talk of "anti-discrimination training," which gave the impression it was more direct at dealing with discrimination. But, the problem with that term is it seemed to start as a deficit, as a negative and the thought was that it should be seen as something positive and good instead.

I think somewhere after this, "diversity" came into use, acknowledging that different people could and should be valued for who they are and what they offer rather than striving to make them all equal / same. Similarly, "inclusion" was the flip side of anti-discrimination / exclusion with a more positive slant.

Whatever terms are used at any given time, it's really the concepts involved that are important, and while training can be an important component of shifting attitudes, practice and culture, it isn't the only one.

And that's what seems to be the second issue here - and often is, this idea amongst some in management (I think particularly in the public and voluntary sector, but not exclusively,) that the answer to most problems, including discrimination, bigotry and a not-very-diverse workforce is training. That just ain't so.

Thing is, it allows them to "look" like they are doing something if they order training, perhaps invest quite alot of money in it, make it mandatory even. But, often there isn't much "quality control" over whether the training is any good. More importantly, just sending folks on training isn't going to make a difference to organisational culture and practice that is institutionally racist, sexist, class prejudiced, etc.

For that to change, you need gutsy leadership willing to stick their necks out and even wield a stick to make sure things DO change. It has to be more than window dressing. They have to be prepared to get it in the neck AND be stabbed in the back for genuinely standing by the principles. It will mean taking steps against those who won't comply, including removing/getting them to move on. It will mean recruiting new folks who will promote the principles and support them if they face resistance. It's knowing it isn't going to be a quick fix but that in time, sometimes by baby steps, some times by leaps, things will change - and that you have to stay vigilant to ensure the culture, structure and practice doesn't regress into old patterns again.

Too often though, it's not like that, because particularly in large institutions, the real goal of those in charge is pretty much to maintain the status quo. That means not pissing folks off too much. That means not ruffling feathers. That means doing as little as possible that might result in actual change, but trying to make it "look" like you are doing something. It's window dressing.

Is this sort of what you think is going on at your firm?

Keepithidden Wed 14-Aug-13 10:45:46

Are you saying you feel that the oppressive group(s) are getting to dictate how and by how much the changes in the organisation occur. Which is, of course, no liberation at all.

I don't want to dirupt the OP or the thread at all, but just thinking about this in another context. Isn't the above exactly what happened in appartheid-era South Africa?

It doesn't take any of the discomfort away of course, but should, encourage a bit of hope.

This thread also made me think back to some Diversity and Equality training I had a few years back. We were asked what equality meant and the answer I gave was "Treating people as you would want to be treated yourself". Apparently this was wrong and I should've been "treating people as they wish to be treated". Thinking back I should've flagged up the problems such an approach could've caused if I had been working with people from the more extreme mysoginist cultures.

Twitterqueen Wed 14-Aug-13 10:46:16

OP you are stressing unnecessarily!

I have just gone through diversity & inclusion training and found it insightful and beneficial. It's not just about race and gender it's about appreciating other people's views, life stories, backgrounds etc.

It is mandatory for every single person in our v large company to take it so it has to be a good thing.

KRITIQ Wed 14-Aug-13 10:58:06

Keepithidden - I think both of those answers are problematic!

"Treating people as you would want to be treated yourself," implies that all people want and need the same things when they don't. I might like chicken sandwiches at a business meeting, but a vegetarian or someone who's gluten intolerant wouldn't welcome that.

"Treating people as they wish to be treated," is okay, so long as they don't assume they are entitled to have their wishes prioritised over the wishes of other people. That's certainly not just an issue of "extreme misogyinist cultures," either.

Surely, a better answer would be something along the lines as treating other people as human beings of value in line with the principles of human rights. Yes, there may be times where one person feeling they are exercising their rights results in feelings of oppression in another person, but there are ways of exploring this, teasing it out, ensuring all concerned feel safe and hopefully achieving a resolution. Intersectional approaches to privilege and oppression are really useful in framing situations like this.

LadyBigtoes Wed 14-Aug-13 11:01:28

I also see what you mean OP. I think your discomfort though comes more from the fact that you know this initiative is coming from largely male, ?white, middle-class people who do in fact deep down see themselves as "us" and women, LGBT people, the disabled, ethnic minorities and so on as "them" - who "we" are gracious enough to recognise as "diverse" and must make efforts to "include".

Whereas a true understanding of equality would recognise that all the above are "us" and not some kind of special categories to be patronised.

But, a course on these kinds of concepts could be great if it happened to be run by someone who was taking a genuinely equal approach. Maybe it would just help you to see where you might unconsciously fall into unequal ways of treating people or just might not be aware of things yourself. It might help you as a woman for example to be more aware of inequalities you could stand up to, or it might genuinely help someone to overcome elements of homophobia or racism in themselves.

So it doesn't have to be a bad thing, and I don't think even those labels have to be bad, it just depends how much hypocrisy and bullshit is going on!

I applaud your critical thinking though, don't let that disappear. I couldn't ever work in a big corporate situation because of this kind of thing driving me mad, but someone has to question it.

mcmooncup Wed 14-Aug-13 11:13:06

KRITIQ thank you for your response.
Yes is the short answer to all of that!

We have a hardcore behavioural change, value challenging programme which is designed to develop the 6 key factors of integrity - we do a lot of work on this already and as you have said 'courage' is one of the factors. And stage 1 is for this to be exclusively done with the leaders of the organisation. If there is no buy in, the project will not go ahead for whatever the 'diversity training' ends up being called. We will not be the fall guys for providing lip service to ticking boxes so this organisation can say they have 'ticked the diversity box'.

I guess that is my point about the inclusion and diversity training...I suspect lip service because it, for me, comes from the wrong place. I suspect it is a "roll in the professionals desperate for a high profile project so we can answer the press". We are not prepared to do that because it won't work and it would breach all my values and our organisational values.

I do know they didn't expect this response when they commissioned the work to us, I think they expected gratefulness - but hey, as you say - ruffling feathers is the least of my worries.

tethersend Wed 14-Aug-13 11:20:31

I think it's the treating of over 50% of the population as a minority group which rankles.

purpleroses Wed 14-Aug-13 11:20:52

Well you could call it - "getting rid of misogyny, racism and the old boys network" couldn't you? But I think most organisations would prefer to use some fuzzy term like diversity and inclusion so as not to be so blunt about what is wrong with their organisation. I get your point about inclusion - it's not just about including others in the existing culture - it's about broadening and redefining that culture so that people who don't currently fit in, can do. But training on inclusion can include suggestions that social events don't always require hours that those with children can't make, revolve around drinking alcohol, etc - which do all make the environment more inclusive to a broader range of people.

Same with diversity it depends how they interpret it. Can be interpreted as a narrow tick box exercise simply trying to get a better proportion of women/non-whites on the payroll so they don't appear so white male dominated, or it can be about changing the workplace culture so that people become aware of their own prejudices and actively seek to respond more positively to those from different backgrounds. Also increasing people's knowledge and understanding of different traditions/religions/etc can only be a good thing.

My previous employer sent all staff on compulsory diversity and equality training - and whilst I had some concerns over exactly what they "taught" us - they were leagues ahead of my current employer, where these things are not on the agenda at all. Recently interviewed job candidates with my boss who was happily sitting there with the equal ops monitoring forms still attached to his copies of the application forms, passing judgement on the candidates' ages, sexuality and everything else shock. So do think that it's a good start to be seeing these as issues to be tackled.

lottiegarbanzo Wed 14-Aug-13 11:26:09

It sounds like your discomfort is with the company rather than those terms. They are the terms generally used for this sort of thing but how the training is delivered, with exactly what aim and scope is another question.

I do take your point that inclusion sounds like 'allowing others to conform' where what's needed is for the existing people to broaden their ideas of how things could be done - mind expansion.

JacqueslePeacock Wed 14-Aug-13 11:30:20

I would love to see a course called "getting rid of misogyny, racism, disablism [I added that one] and the old boys' network"!! grin That's the kind of straight-talking title I think these things should really have. But in the absence of that I think "diversity" is probably OK. After all, a macho workplace would probably be less macho - even without any other changes - if it were a lot more diverse. Diversity can only be a good thing, really.

I think the real problem here is that it may just be a load of window dressing, as KRITIQ points out - and that it's coming from the dominant group so representing their ideas of what should change more than those of any incoming/minority/ under-represented groups.

And yes - it does bloody well rankle for women to be a minority group!! I think globally we are actually slightly the majority.

mcmooncup Wed 14-Aug-13 11:42:28

Ladybigtoes, thank you.
I know exactly what you mean. The actual content of the training is in someways the easy part.
It's the framing of the outcomes that I've not got right. I feel the language is so important here and still questioning this underlying assumption that there is a dominant group who allow inclusion and diversity.
Helping to talk it through....
Thank you all smile

FreyaSnow Wed 14-Aug-13 11:43:12

The usual term for this used to be equality and diversity training. The equality element I thought referred to people being given opportunities and the diversity to placing an emphasis on people being different and requiring different treatment so that they can access those opportunities.

In answer to the point about treating people as you would like to be treated, obviously that doesn't work. I may want to stand up to use a particular device. A person in a wheelchair doesn't. The diversity element of the training is supposed to be about learning in more detail about the needs of diverse groups of people, because we don't always understand other people's needs due to either ignorance (nobody can have an enclyopaedic knowledge of every culture, every disability) or prejudice.

lottiegarbanzo Wed 14-Aug-13 12:01:30

I wonder if what's needed isn't so much additional ideas about how things can be done as a reduction in existing ideas - stripping away of assumption. That means taking ideas about who or what is needed for a particular task and breaking them down to the essentials (skill x, y and z), rather than alighting on an image formed through familiarity and assumption.

It's the thing about people recruiting other people similar to themselves. Not just because that's what an 'x profession' looks like in their experience but because that's who they are comfortable working with and who they see as fitting in and representing the organisation well.

So rather than going from 'doctors are tall, white, mc men' to 'oh, we could also have a lady doctor', go back to what are the essential attributes of a doctor? - skills, training, experience - so how could that be personified? By anyone with those skills, training, experience.

Then how does the organisation adjust, to support and encourage the person who happens to have the best skills? That must be the harder bit. So the organisation has to change it's personality to encompass the people with the best skills, rather than recruiting not quite the best people, who fit its personality.

Keepithidden Wed 14-Aug-13 12:01:52

KRITIQ - Definitely a better answer. Although in the context of a one day course I suspect the resultant discussion would take up the majority of the time allowed!

I think globally we are actually slightly the majority.

The power is with the proles.

Not that I'm making any judgement on the oppressed majority I hasten to add! I'm sure the notoriety of the phrase is enough to defend my use...

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