For those of us who care and work for diversity, 2016 will go down as a year needing a great deal of reflection. Many of us feel knocked back, sad, even depressed. Many of us feel as if the things we have spent so much of our lives campaigning and working for, which we thought were now part of the accepted political and social mores of life, seem to have been challenged in a fundamental way.
So, what do we make of the Brexit win in the Referendum and Trump’s in the US Presidential election?
There has been a great deal written about the demographics of each. And I am not sufficient a psephologist to add anything of particular value. But there does seem to be one underpinning theme. They both represent a significant shift in the mood music that surrounds our work and values.
In this article the ever clear and penetrating Martin Kettle starts with the economic and shifts a few perceptions about whether Trump’s victory was really the voice of the disposessed:
“It’s a strange uprising of the poor in which a majority of those on lower incomes voted for Clinton, or in which the majority of those who thought the economy was the biggest issue facing America voted for Clinton too. Yet both things happened this week…… We perhaps get closer to the matter when we learn that fully 78% of those who think their financial situation is worse today than in 2012 voted for Trump, and only 19% for Clinton. Or that 63% of those who think life for the next generation will be worse voted for him too. Or that 65% of those who think trade takes away US jobs voted Trump. Yet don’t leap to the conclusion that these left-behinds and pessimists are the majority of the electorate. They aren’t. They are only about a third of it. Most Americans think things are not going too badly”.
But then he goes on to say:
“What really stands out about Trump, however, is not his personality and manner, unattractive though they are. What stands out is that he is an anti-liberal….He is an anti-liberal president for post-liberal times. He embodies extreme hostility to social liberalism – in the form, to take a few examples, of his contempt for ethnic minorities, his hatred for Muslims, his indifference to due process, his dismissal of rights, his willingness to use torture, his mocking of the disabled, his dismissal of political correctness, and above all, perhaps, his attitude to women”.
Kettle’s article in full:
This is the dangerous mood music.
Alongside so many of you, friends and colleagues, we have long been arguing that, in order to for diversity to have real impact, “it has to mean as much to the middle aged white guy in the post room as it does to the black woman with ambitions of moving into senior management”, as I put it in a recent conference speech.
We talk a lot about inclusion. But how easy have we all found it to embrace the hostile view, the uneasiness felt by certain sections of our staff in coming to terms with new ways, new types of people, the perception of threat? How much have we been able to include those unnerved by diversity? How much have our language and goals engaged with them?
Personally I am fed up with being told I have to “listen to” racism or sexism or those who express hostility to immigrants or reject so-called “liberal elite views”, that I thought were just about giving a fair chance to those denied possibilities for far too long. But while I will not ever agree with these opinions, they now offer a challenge. The USA and the UK may be divided roughly 50:50. But in the political sphere we are losing. And they are playing the mood music.
Trump’s expressed views are abhorrent. The increase in reported racially aggravated incidents after Brexit chills my heart and makes me cry for my country. Two clients recently have told us stories of increases in openly expressed racism, one between patients and staff in their hospital, and the other towards middle and senior managers from abroad.
But, apart from being appalled at this, what should be our response – personally and professionally?
Nick Cohen, always ferocious, trenchant and bracingly unforgiving, gave me some inspiration in The Observer on Sunday, when he sounded a warning and gave a challenge to us to change:
“You can only argue against committed supporters of Trump. If they believe all Mexicans are rapists and Muslims terrorists, you cannot compromise without betraying your principles. Fair enough. But before you become self-righteous you must accept that the dominant faction on the western left uses language just as suggestive of collective punishment when they talk about their own white working class. Imagine how it must feel for a worker in Bruce Springsteen’s Youngstown to hear college-educated liberals condemn “white privilege'”when he has a shit job and a miserable life. Or Google the number of times “straight white males” are denounced by public-school educated women in the liberal media and think how that sounds to an ex-miner coughing his guts up in a Yorkshire council flat.
Emotionally, as well as rationally, they sense the left, or at least the left they see and hear, is no longer their friend. They are men and women who could be argued with, if the middle classes were willing to treat them decently. You might change their minds. You might even find that they could change yours. Instead of hearing an argument, they see liberals who call the police to suppress not only genuine hate speech that incites violence but any uncouth or “inappropriate transgression”.
That may be harsh. You may not see yourself as on “the left”, and you may not feel that you have “policed” views opposed to ours. But those of us who pursue diversity are all being swept up in that perception.
Who would have thought that the white working class would have discovered identity politics? But how many of those voices have you heard over the last months saying that until now they have had no-one to talk for them?
So theirs is a challenge, not to our values, but to the extent to which we are able genuinely to include these people and their lives in our work. To discuss and advocate our values in such a way as they feel those values speak to them.
For some time now I have worried about the word “inclusion”. It always feels that we are inviting those outside ‘our’ tent to come inside. Whereas what we really need to do is to invite all who can be persuaded of the value of diversity to re-design the tent. True diversity re-imagines the shape of the nation, the city, the company. If you really give bme people the chance to unleash their ambition the culture of the company will be changed by the difference they bring; engage physically disabled staff in re-thinking the work space it will change and become accessible to more than just them; if working parents have true flexibility at work and productivity goals to inspire them, then the patterns of work for the whole company will open up. If working lass white people felt included in the move for more diversity, how much would they, and the potential for social cohesion within companies, open up?
Diversity should change the shape of the world and of organisations. And we have to find a language and a way of working that expresses that in action.
We can take some heart though. This rebellion against liberal values, is in part a tribute to the progress we have made. If, however, we want to continue that progress we have to take Nick Cohen’s warning seriously and, while not giving up on our values, find new ways of embracing those we have not yet won over.
I did a session for a new client the other day. And the night before, because they had been out for “an extremely good” dinner I received, in the CEO’s own words, a “very pissed” briefing. Many of those attending the next day were asking, I was told, “Do we have to do this f*****g session on diversity?”. So the next morning I didn’t get them to work on diversity for the first hour. We talked strategy and the threats and opportunities that were coming down the line in their sector. And then we talked about personal difference. And only then did I ask them to think about the value of diversity and difference in meeting their big challenges. A mentor once told me “always start from where they are”. And phew it worked.
Diversity will only become a way of working throughout organisations if all the staff feel persuaded that it really will deliver practical solutions to their problems, challenges.. and lives. So it is in companies, so it is in society.
In the face of Trump and Brexit we need to stand up for our values – work and campaign for them, as ever. But we also need to make sure that we re-imagine what those values mean in action so they include those who at the moment have found another voice but ours to speak for them.