As we come out of PRIDE week, it is clear just how far we have come in terms of inclusion/diversity during my working career. That said I also reflect on how far certain workplaces still have to go.
When I started in 1980 it was with a large American bank and the US was into positive discrimination. I daren’t tell the jokes we told then as I would probably get lynched, but a true story was a diversity audit that took place in 1980/1. Some came out from the US and was collecting statistics and ticking boxes for things like male/female staff ratios, number for female managers, etc.. The final question related to Viet Name War veterans and when asked whether the branch employed any, the VP operations (NB there was only one VP in the branch in those days overseeing 500 staff!) answered truthfully, “Yes”. This was enough to tick the box and end the process.
One further questions might have revealed that the staff member in question was in fact and ex-Viet Cong general working in the Collections department.
Rolling forward to today and talking with friends working in financial services and generally in the City of London, it is clear that it is far easier to be “different”. Now, please don’t think I am saying it is easy, there are still many challenges to be faced, but it is easier. The focus on “gay” now embraces LGBTTQQIAAP . This is defined as
L. Lesbian. Female like female.
G. Gay. Male like male
B. Bisexual. Male or female like both male and female.
T. Transgender. Male that feels like female and vice versa.
T. Transsexual. Male that got a sex change to a female and vice versa.
Q. Queer. Insult for gay people.
Q. Questioning. What are they?
I. Intersex. Has both male and female sexual organs.
A. Asexual. Feels no attraction to others.
A. Allies. Honoray term for straight people that support this.
P. Pansexual. Likes Everybody.
I also see that mental diversity is starting to gain traction with at least one major bank actively seeking to bring people with different alternative learning styles/patterns into the organisation to enrich its processing of information.
The most recent big (and current) push has been around mental health and wellness. To my mind this is not about diversity as it can and does affect anyone. Also it is more a condition than a sense of self, and as a condition there are treatments and medications that can help mitigate the impact. This is not to demean the real problem that is mental health, but merely to differentiate it from the question of diversity. It is a necessary and sensible response to the care for the well-being of staff, colleagues and friends, and looks to remove the historic stigma that has been attached to these many issues/illnesses. Being unwell is not something that needs to be hidden.
While it is not about diversity as I have described it, something else has surfaced during these conversations. This may be specific to the world I have worked in and where many of my colleagues and friends work, but while it is OK to be different or unwell, there is still a stigma about being vulnerable – something that is often seen as the same as being weak, but not necessarily so.
Vulnerable can be defined as “Someone who is completely and rawly open, unguarded with their heart, mind, and soul. Being vulnerable happens when you trust completely. Rather its vulnerability by pain or joy, it's being exposed with all of the emotions that make it easy for someone (someone you trust) to really do some emotional damage or healing.”
I sense there are many people with an inner vulnerability that they feel they have to mask in day-to-day life, a behaviour that creates an inner tension and possibly contributes to physical or mental illness. Trust in the workplace is far less evident these days, with everything questioned and checked and critiqued. I personally prefer to work from a position of trust until proven otherwise, but today’s competitive world makes that harder.
We have seen and started dealing with the related issue of bullying; bullies often pick on the vulnerable! But we have not really focussed on the vulnerable amongst us. Vulnerability is not something you can take a medication for. It is not something that shows outwardly. But it does exist.
The question, as it was with the other “differences”, is are businesses and we, as a society, poorer for not allowing and encouraging persons with vulnerability to contribute to the fullest? I feel that embracing “vulnerability” should be our next frontier for improving society, but I wonder what will be the trigger and who will be in the vanguard?
Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.