In 1971 the then Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police in London, Sir Robert Mark was concerned about relationships between the Police and the then called 'coloured' communities of London and he launched an initiative that sought to recruit more 'coloured' people to become police officers.
His initiative was to have far-reaching consequences in that it set a template that has been repeated over and over again for the past 50 years a model that is based upon what should be done for minority communities, a model that presumes that the answer to the problems of Police and community relations lies with the communities.
A model that has been copied, plagiarised and emulated by many other organisations both in the public and private sector. It spawned a whole diversity industry.
Practically every initiative since then has followed the same script, the actors have changed the story may be revamped and the terminology has been updated but the core script is still the same and here we are in 2020 still asking the same questions that we were asking in 1971, and those questions are broadly aligned to the following themes:
- Positive Action
- Institutional Discrimination
All of the above are focused on what can be done to support, encourage and retain BAME (Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups, in other words, they are all focused the minority groups and supposes that they are he architects of their own problems.
Programmes over the past few years have encouraged the setting up of Staff associations, community initiatives and conferences etc, many of which have empowered diversity at the expense of inclusion and created a dynamic that in some ways has become a process to be followed rather than a vehicle for meaningful change.
From a business model perspective think of the millions of pounds that have been spent over the years for us to continually ask the same questions to the same problem with each new generation thinking they are the first to tackle these issues and therefore start asking the same questions and following the same processes often without researching previous incarnations of the script, how is that economic sense?
It has also created personalities that are addicted to the business/power of diversity rather than the change it's supposed to bring.
The talk is of diversity and inclusion whereas the reality in my view is that those two concepts are competing against each other creating a dynamic of confusion, resentment and unrealistic expectations of which the by- products are the emotions of apathy, anger, frustration and in some cases over-inflated senses of entitlement/ position. These are not the ingredients for creating a truly inclusive environment.
In the not too distant past, I attended an event for an organisation that was launching a positive action program. I was there to share some of my experiences with the aim of adding weight to the initiative.
The room was filled with approximately 95% white personnel and as the morning went on I could feel low- level anger floating around the room which was manifesting in resentment loaded questions and comments.
I had arrived early and glad that I did because listening had given me a major epiphany.
As I listened I realised that the only real outcome that would be achieved from this programme would be a begrudged, slow and minimalistic compliance as opposed to meaningful dynamic change. I was sure something was missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
A few years before I had developed my Triple-A (appreciate, accept, acknowledge) / Triple-D (devalue, dismiss, deny) model which I used to highlight leader's attitudes when engaging with Diversity issues. I would ask them what mindset was driving their behaviours in relation to their engagement with D&I matters. I saw it as a tool to help understand how to lead.
However in that conference, I realised that the reactions of the delegates reflected how they believed their own thoughts and feelings were being Triple-D'd. Yet here they were being asked to promote Triple-A sentiments towards this programme.
That then got me thinking. Something was missing, where was the bridge-building, it seemed only one side of the river was being built? It was then I began my search. What was I missing, what was not being acknowledged or worked with?
I experimented along the way with different ways of presenting and delivering my workshops trying to find 'it'. However, they didn't always quite hit the mark and truthfully I think I lost a few potential clients along the way.
My mind was made up though, I had to find this elusive 'thing'. The thing that united and engaged everyone, that went beyond boundaries and borders and connected us all, convinced that it must be out there.
The phrase that I come up with was the current model empowers most of the letters individually but fails to fully acknowledge the alphabet as a whole. We need a complete alphabet to write a meaningful and progressive new chapter or book.
After a while, I had an experience that took me a step closer to touching that unspoken place. I was about to do a talk to a group of senior leaders and as with all my presentations I was trying to think of a what to open that would A) be unique to this group and B) create a reflective foundation upon which the rest of the presentation could be built upon.
I stood on the stage and looked around the room then asked, 'Raise your hand if you or anyone you know personally has ever been treated unfairly in this organisation?’I looked around and the whole room had raised their hands.
It was a revelation, here you had a room full of senior leaders who all felt or had been impacted on by Triple- D sentiments but were expected to deliver a Triple-A service to their teams and the communities they serve especially those from minority communities. They were working in a paradoxical mindset.
This brought me closer to what I was looking for but I still wasn't quite there yet. I couldn't quite grasp what it was I was supposed to find but I knew there was something there.
Then at the tail end of last year, a friend sent me a TED Talk that just set off fireworks in my brain, it was as if Bonfire night and the fourth of July were happening in my head all at once. Eureka was not a big enough word.
I watched that TED Talk over and over again and thought about it almost every waking minute, here was the answer I had been searching for. It was delivered by someone who had had been asking similar if not the same questions as me, just on a bigger and more profound stage.
The speaker was Dr Donna Hicks, author of ‘Leading with Dignity’ and Associate at the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University and the talk was about dignity.
Dr Hick's talk and books answered questions I didn't even know I was asking and led me on a journey that has opened my mind in such profound ways and I knew instantly that this was the future.
What it made me realise that all those who had set up minority staff associations whether BAME, Gender, Disability or Sexual-orientation based etc, and all those that were in that positive action seminar were all saying the same thing, they all felt that their dignity had been violated. That was a huge revelation to me, here was the holy grail, Dignity!
Why were we focused on Diversity and Inclusion when the real issues were about Dignity! How to recognise it, define it and value it in ourselves and in others?
When I now look at the recent uprisings again that's the message I hear, there have been multiple dignity violations. Seeing police officers joining with the protesters and taking a knee has been a powerful gesture towards recognising and moving towards healing the pain of those violations both within their own ranks and with the communities they serve.
I'm now designing my own Dignity workshops based upon Dr Hicks teachings after reaching out and receiving her blessings for which I am eternally grateful and am now looking to trial them in the near future.
I am now in a position where I believe Dignity Dialogues are the way forward, lets us learn to understand, value and recognise the inherent dignity we all have. That alone will be profoundly transformative.
We have to move forward in a way that brings everyone along that road in a way that they all feel the Triple- A and Dignity sentiments in how they treat themselves, in how they are treated and in how they treat others.
Feel free to contact me for further information.