Do EDI Professionals Treat the Protected Characteristics Equally?

The quality of the UK’s EDI professionals has, from observation, improved in the last decade. The National Centre for Diversity team liaises with hundreds of these people and we are both proud and lucky enough to be able to honour them at our Annual Grand Awards.

We direct and support all our organisations to deal with all nine Protected Characteristics; and the evidence and independent research we have carried out clearly shows significant improvements in all organisations that own, lead and deliver on the recommended improvements that we identify and support them with.

However, we have also noticed a trend in many organisations that we are not working with, as they gravitate towards highly prioritising one Protected Characteristic or two and then only paying lip service towards the rest.

The two burning questions are ‘Why does that happen?’ and ‘How can EDI professionals prevent themselves and their organisations from falling into this trap?’.

Once you think deeply about the first question and then consider findings from neuro-science, the explanation is clear. Neuro-science tells us that that brain was first developed millions of years ago to deal with a very different world than the one we live in today. In the age of dinosaurs, the brain’s function was primarily about surviving in an extremely dangerous world where daily dangers were plentiful – there was a primary response to danger needed.

The brain does an amazing job but it`s very under-developed in the modern day. The ability of the brain to rationalise, analyse and calculate is limited.

If I were to ask you to divide 136.77 by 23.5 you may be able to work it out mentally but, the clear majority won’t even try because it’s too much effort and it’s not going to benefit us too much to do so. Our brains register attempting to do the calculation as too much effort, takes up too much energy and drains us to do so.

When we look at the day to day workloads of EDI professionals, why should we be surprised when those with an expertise in or who are LGBT, BAME, female, disabled, religious, have suffered from ageism etc. stay within their own comfort zones and areas in which they are passionate and which play to their own strengths.

Our passions and experience make particular areas of EDI work relevant and interesting to us and work which focuses on specific characteristics attract other like-minded people who share our passions, who think like us and want what we want. However, they can create a narrow route of ‘group-thought’, and it can prevent professionals from fully realising their goal, which is creating fairness for all.

Next, we have to tackle the second question, ‘What can we do about it?’ This is the harder but equally essential part. We need to come out of our comfort zones and interact and engage with people who are different from us; whether that is in terms of diversity of thought, diversity of working styles or any number of the Protected Characteristics.

We need to grasp our both conscious and unconscious desire to cling on to the certainty that familiarity and similarity provides us with. It’s not enough to prioritise one characteristic, in order to be better and think better as a society, we need to do better, starting with ourselves and our own organisations.


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