“When you’ve had privilege for so long, equality feels like oppression” – Ricky Gervais

Yolande Coombes Psychologist, Coach & Facilitator

October is Black History month in Ireland and the United Kingdom. A friend was looking for ideas for how their company could recognise it. I asked how many Black people work at the company, and I was told “none, but diversity is one of our values”.  

It’s easy to judge.  

On reflection – both of us were misguided. Firstly, asking ‘how many’ reduces diversity to a numbers game; diversity is not about how many women, ethnicities, disabled or gay people are represented in your company. But equally, a token event for Black History month doesn’t mean you’ve checked the diversity values box.

Companies have the right intention to want to increase diversity; it’s in the execution they flounder. It’s that clumsiness within all of us when we are well-meaning but ignorant when political correctness stifles discussion and our growth. What are we doing that puts people off from wanting to join or stay with us? I suspect it lies in how we approach the small everyday gestures and conversations, how we connect, and how we make others feel. Inclusion is belonging.

The insidiousness of social media and the ‘algorithms’ that support it feeds into staying within our comfort zones and our own cognitive biases. Increasing diversity is about stepping outside the echo chamber – it’s about leaders daring to challenge the status quo, and it probably means feeling uncomfortable and possibly shameful. Feelings we would prefer to ignore.

So maybe doing something for Black History Month is not the answer but our conversation led to us questioning what the month stands for and why that’s important. It’s not much, but perhaps it’s a more authentic start to becoming more inclusive.

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