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Valuing and respecting individuality

Valuing and respecting individuality

A message from Lubna Taj Malik, our Director of HR and People Development

There has been much in the media and on the news regarding the issue of racism and inequality after the tragic death of George Floyd. These terrible injustices often lead to the rise of deeply held feelings and tensions as can be seen from the protests around the world.

However, once the protests are over and the media has moved onto the next burning issue we’re left wondering what will really be achieved. Those who are no strangers to inequality, discrimination or unfair treatment will be hoping that real change will come but deep down have experience that, despite the best efforts and sentiments of many, once the noise dies down, things are very likely to go back to the way they were before.

The subject of equality and fairness is a complex one and will not be resolved on its own by a protest, mission statements or the pulling down of a statue. We have to be prepared to go a lot deeper than that, within ourselves.

As the Director of HR and People Development and an asian, muslim woman, I have pondered long and hard around what we do with our equalities training in Bolton at Home to move the conversation further to a genuine difference for all. 

The typical training will tell you about the law, what discrimination is, and what good practise should be. However, I personally can’t really relate to it and to be honest it makes me cringe somewhat and I think many others feel the same. It is well meaning but essentially a tick box exercise that makes the right noises but doesn’t really promote meaningful change for the people who matter, and that’s everyone. It puts minority groups in boxes, branding them and treating them as the ‘other’ and ignores everyone else. It highlights those who already feel their difference to feel even more of an outsider. In reality, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, individuals from the LBGT+ community, those with a disability and other groups are no different to anyone else in that they just want to be treated with fairness and equality and be respected for who they are. This is also the case with many positive action initiatives that have good intentions but often fall by the way side and fail to really hit their mark until they are recycled again each time the issue comes up.

In thinking about what all of this means for Bolton at Home, I have long realised from working with all types of people that most of us have differences that we feel judged for. As a society we can feel uncomfortable talking about the obvious differences especially race, sexuality, religion and disabilities. However, without any genuine understanding we fall into the trap of filling gaps with own preconceptions based on our limited insight or knowledge and the creation of assumptions of individuals based on stereotypes of whole communities which can lead to different treatment and unfortunately discrimination.

We took a mindful approach and created the Valuing and Respecting Individuality module as part of our ‘Bring Your Best Self to Work’ training programme for Bolton at Home staff. In these sessions, we highlight how discrimination exists and the impact of that especially on work opportunities, careers and mental health and it is sadly rising.

The journey is often tougher for some who don’t have the advantages of other communities. The #MeToo campaign, Pride events and #BlackLivesMatter show how prevalent injustices still are across our communities despite the good work of many agencies and the implementation of legislation. We are faced with the most ugly and biased media headlines about groups of people that translate casually into everyday language and can influence how they are treated.

What does this mean for us in a world where your sexuality, gender identification, skin colour, age, accent, etc, can still determine key aspects of your life including your education, job choices, promotions, income and health and wellbeing?

We don’t want to turn people into victims that need special measures, but rather recognise we are all people who should be celebrated for our differences. Diversity brings so many benefits and richness in creativity, resilience, experience, talent, skills and perspective. Our differences should be embraced and celebrated. Characteristics we are proud of, not for everyone to feel sorry for us and reduce us to tokenistic targets on a spreadsheet or a hashtag.

The world would be a very boring place if we were all the same! We travel to experience difference and exploring other people and cultures is a fascinating subject to us. So let’s bring it home. The work Bolton at Home does in taking young people from our estates to places like Romania and Hungary working with disadvantaged communities is a brilliant example of this in a number of ways. There is physical and financial help to build homes and centres that better the lives of communities but perhaps even more importantly it crosses cultural differences to creates better understanding and appreciation of those who are very different to ourselves as well as showing actually we have more things in common than we have that separates us.

With our Valuing and Respecting Others programme we didn’t want to create the feeling of the ‘alien other’, people who we don’t really understand or relate to and end up avoiding so we don’t offend. Because this will not change anything and all we’ll do is tick appropriate boxes giving lip service to equality. We wanted to create the culture of ‘Us’, recognising that we all have a story and the right to belong and be included.

Most will have experienced injustices, being treated unfairly, overlooked, stereotyped and dismissed, feeling like the ‘other’ at some point in their lives. By understanding and respecting our differences we can make strides in equality and fairness. Instead of avoiding and feeling awkward about these issues, we wanted to seek, share, understand and embrace the things that made us individually unique in our training.

Our staff who have been through the programme so far have been incredibly honest, brave and courageous in sharing their stories. Yes, there have been tears and some uncomfortableness as we acknowledge how cruel society can be. We have had to reach deep inside ourselves to question our own beliefs, biases and assumptions of how we treat others and be more conscious of ourselves, our decisions and our actions.

We recognise that we are each a product of our upbringing, values, belief systems and experiences. By the end of this programme there is a powerful feeling of inclusiveness, togetherness, and understanding as opposed to division. It has felt like a key step in us all moving in the right direction and something we need to hold onto and nurture.

We ask that we use our privilege to raise others. It is crucial that we don’t just accept media headlines but educate ourselves by talking to others and finding out more about them, to consciously understand and respect difference, even starting with respecting a different point of view. It is important to be mindful of quieter voices that often get overlooked and not always go for the ‘obvious’ fit but embrace difference and to really be a part of giving someone else a much needed opportunity to show what they can do.

We must be brave and able to challenge but most of all be prepared to be uncomfortable and challenge our own assumptions and behaviours, exploring ourselves to create a new reality where everyone matters.

Best wishes, Lubna.

Reporting hate crime

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Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 

Bolton at Home is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, and it forms a critical part of our people strategy.

You can read our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in this pdf document: Diversity & inclusion strategy 2020-24[pdf] 295KB

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