Anyone who has spent more than a few hours with me will know that diplomacy isn’t really my thing; I say what I mean, mean what I say, and have very little regard for how this shapes other’s perception of me. This aptitude for honesty is both a blessing and a curse, and has landed me in hot water more than once.
Knowing this, it may come as surprise that I chose first to take a seat on an Equality & Inclusion Committee at work, and then to formally increase these responsibilities as an E&I Representative, with a wheelchair-shaped seat on the School of Medicine E&I Committee to boot.
It is commonly thought that things like an E&I Committees are a waste of space as nothing ever gets done in these meetings, and workplace discrimination is still very prominent. Surely, it’s just a forum for people who like the sound of their own voice to push hot air around for a bit and slack off? Now, in some cases this may be true, but not in our case.
If there’s a work-wide training day or social event, our E&I Committee will have helped plan it and get it set up, including some hefty health and safety paperwork. We oversee staff compliance in basic Equality & Diversity training. We help bring together people with similar interests who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily cross paths. We try to create a good work environment, even remotely. Most importantly, we raise awareness of issues relating to E&I, and act upon them.
For obvious reasons one of my primary concerns is disability and accessibility. I have done some work to improve accessibility around the building with the estate’s management team. I have tried to make information for disabled staff and their colleagues easier to find. I am negotiating further developments that would make our office even friendlier for disabled people. However, as an E&I Rep I cannot just focus on the issues that affect me.
I have concerns in relation to race, religion, sexuality, gender, gender identity, and even things like flexible working arrangements to accommodate people with care responsibilities. Some of these things have affected me personally, some of them have affected people I know well, & others have affected people I know only by name. Regardless, they are all my concern.
We’re not perfect. Things still do go wrong, people do sometimes experience things they really shouldn’t (myself included), and at the end of the day I was hired to manage data, not people. However, I was already passionate about issues in equality and diversity, and would be working to influence social change outside of work anyway. It can be disheartening when change is not instant, even when you feel that it is so obviously the right thing to do. It can be even worse when change is resisted or denied altogether. However, I am already learning skills in diplomacy that even I would have thought were beyond myself. This is a chance to improve myself and my working environment at the same time; it would have been silly to turn it down.