Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Is your toilet signage discriminatory?

Monday, May 30th, 2016

There was an interesting and thought-provoking Employment Tribunal case last week – one which the CIPD called a “Landmark” judgement.

In short, a transgender woman, Erin Bisson, had contacted a ferry company by phone asking them which toilets she should use. An employee had suggested, “use a disabled loo”. The other toilets on the ferry were labelled “ladies” and “gents”.

Firstly, the ferry company was found guilty of direct discrimination for the suggestion that Erin should use the disabled toilet. I understand that, although can also understand how an uninformed person would suggest that in a non-malicious way in an attempt to be helpful.

Secondly, the company was found to have indirectly discriminated against Erin by having the worded signage on the toilets rather than pictorial representations as the worded signage was “limiting”.

Personally, I have never understood why all toilets are not gender-neutral – they are in people’s homes, they are on trains and planes. It reminds of rafting the Grand Canyon last year and there were no toilets for peeing in, and eventually some men and women were peeing next to each other in the Colorado; there were no issues. But that’s another blog …

On the same day as this judgement, LifeSiteNews reported that, “The New York City Human Rights Commission has released a list of 31 different terms of gender expression employers must use or face $250,000 fines … The fines go as high as $125,000 for misnaming a person’s gender intentionally, and $250,000 for doing so maliciously.” The University of California Berkeley provides a helpful glossary, together with a table for the “pronoun-curious”:

SubjectObjectPossessive AdjectivePossessive PronounReflexive
Gender NeutralZeHirHirHirsHirself

On the social media front, there are now more than 50 custom gender identifiers for a person to select from on Facebook – accessible through an autocomplete drop-down menu.

Returning to our UK ferry boat finding, one sentence that Erin stated either during the proceedings or after was, “Gender is down to identity, symbols is one way of dealing with this”. This has been picked up by the vast majority of reports.

This comment has also been picked up on a lot of internet discussion groups, the main discussion point being that people don’t understand it. Many firms of lawyers who have also reported on it for their clients give no explanation of what it means for their clients.

The only attempt by someone to explain it that I can find on the internet is ‘BG’ on a Google forum, where he/ she / ze states, “However, whilst the stylised symbols *mean* “ladies” and “gents” they are just outlines. So, someone who is actually a gent (tackle-wise), but looks like a lady, can argue that he/she should undisputedly use the lady’s loo.” A valiant attempt in two sentences.

From a practical implementation and workplace focussed perspective, whilst the UK Government’s published guidance is helpful, I am left with a number of thoughts (and more questions than answers):

  • It is great that society is doing all it can to be inclusive, and both recognise and support all differences within the Equality Act’s protected characteristics.
  • At what point does it become too complicated for your average Jo / Joe to comprehend, learn and apply in every situation?
  • What are the implications for organisations in terms of staff training (I’m delivering some Equality and Diversity sessions in a few weeks and, from previous experience, I can imagine the reactions if I introduce signage on toilets to the session. But perhaps I need to?).
  • Are we losing the balance? Recognising and celebrating diversity is more than protected characteristics. It is very important, but purely focussing on this makes it very two dimensional. We also need to recognise differences between individuals not based on protected characteristics (their motivations, their communications preferences, other innate preferences, etc.) – recognising and valuing both strands is what makes a workplace truly inclusive.

I would value your thoughts?


When my memory deserted me …

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

I don’t think I have ever reached inside myself with such intensity. I didn’t know where I was, why I was wherever I was, or the year. I had apparently been asking the same few questions over and over again for around 45 minutes, and it was just at this point that some of the information was starting to stick. My first recollection as I started to regain my memory was understanding that we were in Fazana, Croatia. This is a place I know well – it is close to the Croatian Police Training Centre and a place I regularly visited between 1999 and 2004 delivering training courses.

But if I was delivering courses, why was Peta, my wife, there? “What year is it?” I asked her. The reply was, “2015”. That threw me into complete disorientation. As I write this 4 weeks after the event, I can recall the way I looked around the hotel room desperately trying to make sense of the situation, as if it was only an hour ago. My intense concentration was directed in particular to the TV (they didn’t have TVs in the rooms at the training centre so what was this very modern looking one doing here?), the suitcase (I didn’t recognise it, it wasn’t mine as far as I was concerned) and the key in the door (I have absolutely no idea why my attention was drawn to this!).  My eyes must have looked like lasers as I tried to make sense of the situation.

The glorious Fazana

What had happened, I learned later, was that I had got out of bed, passed out, dropped to the wooden floor, hit the back of my head on the floor and knocked myself out. I was unconscious for a short period of time, so I am told, and then as I came round announced, “I know I’m Paul and you’re Peta, but I’m not sure about anything else”.

One of the sentences I used on several occasions was, Peta tells me, “Ok, let’s put a line in the sand … what time is it now, and we will see that I remember everything after this time”. This occurred at least a dozen times in the 45 minutes, and of which I have no recollection. Groundhog Day had become a reality during this short space of time.

I can recall, as my memory started returning, being confident all was back to normal. I declared this confidently. The next question changed all that. “How did we get here yesterday”, Peta asked. I just looked at the suitcase and realised I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. And internally I couldn’t accept that I had no idea.

After an hour, I felt as though I was fully recovered. I went for a check-up at Pula hospital which confirmed this and, incidentally, received excellent care – I saw three different doctors, saw a neurosurgeon, had an ECG and had a head x-ray all in the space of 3 hours, and it was a Sunday morning. The total cost was £4.80, and I got a free CD containing my x-rays (as you can see from the photos).

More seriously, however, for Peta the 45 minutes were “bewildering and scary” (Peta’s exact words), as she didn’t know what was happening nor how long it was going to last. It was mildly less worrying for her than it might had been for others as she has seen so many people fall off horses and some of the falls having had similar consequences for the riders.

For me, it was just hugely interesting and such a learning experience. In particular the point at which my memory was returning – around the time I realised that I couldn’t remember how we had got to Fazana.

Sunset at Fazana, Croatia

My ‘affective domain’ learning relates to gaining a very small, but significant, insight into how it can be for people suffering with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other similar ailments.

My experience of not being able to recall facts and having to concentrate so much to try and recall information was so difficult to accept. What must it be like if the memory never returns? What must it be like to constantly get confused about where you are, when it is and who you are with?

This weekend has seen World Mental Health Day. According to its site, “One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year.”  The more we understand, the more compassion we can give, and this in turn will help such people live with dignity.

The next time I encounter a person with a mental health issue, I will approach the situation with this experience at the forefront of my mind.


Kansas City – no grey areas

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

I first became aware of Kansas City through my love of the Beatles’ music – I used to listen to Paul McCartney’s upbeat lyrical rendition of the Leiber and Stoller original on my vinyl version of the ‘Beatles for Sale’ album.  Consequently, Kansas is one of those places that has a musical meaning for me – like Winslow, Albuquerque and Wichita – that have featured along my train journey across the US on the South West Chief (the old Santa Fe Railroad route).

So much so, and due to the City’s influence on American music – and jazz in particular – I decided to stop off there for a day. Its 101-year old Union Station is a cathedral of the railroad, as so many US stations are, and has been beautifully renovated. It welcomes the arriving traveller with dedications to two of its most significant contributions to the history of the country – music and baseball.

I walked to my hotel in the Downtown area to check in. “Okay, you are from England. What brings you to Kansas City?” was the Receptionist’s question once she had ascertained who I was. I have recognised that this question – or versions of it –is generally included in the conversation when I arrive at locations that are not generally visited by English people.  It’s almost as if the staff think that they might have missed something that’s taking place, escaped their radar. I can recall similar such interjections in Natchez, Mississippi, and Tallahassee, Florida.

Having satisfied the Receptionist that I knew where I was and there wasn’t a convention that she didn’t know about, I asked if there was any tourist information material. She kindly offered me a couple of maps, and gave me details of the rejuvenated shopping centre area (a couple of miles away). She was also keen to inform me of the fact that Kansas City has the second most fountains of any city in the world. It is second behind Paris, apparently.

My limited research on the city had not elicited either of these pieces of information. My research had recommended to me the town centre, Science City and Union Station, how Bar-B-Q meat was the local treat, and also how the American Museum of Jazz, the Blue Room jazz venue and the Museum of Negro League Baseball were all to be found in the city.

The Museums were in the “18th and Vine” district, so off I trotted. The area was about 15 blocks from Downtown and the map indicated that they were located together. About 8 – 10 consecutive blocks of my journey contained little if any housing; the majority of the buildings were industrial, some in use and some ‘between occupants’.

On my way, I checked for “the corner of Twelfth Street and Vine” as is mentioned in the original lyrics to Kansas City, to see if there was, “a Kansas City baby and my bottle of Kansas City wine”. Sadly, the junction didn’t even exist – perhaps that’s why the lyrics were dropped from the Beatles’ version?

At the Negro League Baseball Museum, I learned how influential and successful the Kansas City Monarchs had been in the days of segregated leagues, thus giving justification to the location of the Museum geographically within the US. I also learned how Presidents, First Ladies and rock stars had been to visit (and I guess the shopping area hasn’t had a similar level of dignitaries). Finally, I learned that the Blue Room had live music that evening.

I did already know that “18th and Vine” is a predominantly ethnically black area. I had also seen conflicting advice on various websites as to how safe or dangerous it was to visit the area. Whilst being aware of this, having some knowledge of recent and significant racial tensions in Missouri (the vast majority and all major buildings in the city being in Missouri, not the State of Kansas), I decided to wander back in the evening to check out the Blue Room.

Between times, I learned that that there had been an appalling massacre a few hours earlier at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The TV news channels were devoting most of their time to the unfolding story. A lone gunman had killed 9 members of the congregation, it appeared to be racially motivated and emotions were understandably running high.  Should I change my plans for the evening? I decided not to.

Prior to going to the music venue, and because it was pretty much en route, I decided to also visit Gates Bar-B-Q for a Kansas signature feast – the place had been recommended to me by the ticket teller in Flagstaff (well over a 1,000 miles away).

As I made my way to Gates, and then to the Blues Room, it was obvious that this was an area where black Americans lived. Where games were being played, all the ball players were black. All the meetings on street corners were between black people. There was also a different feel to when I had been there in the morning. There were a lot more people and it was also a lot noisier. But at no point did I fell threatened. But at no point did I feel welcome. It was the same when I left the Blue Room.

Only two people proactively made an effort to speak to me whilst I spent my hour or so walking in the area – a man who had left his car to pop into a shop and a man working on a streetlight. They were also the only two white Americans I saw whilst I was there. It reminded me of how away supporters at a sports who have never met before are more likely to engage with each other than home supporters in a similar situation. It also left me feeling uncomfortable.

And there were no fountains in this part of the city.

When I arrived back in Downtown Kansas City, it was later in the evening and the place was buzzing. Lots of young people, a couple of large concerts taking place and several smaller venues with live music. The vast majority of those out and about (excluding those at work) were white Americans.

It had a very different feel from 18th and Vine. No better, no worse, just different. Absolutely nobody spoke to me here, black or white.

The Negro League Baseball Museum had been all about segregation – black players not being able to play with white players. This had finally been eradicated in 1960 – but I have to say it felt like it was still evident in the city itself.

But is it any different in certain areas of Britain? Is it just more apparent in the US because of the ready access to firearms and the incidents this creates?

Whatever the realities in either country, this is not a model for diverse integration. Some people may be comfortable living like this, but it will always engender hatred in a minority of people through ignorance and a lack of understanding.

A small step in the right direction could be a few fountains in 18th and Vine – which could be a start to it feeling more like one City – and the City might also overtake Paris then.


A flawed model of diversity?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

I went to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans a couple of days ago to witness an NFL match. I have to say that I really don’t understand the pull of the NFL. There can surely be fewer slower sports – but I do accept that the Americans love it.

The Superdome itself is altogether more impressive. It is the largest fixed domed structure in the world and can seat 80,000 people. For those of you interested in detail, its steel frame covers 13 acres, and the dome itself is 273 feet high and has a diameter of 680 feet. In the past 6 years, $336m dollars has been spent on it – partly in post-Katrina repairs and partly in upgrading it.

The Superdrome came to prominence for many people back in August 2005 when it was designated as – and became – “a shelter of last resort” for local people when Hurricane Katrina ripped into New Orleans. 30,000 evacuees sought shelter there.

It turned out to be hardly a place of shelter. Part of the roof blew off exposing it to the elements. Furthermore, the plumbing system broke down and so people relieved themselves anywhere in the building, as a result of which the stench was revolting and the potential for disease immense. There were also reports of serious gang related crimes taking place within this supposed place of safety. It became the focal point for the very public and systemic failure of America’s response to the catastrophe.

At the time of the disaster, I was in in Orlando, Florida, around 500 miles from where all this was happening. I can recall watching the scenes unfold on a TV in a hotel lounge. I can also recall being shocked at the time at the complete lack of interest that the majority of Americans present had in it. They continued to tuck into their snacks and meals as if it was of no concern to them. Perhaps it wasn’t of any concern – and perhaps this was partly due to the fact that the people I was with were predominantly white people, and those affected were predominantly black people. As one of the TV commentators asked, “Is this really happening in  America?” I wondered what some of the other hotel guests were asking themselves.

When President Bush went to New Orleans a couple of weeks after Katrina, he made a speech addressing a number of issues. One issue was that of the racial divide. He said, “As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”

As I sat there in the Superdome, I tried to picture, feel, hear, smell, what it would have been like exactly 6 years ago that day.  It was futile as an exercise, although it did allow me to focus on how recent it was – and wonder whether it would ever happen again, knowing that Hurricane Lee was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as we sat there.

My attention returned to the game, and all the associated activities. I had seen in the Programme that at half time there was going to be a performance by the ‘610 Stompers’. They were billed as a local group of men from professional backgrounds who excelled at innovative ‘moves’. When they duly arrived my son and I were not sure whether they were a serious or a comedy act – their ability to co-ordinate themselves made it difficult to tell.

I was more interested in the ethnic make-up of the group. Of the approximately 50 men performing on the pitch, every one of them appeared to be white. I could not see one black person in the group. I was surprised and somewhat taken aback. Why would the main New Orleans sports team – with so many black players and supporters – be associated with and sponsor a group made up of all white men?

Chatting to a local about other matters, I brought up the situation I had witnessed together with my surprise. I was interested in his thoughts. He didn’t see an issue with it. He described to me a model of diversity that wasn’t around integration, but was more around living within a racial group and living side by side with other racial groups – working with people from other groups but not necessarily socialising or living with people from those other groups. I asked if he thought that this was workable and whether it would remove the racial discrimination that Bush had recognised. He thought so. I am not convinced.

Is this a viable model? Can it work? Is it perhaps a model that can be argued as workable but one that will actually maintain the status quo?

I wonder if anyone else there had similar thoughts to mine? The New Orleans Saints were terrible and lost 32 – 7. Perhaps they were thinking about it and that’s what put them off – but I think not. But perhaps someone needs to think about it.


Blind leading the Sighted

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

As some of you are aware, I undertake training assignments through Charity Days. I, together with a couple of hundred other trainers, am registered with Charity Days and we offer our services to charities free of charge. Charities contact Charity Days, explain their needs, the trainers are contacted and those who are able to offer assistance do so. The charity then decides who to work with, and training happens.

There are obvious benefits for the charities, but the benefits are two-fold. I really enjoy meeting and working with people who have such a dedication to their chosen charities, I find it fascinating to observe and work with new organisations, and – perhaps best of all – I learn.

Over the past few weeks I have been delivering some Train the Trainer sessions for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – so that staff and volunteers can equip their volunteer speakers to be as effective as possible. I have been to Worcester, Forfar and Leeds so far, and have one more booking in Manchester.

I have run sessions with several dogs in the classroom, and at Forfar the classroom had a window on to both a training arena and lovely dog kennelling (the dogs’ desire for mealtime was a minor auditory distraction!).

My practical learning, however, related to training blind and visually impaired people – I can’t recall having delivered training to seriously visually impaired people before. Having a few such people in the groups, it enabled Heather – my very dedicated and well-travelled Guide Dogs co-trainer – to seek their personal views on how to make training as accessible and engaging as possible for blind and visually impaired people. I found their help invaluable, and I was able to practice and implement some of their suggestions as the days have progressed.

Heather very kindly documented the contributors’ thoughts, and I have reproduced their tips here in case they may be of assistance to you now or in the future.

· Layout of the room should be described fully early on, and clear verbal instructions given during housekeeping rather than using pointing.

· The room should then not be changed throughout session unless absolutely necessary, and clear details should be given if this does occur.

· When there is a break, or people leave the room, ask that all attendees push their chairs in to reduce obstacles.

· When giving directions or explaining the layout of a room, image or training model, use a clock face to describe where items are – i.e. door at 8 o’clock or 3 o’clock. This is much clearer than using left or right, or other directions.

· If the visually impaired (VI) participant is to stand to give a talk or presentation, ensure they have a table or other solid surface to lean on so that they can retain their bearings.

· All attendees should introduce themselves in order of seating around room, so that VI participants can identify others more readily when discussions take place.

· The trainer / facilitator should ensure they know the names of participants and use them whenever addressing the person concerned.

· If using visual aids such as slides and flip charts, all text should be read out and any images described.

· VI participants will learn by listening and memory. Keep messages simple and clear, and allow time for new information to be taken in.

· It is generally better to have tables or desks as these enable VI participants to use note takers if required.

· Exercises should not be visual, and if a mental problem solving exercise is used, it should take into consideration the amount of information to be absorbed.

· Do not use colours to distinguish.

· Lighting should remain consistent in all areas of the room.

· If part of the session relates to demonstrating to sighted people the issues around being visually impaired, it is advisable not to use blindfolds. It is recommended that simulated spectacles are used so that attendees can gain an understanding of the barriers VI participants face as only a very small percentage of VI people are totally blind.