D&I is a constant learning process: if you think you’ve learnt enough, you fail. When your title implies that you are an ‘expert’ in D&I, you can get comfortable. It’s essential that we don’t allow ourselves to become complacent. Unless you keep learning and questioning the impact you’re making, how do you know that you’re making a difference?
We need to move beyond ‘business as usual’; we need to keep sense-checking and we need to find critical fiends – that closes the loop.
‘Role-modelling’ is vital in supporting this change. We all need to role model positive behaviours and stand up to what we think is unacceptable. We need role models throughout our organizations and in our society.
Take staff networks as an example of where we have to ask tough questions. We need to step back and ask ourselves difficult questions like ‘Do we need this network, or are we just approving it because we’re scared to be labelled ‘…ist’ if we don’t’ or ‘Does the head of the women’s network have to be a woman? What would happen if it was a man? Is the most senior/influential person who could do this role and make the most difference a man? And if they are, then why aren’t we asking him to act on behalf of women?’
When I say that we have to keep trying and learning as we go, I’ve practiced what I preach and I’ve learnt from my mistakes. This year I made the conscious decision of opening up our long-established ’Woman Lawyer of the Year’ Award to all individuals who consider themselves ’women’, thus also including trans women. This was driven by my desire to move forward and create an all-inclusive and equal platform; but I overlooked that by doing so I was potentially alienating some women and taking away the focus on the historical struggle women faced and are still facing in society. They’d fought for so long to be on an equal footing to their male counterparts and, to some of them, this felt like a loss.
My mistake here was that I was so keen to move us towards equality that I didn’t stop to remember that this is a journey and, while it can’t be rushed, we have to keep pushing. D&I is a long road, but one that we have to keep moving forward on.
All D&I topics, including the gender equality debate, can be heated debates and can come with deep sensitivities. But in order to move the conversation forward, we have to push at the boundaries and test the water. I think it’s important that we don’t hide away, that we don’t backpedal. We must proactively try to engage with difficult conversations. We act for positive reasons, we have good intentions, we might have to adjust our approach as we go along and as we learn more, but you have to keep moving forward.