Starting in the broadcasting industry in 1981, the environment was very different. It was an era when people felt quite happy telling racist or sexist jokes, and those on the receiving end had to laugh through fear of being accused of having no sense of humour. That wouldn’t happen now, but in many ways I fear the prejudice has gone underground and is harder to spot. Amongst many others, I did what I could to change the working environment, but it’s still a work in progress,
I think you need people inside organizations and outside them to apply the pressure that leads to change. That’s how, after 30 years, we can look back and can hardly believe things were the way they were.
Abuse and prejudice thrives on silence – when people who suffer aren’t willing to stay silent, then a lot changes. I think we’ve seen this recently, with the MeToo and Time’s Up movements: people are being brave enough to speak up about things, and that has inspired others to do the same.
That’s one of the reasons I’m hopeful. Things which used to be tucked under the carpet are coming out, there’s a different mood, and let’s hope that things are changed for good as a result of it.
There’s never been a time when there’s been so much talk about diversity, but I sometimes think, to quote Elvis Presley, we need ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’. The increased level of discussion is great but the emphasis needs to be on practicalities.
I’ve had people say to me that I have to be patient and wait for ‘evolution’ to solve everything. Well, evolution took billions of years – I’m not that patient! Things need a push to make them happen, and that’s why being a champion for diversity is so important. We need to deliver these messages in ways that can be heard: with subtlety, humour, resonating hashtags – whatever it takes – to be persuasive and impactful. There will always be people who don’t want to hear; but now, more than ever before, there are people who are open to listening and taking action..
It’s important in this long struggle not to get bitter or despairing. Yes, there’s a lot more to be done, but in order to create change you have to believe that change is possible and be positive and energetic.