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Why Louise Casey’s Report Matters to Us All

Last week’s report in which Louise Casey found the UK’s Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic has sent ripples through every police force in the country. But the ripples must not end there; it would be foolish to imagine the problems Lady Casey identified do not exist in other organisations. 

A big part of the problem within the Met has been denial. Problems have been dismissed and complainants have faced disbelief or counterclaims. Past problems that can no longer be denied are blamed on ‘individual bad apples’. 

Can you be sure that similar denial isn’t happening somewhere in your organisation? 

A major cause of denial is the ‘banter’ defence. It’s a defence I’m sure most of us have witnessed somewhere. Phrases like, “They need to lighten up”, “Can’t take a joke” and “They take themselves too seriously” abound in society. 

The problem with banter is that it is often directed at those from minority groups. I know; I’ve experienced it. I’ve experienced it since I was at secondary school, where comments like ‘backs against the wall’ or ‘are you a Jeremy?’ would follow me down the corridor from about the age of 12. (“Jeremy” is a reference to Jeremy Thorpe who was on trial at the time on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder his ex-boyfriend Norman Scott.)

As you can imagine, secondary school was not a happy place. Did I ever complain? No. The culture was such that I believed complaining would likely have made my problems worse. And besides, the ‘banter’ aimed at me, and others perceived to be ‘different’ or ‘weak’, didn’t just come from other students. 

It seems that in some organisations, little has changed. In the Met, one female police officer from an ethnic minority background recalled being described by male peers as ‘exotic’ and as having ‘animalistic characteristics’. 

LGBTQ+ officers describe being told gay sex is ‘disgusting’. Or being asked “Who’s the man in the bedroom?”. (This is not hard to believe; as an adult, I’ve faced both.) 

Few people complained. Some that did complain say that doing so impacted their careers. 

It can be hard to explain when ‘banter’ is ok, and when it’s not, but abuse that comes from someone who has no real understanding of what life in a minority is like, who has never suffered the same prejudice - that’s not ok. 

Neither is banter that reinforces stereotypes you believe - or appear to believe. 

And most importantly of all - and this is the crux - banter that is not ok to the recipient, for whatever reason, is not ok – it’s harassment.

Lady Casey’s report raises serious questions about the effectiveness of equal opportunities and diversity training in general and about organisations’ abilities to police themselves when it comes to issues of inclusion.

Interestingly, within the report she talks about a ‘tick box approach’ and too often, equal opportunities and diversity training is a tick box exercise; a process that’s followed with the sole aim of showing a process has been followed.  

The training that is delivered can be poor. Often, it focuses on understanding the law, rather than understanding experiences and people – because the latter is potentially more difficult. 

In the worst examples, training that focuses on rules and regulations can actually feed resentment and increase prejudice.

The lesson I want leaders everywhere to take from last week’s report is that dismissing concerns around inclusion, denying the possibility of prejudice, suggesting that victims are sensitive or can’t take a joke, and in particular a tick box approach to learning, are not going to wash anymore. 

It's time for organisations everywhere to take a long, hard look at their culture, to understand the realities of being in a minority, the banter that’s not fun and to re-examine how knowledge and learning around inclusion is shared. 

It’s time to raise the bar.

To help you, here are some powerful activities from Trainers’ Library that focus not on rules, but on awareness. Not on telling, but on experiences. And most importantly of all, activities that, without putting anyone on the spot, can open real conversations about inclusion, diversity and equality that lead to real sharing and real learning.

Until next time…

March 28 2023Rod Webb

Rod Webb

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