With the London Olympics and bookmaker Paddy Power joining the rapidly growing list of individuals and organisations making gaffes around the issue of equality, how can you avoid making the same (or similar) mistakes?
Ignorance really is no excuse; if you don’t know or don’t understand – ask!
The last couple of weeks have seen two rather public gaffes from large organisations who really should know better. I’m not talking about bankers and their bonuses, I’m talking about getting equality right.
First, the bookmaker Paddy Power thought it would be a real hoot to mock one sector of our society in an advertisement which asks the viewer to play spot the difference; “stallion or mare.” The advertisement was set at Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival and involved spotting transgendered women in the crowd.
Harmless fun? To many maybe, but to that section of our society which is transgendered (an umbrella term covering various forms of gender dysphoria such as cross dressing, transvestism and transsexualism) it wasn’t so amusing.
The Advertising Standards Authority said the general nature of the complaints was that the ad was “offensive, transphobic and derogatory towards transgender people”.
You may or may not agree however consider the current debate around racism and homophobia in football and transplant the Paddy Power commercial to a football stadium and ask the viewer to ‘spot the gay’ or ‘pick out the black man.’ Offensive? You bet!
I’ve heard more than one person say; “it’s different, they choose to be that way.” I also remember when some people used to say that about homosexuality; talk about publicly announcing your ignorance!
Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical term, transsexuals do not choose to be that way, they are born that way and, in case you are in any doubt and need the law to guide you, it is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the 2010 Equality Act.
In the section ‘Understanding Disability’ four categories of impairment are listed; Visual Impairments, Hearing Impairments, Mental Health/Mental Distress and Learning Disability. You will note there is no mention of physical impairments however the gaffe I wish to pick up on is the listing of both Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Epilepsy under ‘Learning Disability’. Neither are; both in fact should be listed under the absent physical impairment category.
There are other gaffes in the document which some might say are excusable, after all the term disability covers a wide range of impairments and conditions.
I disagree; ignorance is no excuse. If in doubt there are a range of organisations that will be happy to advise and educate, in the case of the 2012 Games Makers Workbook, how hard would it have been to (for example) pick up a phone and speak to CP Sport for guidance?
Ignorance is not an excuse, it never is. If you don’t know or you’re not sure do the intelligent thing and ask someone who does know. Admitting you need guidance now and then is not a sign of weakness or stupidity, it is a sign of understanding and awareness.
And before you start shaking your head and muttering under your breath “its common sense” look in the mirror. Do you know which sections of our community are ‘protected characteristics’ under the 2010 Equality Act? Does your business (or organisation) do everything it reasonably can to make itself accessible to all sections of society?
It is a far bigger question than one of ‘common sense’ or even one of legal compliance. It is a question of sound strategy. If you haven’t considered how you speak to the many different sections of our society or how and whether they can access your services or products then you are grossly under-achieving.
Not understanding equality doesn’t only affect minority groups (although it should be noted women are a majority group) it affects us all and we should all be sharing the responsibility for a fair and equal society.
If you still think it isn’t your problem, remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (1946):
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent:
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012