EQUALITY – WORTH THE BOTHER?

26 06 2013

Committed_to_Equality_1I haven’t written on the value to business of understanding equality for a while however an email exchange from this morning leaves me compelled to wonder whether many still view it as something not worth the bother.

There are many very good reasons to ensure that your business takes Equality seriously. Of course, the biggest driver for many is the desire not to fall foul of the law even if, at the back of their minds, many view meeting the requirements of the Equality Act (2010) as little more than red tape.

It would be nice to believe that in the 21st century laws to ensure access to equal treatment for all are not necessary and that we all seek to accommodate our fellow human beings as best we possibly can. Sadly that is not the case and I am not naïve enough to believe it is.

That does not mean most people deliberately put barriers in the way of others. What does happen is that ignorance drives practice and the right questions are not asked, reasonable solutions not found. For that is all that the 2010 Act requires; that reasonable adjustments be made.

But other than the legal and the ‘human’ reasons for trying to provide equal access to all for your company or organisation there is another; good business practice. It might sound obvious but I will say it anyway, the easier it is for more people to access your company or organisation, the more likely it is they will use your products or services.

Which brings me back to that email exchange from this morning…..

I will shortly be acting as an expert witness in a court case. While most know me as an expert in Strategy, in this case I will be appearing specifically as an expert in Equality Strategy. Earlier today I received an email from a solicitor asking that I pass comment on a document he had prepared for the Court. He was keen that if we were to be arguing a case based on equality, any documents submitted must reflect both expertise and belief in that area.

The content of both the solicitor’s email and the attachment read well and were factually correct, however both fell short of his aim due to his poor choice of font. I commented as such, suggested a different font and advised him why it made a difference.

His reply interested me. The attached document was now presented in a good, accessible font. However his email remained in the original font. I remarked on this over the phone and, to paraphrase his reply, was told, “Oh, that’s okay, the Court won’t see that.”

This attitude is not uncommon in businesses and organisations in all sectors. Government departments, local government, charities, sports clubs and others all discriminate against significant sections of society because they can’t be bothered to change once their ‘ignorances’ are pointed out to them.

The law requires reasonable adjustments be made. I believe changing the default font setting on emails is reasonable. I do not believe that not being bothered is but, to date, no test case has been brought to support my view.

But beyond the law, what about running a successful business, department, charity, club or whatever? Does it make sense to deliberately make it more difficult for large parts of society to work with you? Does it make sense not to make access as easy as competitors who do make reasonable adjustments? Does it make sense not to steal a march on competitors who do not make those reasonable adjustments?

You tell me. The example of the poor choice of font used above could negatively impact on dyslexics accessing and making use of that solicitor’s services. Ten percent of the population are dyslexic, 4% severely so. Even at four percent, that is potentially 2.4 million customers (UK) you are gifting to your competitors. Why? Because you can’t be bothered.

The Equality Act of 2010 is the legal driver behind businesses and organisations in all sectors making reasonable adjustments which will provide improved access for all. Some call it red tape, I prefer to think of it as acting like a decent human being.

But even if the legal and the human reasons don’t drive you to reasonable adjustment, maybe the business case should?

If you can be bothered.

 

If you would like to find out more about this topic and/or would like to discuss arranging an Equality Audit for your business or organisation, please drop me a line to the email address below.

Also on Equality:

Equality – No Room For Excuses (2012)

Equality and Ignorance Driven Insanity in Business (2012)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

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THE F.A. v JOHN TERRY – HOW BUSINESS CAN LEARN FROM F.A. POOR PRACTICE

14 10 2012

Learning for your business?

The dispute between the Football Association (the FA) and John Terry has received lots of media coverage and comment from both the well-informed and the ignorant alike and it is not my intention in this article to add comment on ground already covered. However, unnoticed by (it appears) everybody in the eagerness to report the headlines were a couple of instances of poor practice from the FA which, if other organisations were made aware of, could provide good examples of where common mistakes could (and should) be fixed.

Inward-Facing or Outward-Facing?

On the eve of the hearing John Terry issued a statement that the FA’s case against him made his position as an England player untenable and announced his retirement from international football.

The FA was, apparently, bemused by this decision. The Independent reported that the FA’s General Secretary Alex Horne was interviewed on 24th September outside Wembley by Sky Sports News and told them; “I don’t see how we’ve made it untenable – they’re two very separate processes. It’s something that happened in a match between QPR and Chelsea ….. That’s a very different process, from my perspective, from our England procedures. They sit in different compartments and I could separate the two in my mind. But unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he could.”

This is an attitude which is, frustratingly for many consumers, becoming all too commonplace in companies in all sectors. It is the difference between being an ‘inward-facing’ or an ‘outward-facing organisation.

What does that mean?

The inward-facing organisation understands its own needs, its own processes and its own structures but takes little time to examine how they appear, or even work, for the external party – for example a customer. As long as everything works for them, for their convenience the world is rosy. If the customer doesn’t understand, well then, it’s the customers fault or problem. We can probably all think of examples of this type of company.

The outward-facing organisation, on the other hand, examines all their processes and structures from the end-users perspective. The customer’s experience is at the forefront of all thinking and, as a result, the company is far more likely to be ‘user-friendly’ – a joy to engage with. Sadly, we can probably think or far fewer examples of this type of organisation.

Re-read Alex Horne’s comments to Sky Sports News and you see a typical inward-facing thinking process. What he effectively says is; “We understand our own structure and where one department ends and another begins. It is clear to me.” What he forgets is that outside the FA’s front door what most see is ….. the FA, not its various departments. I wonder how many times FA employees get frustrated with other organisations that operate in the same inward-facing way. Frequently, I’m willing to wager. I also wonder how frequently they equate their negative experience with other organisations with their own. Very seldom, if ever, seems a fair bet.

And what of your company, what of the organisation you work for? Which are you? How often do you look in the mirror and reflect on whether your processes, your structures are designed in an outward or inward-facing way?

Discriminatory Behaviour.

Interestingly, given the John Terry case had at its roots a serious allegation relating to an area of equality, the second piece of poor practice from the FA related to their ignorance in an area of ….. equality!

It might seem sensible if handing out a ruling on an equality issue to ensure that the way in which that ruling was published was itself not discriminatory.

The ruling (published here) was written from start to finish in a ‘serif’ font – that is one of those fonts with the little lines above and below letters (like Times New Roman or Courier). I’m sure you are thinking; “yes Jim, just like hundreds of documents I read every day,” and you would be right. But while those documents might also discriminate, they are not publishing rulings on a case relating to equality, the FA was and should have been aware.

In publishing the document in this style the FA had given scant consideration to those who are dyslexic, recognised as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The British Dyslexia Association’s style guide suggests using a plain, evenly spaced sans-serif font such as Arial and Comic Sans. Alternatives include Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet.

Not uncommon mistakes but now you are aware (as the FA should have been) you can act to make your own communications far more easily read to a significant minority of the population. Not to do so would be inward-facing, putting your own convenience ahead of your customer and potential customer (is changing font really that difficult?). Not to do so would potentially cut the reach of your communications possibly reducing your sales. Now that you know, not to so would also be discriminatory.

In publishing its ruling in the style that it did, the FA broke its own Equality Policy, it potentially discriminated against a group of people defined by the law as disabled. But then, as an inward-facing organisation, they can read their own communication, what does it matter if some others can’t?

What about you and your business? Are you any better? Have you checked?

 

(Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour-blindness are all closely related. Together, an estimated 10% of the population have one or a combination of them).

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, October 2012

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EQUALITY & IGNORANCE DRIVEN INSANITY IN BUSINESS

14 03 2012

“There is not a manufacturing company in the world that could afford to abandon close to 15 per cent of its production capacity, and the same applies to every country whether it is small, like Scotland, or enormous, like China or India.”

A little over a week ago, I wrote about a couple of horrendous and inexcusable gaffes by two large organisations. I went on to state that when it comes to equality ignorance is not an excuse, that shaking your head before stating ‘it is common sense’ won’t wash. I suggested that we all take a look in the mirror and ask where we could do better. I stated that for business equality needs to be a question of strategy, of planning to reach those people with one or more of what are termed ‘protected characteristics’ in the 2010 Equality Act.

Since writing that article a number of people have asked me to explain what I mean by this and, in real terms, what is the business incentive?

The quote above is from double Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart’s excellent autobiography ‘Winning Is Not Enough.’ It is more than the usual sporting biography, in that it covers his career after Formula One where he went on to become an extremely successful businessman.

A common thread throughout the story is Stewart’s struggles with Dyslexia. How he went through his childhood believing he was “thick”. How despite being one of the most successful sportsmen ever to live he was continually aware of a sense of inadequacy. Until a chance meeting with a doctor who was running some tests on his son led to him also being tested and, in his 40s, finding out he wasn’t thick after all. He has a learning disability called dyslexia.

Ten per cent of the population of Britain is dyslexic (source: the British Dyslexia Association). Think about that figure. That is six million people. Four per cent are severely dyslexic; that is 2.4 million people.

It is right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to access the products and services that everyone else does. It is also right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to expect the same treatment as everyone else does. Indeed the 2010 Equality Act does not insist that companies make all adjustments it asks only that they do what is reasonable.

But beyond that, can your company afford to reduce its potential market by 6 million people because of something as inexcusable as ignorance? Surely not, it is common sense isn’t it? And yet thousands of companies do exactly that every day simply by (through ignorance) using inappropriate fonts or colour schemes in marketing paraphernalia, in communications (sic) documents and on websites. In short, they deliberately reduce the potential size of their market.

I call that ignorance driven insanity.

That is ten per cent of the population. Where does Jackie Stewart’s 15% come from? Dyslexia is different from but shares characteristics with dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour blindness. Individuals with one of those disabilities often have one or more of the others. In total they make up fifteen per cent of the population.

Nine million people. More people than live in Greater London. 9,000,000 people. More people than live in Scotland and Wales combined. A lot of people.

I recently came across an example of this ignorance driven insanity when attending a business meeting at a hotel. During a break I nipped out of the meeting room to visit the toilet and found them easily enough. However it struck me that the signage did not consider one of the characteristics often seen in people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and/or colour blindness – the tendency to take things literally.

During the lunch break I revisited the task of finding the toilets but this time took every sign I saw literally. In short, the signs took me via a couple of stair cases on a loop back to the place I had started, not to the toilets. I double checked with a colleague attending the same meeting who is dyscalculic. “Yes,” she said, “it took me a while. In the end I waited until someone else wanted to go and went with her.” Good thing she wasn’t desperate!

What has this got to do with business? Putting a couple of signs in the right place would cost very little. Being in ignorance of the discrimination caused by their absence could cost……? The hotel will never know because the dissatisfied customer might say nothing but simply never return. And among fifteen per cent of a population you can be sure there are more than a few decision makers who will be booking conference facilities based on their judgement of suitability.

One step removed, companies booking the facilities at this hotel are trusting their corporate reputation to the hotel’s ability to deliver. Think about the feedback; “great conference but poor venue.” That’s more lost business for the hotel as that conference goes elsewhere next year.

And if you are in competition with that hotel……do you really need me to explain both the gap in the market and the potential market in the gap?

There is a serious business imperative for getting equality right. Ignorance is no excuse. Equality is a very wide area and is not just about minority groups, women, for example, are a majority group (30.6 million/51%).

I have focused on only one group of people who sit under the broader umbrella of disability. In all, people with one or more disabilities make up 25% of our population (15 million potential customers).

Other ‘protected characteristics’ covered by the Equality Act are age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

In advising companies on equality strategies I have come across all kinds of oversights, some even driven by being well-meaning but, nonetheless ignorant thinking. These are just a small sample:

  • The sports centre accessible toilet whose door opened inwards.
  • The ‘buy 2’ special offer which was more expensive than buying two singles.
  • The government agency equality monitoring form.
  • The ‘required’ qualifications on a job specification.
  • The bus time table.
  • The university marketing campaign.
  • The white ‘design feature’ at a conference venue.

Fortunately, none of these organisations assumed knowledge they lacked. None allowed themselves to be led by ignorance. However, sadly for equality, unfairly for significant sections of society and unfortunately for the businesses concerned, I do encounter those who clearly didn’t ask on a more than daily basis.

Understanding equality is good for business. Don’t be guilty of ignorance driven insanity.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012

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