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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SAVILE AND ARMSTRONG – A WARNING FOR US ALL

7 11 2012

Photo: The Guardian

In recent weeks the media has reported numerous stories surrounding Lance Armstrong’s cheating through the taking of performance enhancing drugs. At the same time, even more space has been given to reporting the scandalous tale of Jimmy Savile’s alleged long running abuses of young people.

What no one in the media has done is link the two. No one has looked at the startling similarities in the broken and/or dysfunctional organisational cultures will allowed the cheating and the abuse to go unpunished for so long. And those similarities present a warning to us all.

Most of us would like to think that if we were confronted with a Savile or an Armstrong in our organisation, we would speak up. Most of us are also kidding ourselves. The sorry fact is that most people will not risk a career by being the only person speaking out; will not risk the scorn of others if questioning the actions of a popular colleague. In reality it is only a tiny minority who will speak up regardless.

That presents a serious problem for organisations which like to consider themselves as fair and honest; who do the right thing. If the reality is that most will not risk speaking up and the culture does not encourage the reporting of misdeeds in a non-judgemental way, then in the vast majority of cases they will go unreported.

Photo: The Guardian

Since the news of Jimmy Savile’s alleged years of abusing young people broke numerous people have spoken up; “we all suspected something,” “it was accepted that was how Jimmy was” and “I didn’t want to risk being the only one who said anything” have been regularly repeated by numerous people in various guises. In the Lance Armstrong case, retired cyclists and coaches, team masseurs and managers have spoken out not just about Armstrong but about the culture of cheating that existed in cycling at the time.

Of course, there is another side to most (but not these two) stories. Misunderstanding, misinterpretation and deliberate false accusation must be guarded against. Therefore it is encumbent on the organisation to ensure not only a culture where speaking up is accepted but also where privacy and confidentiality are respected until any case has been properly examined or reported on to the correct authorities.

This involves very deliberate plans which foster a culture where no one is worried that highlighting wrong-doing might adversely affect their career or undermine popularity. It means very deliberate plans which design in a system and structure for reporting wrong-doing which does not expose truth or falsehood before being properly investigated. And, like all good planning, it is regularly ‘stress-tested’ to ensure it works.

Such deliberate planning will not only protect against paedophiles and drug cheats; it opens the door for the addressing of work place/organisational issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, disability discrimination and more. It opens the door to protect against petty theft and fraud. It opens the door to a place where your staff are happy that they can take up issues in a fair, honest and reasonable way in the safe knowledge that they do not risk themselves (unless deliberately false) in any way.

In pointing fingers at the BBC, Stoke Mandeville, the UCI and others, many have taken the risky view that ‘it can’t happen here.’

Can’t it? Is your organisation’s culture assumed or is it known?

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, November 2012

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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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USING (GOOD) STRATEGY TO ACCESS MINORITY GROUPS – WAS BRADFORD WEST THE PERFECT STORM?

6 04 2012

At first glance, the recent by-election in Bradford West and its shock result owed little to corporate understanding of Equality and of the difference a good strategy can make to increasing market share within those groups defined by the Equality Act as having ‘protected characteristics’.

However, take a closer look and the lesson becomes clear; if you are not employing good strategy in targeting minority groups, your competitors soon will and, regardless of the quality of product on offer, may gain competitive advantage as a result.

This blog has recently covered politicians’ poor understanding of strategy. That is not to say they have no strategy, just that when they do it is generally of poor quality. I have also recently written of Equality and the need to do more than simply be legally compliant, to have a policy and to believe your company accessible to all.

Both the politicians and the apparently accessible company share a trait, a dangerous trait; that of complacency. And in Bradford West the mainstream political parties, Labour (who were expecting an easy win) in particular, were clearly complacent. They believed their strategy guaranteed victory, they assumed accessibility, they assumed their strategy took their message to all sections of the community in a way that would secure votes and they assumed an understanding of the diverse sections within the broader community.

That is a lot of assuming and a lot of complacency. But that was okay because they had their strategy. But, as history has now shown us, one of their competitors, one they underestimated, had a good strategy.

That good strategy did not rely on a superior product; Big Brother cat imitation escapades aside, George Galloway’s voting attendance record during previous sittings as an MP was below 8%. What made it a good strategy was that it did not assume equality of access or of reach; it looked at the demographic of the constituency, it adapted for different groups and it talked in language a majority of that demographic understood.

When we look at the many and varied groups described as having ‘protected characteristics’ by the 2010 Equality Act, how does your company strategy position your company in terms of such reach?

Of course, you think you are accessible (so did the hotel in this recent article). Of course, you believe you are legally compliant (you’d be surprised). Of course, you have your Equality Policy in place (don’t you?). But what is your strategy, how are you actively going about reaching all sections of society?

For any business (or political party) aspiring to success, this is a serious question. Those people with ‘protected characteristics’ as defined by the Equality Act are not small groups; those defined as disabled cover 25% of the population alone, women 51%. Even the apparently small 2.7% Muslim population represents over 1.6 million people when translated to numbers. Each offer, to greater or lesser degrees, increased and often ignored market share.

Good strategy should secure and deliver competitive advantage as so emphatically demonstrated by George Galloway in Bradford.

You (should) have your equality policy in place but do you also have your Equality Strategy? Or are you waiting for your competitors to ‘do a Galloway’ on you?

There is a big difference between having strategy and having good strategy. Which is yours?

Recent Blogs on politicians and strategy:

Strategy Still A Struggle For Government (9th March 2012)

Cameron’s Confusion On Strategy Provides Learning For Business (29th March 2012)

Recent Blogs on Equality:

Equality – No Room For Excuses (4th March 2012)

Equality & Ignorance Driven Insanity In Business (14th March 2012)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 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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EQUALITY – NO ROOM FOR EXCUSES

4 03 2012

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.

The second gaffe I refer to was in the official London 2012 Games Makers Workbook, an official document staggering in its lack of knowledge (and therefore research into) disability.

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

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