Cultivating harassment through Diversity and Inclusion

Sihle Bolani Website

Diversity and Inclusion have become the buzzwords of “progressive” organisations the world over. More and more companies are proudly speaking about their ground-breaking new policies that have led to more women, more members of the LGBTQI community and more Black people being “visible” in predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly hetero environments and industries.

Sounds great, right? Absolutely! This is an important part of our journey to securing equality for all marginalised groups.

So what’s the problem?

Very few organisations actually take time to transform themselves meaningfully before these policies are implemented and PR’d. What inevitably happens is that marginalised people join these organisations are met with people who still have the same old sexist, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic views that they’ve always had, and they direct their aggression – passively or directly – at these marginalised groups. Essentially, the new people walk into a field of landmines that the organisation has not bothered to remove or disable.

Marginalised employees end up being subjected to:

  • Sexual harassment and having their bodies and dress code sexualised in the workplace, especially when they are Black and more curvaceous.
  • Gender stereotypes being reinforced when women are expected to clear away coffee cups after meetings.
  • Verbal and non-verbal slurs and gestures directed at (or used to describe) members of the LGBTQI community.
  • “Jokes” made to reinforce gender, religious and sexual orientation stereotypes to isolate them.

Diversity and inclusion policies are pointless if an organisation does not first transform the minds and beliefs of the people it employs. If an organisation is serious about creating an inclusive environment, it has to have systems in place to ensure that the environment is also safe for everyone in it. Anyone who contravenes those basic requirements should be dealt with because we can no longer accept organisations and societies that are intent on abusing people (or allowing people to be abused) for any reason, least of all because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their sexual orientation.

One of the questions that all organisations should be asking themselves is this:

Do we harm first or do we heal first?

How they answer that question will tell them everything they need to know about their values.

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Sihle Bolani

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