This is what we SHOULD be stigmatising

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In all honesty, we live in a pretty f*cky world which means that the we are forced to operate in some pretty f*cky work environments because, as you know, organisations reflect the societies that they operate within.

What that means, practically, is that the issues, challenges, judgements and aggressions we face in the outside world, we will face inside the workplace as well because… the same ignorances and biases are carried around by people we work, live and “socialise” with. As a result, we have had to continuously find ways, terms, campaigns, launch movements to try to coax, negotiate and lobby for the acceptance (read “tolerance”) of people who fall outside of the “acceptable norms”. And so we hear terms like, “We need to normalise abc”, “we need to destigmatise xyz” and all of these initiatives require an unimaginable amount of mental, emotional and intellectual labour from the very groups of people who are harmed and marginalised by these “norms”.

So, I got to thinking… Instead of trying to destigmatise our humanity, how about we stigmatise and reject everything that seeks to diminish us or force us to constantly prove our worthiness?

Now, there’s a verrrrrry long list of BS norms that we need to stigmatise and reject, but I’m just going to focus on three right now.

  • Stigmatise organisations, leaders and colleagues that judge and guilt-trip parents (usually moms) for needing to prioritise their children
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It is insane for me that in 2020, we are still dealing with moms being faced with having to choose between career advancement (giving everything up for an employer than can drop you at any second) or having children. Or having to deal with comments and statements that let us know that if/when we have children, our careers will be over because there’s no longer any use for us – because organisations will preach flexibility and inclusivity only as far as it benefits those who already benefit from the existing system. It may seem like a small and simple thing, but rejecting these beliefs and nuances in the workplace can go a long way when it comes to influence a culture shift, especially when the resistance is in numbers.

Organisations were designed by men, for men and the further you progress up the corporate ladder, the more of your womanhood you’re expected to leave behind, whether that’s being a mom or being someone who must carry pads/tampons when they’re on their cycle or someone who simply cannot have meetings that start at 7am or 6pm because you have children that need your presence. A meeting will not be less effective or less important or less of a confirmation of y’all’s importance if it starts a bit later or ends a bit earlier.

  • Stigmatise organisations, leaders and colleagues who expect employees who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community to “come out”
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The more I pay attention to what’s happening around me in this crazy a** world, the more things I unwittingly accepted growing up don’t make sense. Why do we still feel entitled to members of LGBTQIA+ community “coming out”? I’ve never had to announce that I’m a straight woman. I’ve never had insults hurled at me because I am a straight woman. I’ve never had people gossiping and placing secret bets about bout my sexual orientation. And yet, the LGBTQIA+ community is faced by these and other issues every single day. Why do we believe that they owe us this information? So that we can elevate our judgement? Reduce their opportunities? Justify their marginalisation because of “religion” or “how badly they’ll influence our children” or “our clients will feel uncomfortable around them”?


Organisations are flying so high on their Diversity & inclusion magic carpets, making statements about how they welcome and support the LGBTQIA+ community when they haven’t even bothered to work on their organisations’ cultures to ensure that LGBTQIA+ community members are actually safe and have access to equal and equitable support, resources and opportunities within those organisations. And if that is the status quo, how can people show up as their full selves and trust that they have psychological safety and are able to thrive?

  • Stigmatise organisations, leaders and colleagues that mistreat, sideline, mock and abuse employees who battle against mental illness
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I have had multiple conversations with Black professionals who have shared with me how scary it is to reveal to your employer that you are battling mental illness or that you need time for off for medical support because of mental illness. I have heard how some people, upon return from sick leave, are subjected to disparaging comments about the state of their mental health, references to not taking their meds when they aren’t pliable to colleagues and being mocked repeatedly.

Grown adults who refuse to understand that mental illness is a medical condition that requires medical care and support. Adults who refuse to teach themselves compassion and empathy. We cannot continue to accept work environments like this for the comfort of privileged people who don’t have to experience the challenges faced by those who battle mental illness.

This may be a surprise to some, but inclusion in the workplace is not just a catchphrase you can ride on indefinitely. You actually have to change your behaviour, reflect on your prejudices, do your research and ASK people what you can actively and consistently do to ensure that they feel like they belong, exactly as they are. Leaders and line managers, YOU are the ones that need to change how you work and think in order to create inclusivity and feelings of belonging within your organisations and you must create safe spaces for employees to give you honest feedback about how they are experiencing you and the organisation’s culture.

If you are a leader or manager in organisation, every morning, before you get to the office, ask yourself: How can I NOT be an a**h*le today?

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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