Desmond Tutu said: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
So why am I here this week talking about elephants?
It’s an analogy that springs to mind when I reflect on the work we’ve done as a partnership around inclusion, belonging and celebrating diversity over the last few months.
From hearing stories from our colleagues from an ethnic minority background about the everyday racism people face as part of our Black History Month celebrations, to learning about the everyday ableism disabled colleagues continue to face as part of our events to mark UK Disability History Month; it feels like there’s a huge mountain to climb (or a big elephant to eat).
We’re on a journey as a system to become truly inclusive, but the work we’ve done over the last few months represents ‘one more bite of the elephant’ – there’s so much more to do and we cannot stop now.
As a white woman, I’ll never understand how it feels to experience systemic racism, for example. But I have a duty as a leader, an ally and as a human being to listen with compassion and to explore what steps we can take together to make things different for those who do.
I’m sure all of us at some point in our lives have felt ‘left out’ or ‘less than’. I experienced those feelings very recently when a change in my health meant I couldn’t travel as I normally would or attend in-person meetings in some buildings.
Although in most instances joining virtually was an option there were times that was not the case.
Nobody intentionally excluded me in this way, but it’s hard in such situations not to feel like your voice has less importance or like you’re ‘putting people out’ – all things that can make us feel ‘less than’.
So in the same vein, I guess no-one intentionally included me in this way.
Maybe focusing on intentional inclusion, in everything we do, can help us eat this elephant; can help us find a way forward together to tackle discrimination, to ensure people feel safe and included at work, to truly belong?
It’s ok to not have all the answers, it’s ok to look at that elephant and think ‘how on earth are we going to eat all that?’
But I think we have to commit to learning and acknowledging for ourselves how it feels for colleagues from different backgrounds, with different lived experiences, who may not feel included.
We must do this through compassionate curiosity before committing to real change.
There are opportunities to do this right now by:
- watching our Black History Month discussion panel event
- watching our UK Disability History Month discussion panel event
- reading our creative writing collection which features the work of disabled colleagues across HNY – ‘We’re not a write-off!’
As a partnership, we’re exploring how we can create spaces to do this together through the piloting of a new Inclusion Assembly.
The assembly will bring together the chairs of staff networks across HNY alongside equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leads and key partners to co-design and set our priorities, but most importantly, to agree how we will move forward together as a partnership. We’ll be working side by side to understand the intersectional challenges our colleagues face and taking action collaboratively.
We have to embrace discomfort and accept that our view of the world will be different to others but that doesn’t mean another’s view isn’t as important or that we can’t change our own perspectives.
So pull up a chair, shove up and add another seat at the table, make space to listen and learn as an ally, embrace intentional inclusion… if we can all commit to this then conversation by conversation, bite by bite, I believe we can eat that elephant, together.