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Why is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) under attack?

EDI
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Kaz Self

Bristol City Council Candidate

Kaz discusses the merits of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and why it’s under attack by some politicians and campaigners.

I was looking through ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) the other day when I saw a video clip posted by @PatriotTakes featuring Candace Owens, an American political commentator. In that video she says “I would be terrified if I got onto a plane and I saw a woman flying the plane”. She then goes on to say that the United Airlines CEO “just wants to fill a quota”. So what is the truth behind EDI in the workplace and why is it under attack from the right wing? Let me, a trans woman and champion of EDI, try to explain.

What EDI means

It would be easy for me to try to discuss the meaning of EDI in abstract terms. But hopefully far more interesting if I explain it from a personal perspective.

I’d worked in a big, well-known aerospace company for 27 years when our newly formed LGBT+ employee resource group ‘Prism’ advertised a talk being given by two members. I went along under the guise of an interested employee. At the end of the session (and on National Coming Out Day) I made a huge confession that I was exploring my gender identity and hence was T (for trans) in LGBT+.

Announcing that I was trans in a male dominated workplace with 3000 employees wasn’t something I ever expected to do. But the truth was I could no longer hide my trans identity away. I was about to come out big time and confessing at that talk by Prism was just the start.

Within a year I had taken the big step of transitioning from a male to female gender identity in the workplace. Until that day there were no out and visible members of the LGBT+ community on site. What happened next was truly astonishing.

I made sure that Prism posters and events were well advertised on the site. We had regular talks, ‘lunch-and learns’ and became highly visible. And then I had a call from Greg, the guy running Prism, to tell me that a man who had kept his sexuality hidden from his colleagues for nearly 40 years had just come out as gay. Imagine having to keep that a secret all that time, imagine how he would have to respond to questions from workmates about his personal life.

In both our cases we were fully accepted by our colleagues. I was a Chartered Engineer highly experienced in my field, he was a similarly an expert in what he did. EDI is all about people bringing their whole selves to work without fear, about including those who are different than the ‘norm’ and making sure that people are recognised for their skills and character on an equal basis to their peers, regardless of anything else.

The value of EDI

A successful enterprise should try to minimise waste and add value to what it does. So in that case, why do we need EDI?

As a chartered engineer I know that innovation is needed to keep one step ahead of the competition. For innovation you need a pool of ideas. And to create those ideas you need diversity of thought. There is the classic case of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that seems to be designed only for men – safety shoes too heavy or too big, eye protectors or gloves oversize. Without women in the room then some products will be designed for just 50% of the population.

And then there’s the unique experience and background that we all have. If a design studio, boardroom (or even a political chamber) is dominated by one gender and excludes another, or is missing people with protected characteristics, then the value and innovation of the missing individuals will be lost. A company that includes such individuals will gain an advantage, both in market share and reputation.

Disruptive design needs brave decision makers, out-of-the box thinkers and creativity. Believe you-me, as a once closeted trans woman I tick all those boxes! But beyond market share and the avoidance of group-think, EDI is about basic humanity. Why should we not make opportunities and life more equal, so that we can all live a fulfilled life? For example, a company that has inclusion in the workplace, from gender neutral toilets to avoiding steps, is more likely to be attractive to the whole talent pool, allowing the best individuals to be recruited. My view is that the value of inclusion far outweighs the cost.

And the problem with EDI is ?

So why is it that some commentators seem to have it in for EDI? In two words, distraction and division. With the number of people on an NHS waiting list at the highest level in 14 years, caused entirely by a programme of austerity and cutbacks, why wouldn’t a right wing leaning newspaper try to distract from the main cause, with a claim that the NHS blows £1million on ‘woke groups’.

I have already made the argument that EDI in fact adds value, so this claim is patently untrue. As an attack line this plays well to the loyal readership of such newspapers, but is easily counteracted by those of us who can clearly see that the problems in the NHS aren’t ‘woke groups’, but poor funding, poor industrial relations and the need for innovative solutions to meet a growing need.

I go back to where I started, a woman flying a plane, which is perhaps the more concerning aspect of attacks on EDI. There are many levels of inequality in society but gender inequality is up there as the worst. I find it appalling that some right wing women still think that the rightful place of their own sex is as homemaker, child provider and carer. It may come as a surprise to some but women can fly aeroplanes just as well as men. And trans women can design those aircraft as well – because I once did!

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