Just a little under 30 years ago, back in 1991, I came home from work find my then partner watching the video of a man called Rodney King on the news. Those of you who are old like me will remember Rodney as the black American who was filmed on camera being beaten half to death by 14 police officers with batons.
At the time, which was pre internet, I had never seen any real footage of someone being beaten or treated in this way. I remember I was overcome with feelings of fear, anger, disgust and sadness. It made me cry. It was awake up call. I distinctly remember thinking that this video would finally bring about change. We now know, of course, that the response to Rodney King’s beating was indifference, leading to charges for only 4 of the fourteen officers and of those, three were acquitted. The now famous LA riots followed shortly after, claiming another 63 deaths and injuring 2383 others.
Fast forward and as I watched the footage of George Floyd’s last moments, I realised I was watching a snuff movie in action. A man dying in similar terrifying circumstances to that which nearly claimed Rodney Kings life nearly 30 years ago, and which has claimed many other lives since. Watching that footage, two things occurred to me:
- The police now openly record evidence of their own brutality on their body cams and microphones
- The video quality is much better than in 1991
Apart from that, nothing has changed. And there’s the rub. NOTHING HAS CHANGED. How can this be? And where does the responsibility lie? Where does it start? When does it become engrained into a person to behave in the way that these police officers did? The truth is that people are dying all over the world in brutal circumstances, and I believe the root cause is not hatred; its indifference. We just don’t care. Enough.
Let’s bring this issue closer to home and the matter of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. If you do a quick google search it wont take you long to find hard evidence to show that companies that embrace diversity and have more inclusive representation on the workforce, out perform their peers across a number of key factors, including revenue, growth and innovation. By a significant margin.
However, a similar short search will also reveal that despite the evidence, our general performance as organisations in embracing diversity is chronically poor. Despite the plethora of statements of intent in the annual report, the nod’s in all the right places, the narrative of this years employee value proposition, very little is actually changing. We are just not stepping up to the plate.
And it is indifference that is the problem. We say we care, but we don’t.
If we cared, we wouldn’t still, 40 years on, have the same out of date recruitment methodologies based on the totally inadequate ‘job description’ as a measure of a job and the ‘CV’ as the measure of the person.
If we cared, we wouldn’t still be using the shockingly poor technology and processes that underpin our relatively poor approach to hiring.
If we cared, HR and Recruiting technology wouldn’t be the ‘poor cousin’ of enterprise technology that it is today.
If we cared, we wouldn’t be abdicating our individual responsibility to address our own endemic biases to a piece of technology that can anonymise a persons name.
And if we really did care, we wouldn’t still be having this debate.
30 years ago, when I first saw that video of Rodney King we were having exactly the same dialogue. We just had a set of different terms for it – ‘Equal Opportunities’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination’ were the terms of the day. And here we are, 30 years later – 30 YEARS – and precious little seems to have changed where it really matters.
Is the language we use partly to blame? Have we crafted a new narrative around Diversity that lets us off the hook? Certainly saying “we recognise we are not embracing diversity” sounds a lot easier to admit and say than “we recognise we are still actively discriminating against people of colour/women/physically disabled/older members of the working population”.
Silence is acceptance. Inaction is complicity. It is no longer enough not to discriminate. We have to act, and act now, in order to stop discrimination. To counter this rolling tide of indifference.
If it took a global pandemic that has so far claimed over 400,000 lives to dispel one simple myth long held true by leaders and managers – that people couldn’t be trusted to work outside of the office – what will it take to end this cycle of exclusion?