Category Archives: Equality, Diversity And Inclusion
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), Britain’s Foremost Black Classical Composer: The Centenary Legacy
Just a few days after this year’s Slavery Remembrance Day, on 23 August, we mark also the centenary legacy of the black British music composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who died one hundred years ago, on 1 September 1912.
2010-12 is the celebration of 100 years of Girl Guiding in the UK. In 1962 I, a young teenager and enthusiastic Girl Guide, made a Log Book of the Movement which drew heavily on The Guider magazine which came regularly through our letterbox, and also more personally includes photographs of my mother, Peggy, as a Girl Guide in the 1930s. The log covers the period from when the Girl Guides first formed until the year of my birth. Here in all its unedited school exercise book glory it is…
Summary: The Chartered Institute of Housing, Shelter, Rowan Williams and Boris Johnson all seem to agree; whether social housing can continue to exist in the wealthier parts of the UK – mostly the south of England – is doubtful, following the autumn 2010 spending review. We focus mostly on people at risk of homelessness, but that is only half the picture…. How many people from southern England travel to work for a while in the north, but still own property in the south?
Yes, I do realise this is a rather outmoded way of putting things – the real question should be, ‘What did Labour do to make things fairer for everyone?’ – but the former question is asked more frequently than the latter.
But, however the enquiry is phrased, the answer is that Labour has done a great deal to change things equality-wise for the better, and sometimes it’s worth remembering where the equity stakes were pre-1997, not least so we can hold on to these improvements for the future.
I hope Laura Barton of the Guardian’s The view from a broad column will forgive me if I lift wholesale her list of changes supporting women at least as much as men which the Labour Government introduced between 1997 and 2010:
Gender and Equity legislation, 1997 – 2010
* The Forced Marriages Act;
* the minimum wage (which helps around a million people, around two-thirds of them women);
* more than 120 specialist domestic violence courts;
* 28 sexual assault referral centres;
* the right to request flexible working for those with caring responsibilities;
* the Pension Credit;
* free bus passes for over-60s;
* pension reforms that will allow a million more people to accumulate a state second pension;
* the Health in Pregnancy Grant (£190 for each woman);
* maternity leave increased from18 weeks to 12 months;
* paternity and adoption leave;
* greatly improved breast cancer treatment … and much more.
Plus, let us not forget the previous tranches of legislation which have enabled women to play their part in civic life and the formal economy, as well as in the home.
In 1974 maternity leave was just four weeks – a useless amount of time for most of us to establish that precious mother-baby relationship and recover to full strength – and women had to give notice of ‘retiring’ even before their babies had safely arrived… The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act was ground-breaking in its defence of women’s rights in the home and in the workplace.
And before that we had the benefits of the Welfare State and the National Health Service, in that reforming post-War period of 1945-8.
But still, after the 2010 elections, only 21% of MPs are female.
The Fawcett Society estimates that at current rates of progress it may take the Labour Party 20 years yet to establish an equal gender split amongst its MPs.
Scandalously, gender equality for the Liberal Democrats at current rates may take twice that long; and the Conservatives are so relaxed (?) on this issue that they could take some four centuries to achieve the same.
Can there be any excuse at all for this foot-dragging and delay? I truly and deeply think not.
Sonia Sotomayor is the lawyer and judge who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the bench of the American Supreme Court. This week Judge Sotomayor has been grilled at a senate hearing about her suitability for the post. She is also Hispanic and a woman. This it seems gives rise to fears by interrogating Senators that her judgements may differ from those made previously.
Social Inclusion & Diversity
The hearings on whether Sonia Sotomayor should become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court have been both predictable and in some ways depressing: her eleven inquisitors include just two women and the dialogue has reflected this.
Obama’s broad church
On the other hand President Obama, in nominating Judge Sotomayor, has demonstrated again (as he has with other appointments, such as that of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the post of Secretary of State) that he intends his administration to be a broad church, inclusive of the talents of people of many sorts.
It’s interesting that Sonia Sotomayor was able, in sworn evidence, to affirm that the President did not ask her personal views on matters such as abortion and gun control – issues which persistently appear in every hearing for appointments to the Supreme Court. Nor, apparently, do Sotomayor and Obama agree about the relevance or otherwise of ‘empathy’ in legal judgement (she says she puts it aside; he sees it as relevant).
The obstacles of gender and ethnicity – and class?
It looks increasingly likely that Judge Sotomayor’s appointment will be confirmed. After the usual party political jostling, significant Republicans on the panel have indicated they will not oppose her nomination.
But why, and how, do these people think it appropriate to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor’s gender and ethnicity are critical issues which might mitigate in the future against fair and transparent interpretation of the law?
Sotomayor’s personal background is not unlike that of Obama; her early life, living in public housing in the Bronx, was uncompromisingly unprivileged. Perhaps social class also plays an unacknowledged part here. The Republicans amongst the Senators grilling her are not of the Grand Old Party (GOP) for nothing.
Privileged white men
But surely even they can see that the Supreme Court has thus far been an enclave of privileged white men? In its entire history it has been administered by 111 justices, only two of them so far women (the majority of the population), and none Hispanic (the fastest growing ethnic group in the USA).
Perhaps the Supreme Court has always adhered to interpretation of the law, with no fear or favour (though frightening statistics on what sorts of criminals are not excused judicial slaughter, for instance, might suggest otherwise).
But as far as I can tell, not many of these white, male, privileged nominations for the Supreme Court have been quizzed for days and days about whether their personal demographic provenance will endanger justice for all US citizens.
Politics and competencies
Assurances of propriety and competence are essential before any Supreme Court justice is appointed. Party political posturing is inescapably part of the game.
It’s a ritual of Supreme Court nomination that questions have to be asked about every imaginable variable, and that Senators at the hearing go to extraordinary lengths not to set procedural precedence which they may later find uncomfortable.
Striking failures of insight
But, glaring omissions of insight about how and by what sorts of people the US law and constitution have been determined in the past…..?
Small wonder during her inquisition that Judge Sotomayor has stuck unservingly to the position simply that: “The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law.”
I’m not a US citizen, but I am a citizen of a country which, like the US, seeks, in however flawed a way, to achieve fairness and equality. That fundamental – and perhaps intended? – apparent omission of insight on the part of Sonia Sotomayor’s inquisitors I find downright bizarre.
Read more about Social Inclusion & Diversity and Political Process & Democracy.
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day, an occasion to look both back and forward. We have here some photos and text reminding us gently how grim life was for working class women and children in the mills (and often for their mining menfolk too) a mere century ago. Happily, Wigan Pier and the canals are now a tourist destination alongside a modern Investment Centre; but around 1910 a different story – not least about the uses of water – was being told. The challenge remains to secure the same progress as we’ve seen here, in ensuring healthy and constructive lives for women and their families everywhere across the globe.
Here’s the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:
When cotton was king
as told by a cotton worker circa 1910
It’s hot int’ mill wi’ lots o’ noise. On a nice day, we’ll take our lunch ont’ towpath an’ eat snaps* from’t snaps tins.
It’s a 5-and-a-half day week for us cotton workers, that’s 12 hours a day and half a day on Saturday.
We’ve all got nimble fingers , especially the Piecers’. They’re mainly children, who nip under the spinning machines to tie the broken cotton back together again.
Some of us work on the spinning machines and some on the carding machines. The mill takes a raw bale of cotton, cleans it, twists it and spins it into fine yarn.
The humidity in the mill keeps the cotton damp so it’s easier to spin without snapping.
There are five floors of machinery – all powered by the Trencherfield Mill Engine.
The noise is deafening – we stuff cotton from the floor in our ears to protect them. We communicate using ‘Me-Mawing’ – a mixture of sign language and lip reading.
We work in our bare feet because our clogs could spark on the concrete floor and set the cotton bales alight.
We wake early doors to the sound of the Trencherfield steam whistle summonin’ us t’mill for another day. But as they say – England’s bread hangs on Lancashire’s thread.
[* a snack favoured also by the men of Wigan, many of them miners, usually bread-and-dripping, with cold tea, carried in a flat tin called a snap-can - see George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier]
And here is the towpath which a century ago provided fresh air and respite for those mill workers as they ate their lunch-time snaps:
[Public display boards by Wigan Heritage Services]
The power of water
And so, strangely, we come full-circle.
Water – the canals, the steam – was the power behind the early production of textiles, employing many women and children in horrendous conditions, as the full logic of the Industrial Revolution took its vice-like grip on the emerging economies of what we have come to know as the ‘developed world‘; but even now in other parts of the globe water remains both a critical force potentially for good, and often an almost unattainable resource.
Women as water workers
Vast numbers of women and children in the developing world continue to toil many hours a day just to obtain water to sustain their very existence.
Life in places like Wigan was harsh and short for women and men, alike, a century ago. It remains, as Oxfam tells us in the topical context of International Women’s Day, particularly harsh even now for women in places such as Iraq, where water continues to be inaccessible for many.
The gendered meanings of sustainability
This is where we begin to understand what ‘sustainability‘ is really about…. the just and equitable distribution of basic physical resources and accessible socio-economic opportunities, for everyone, women as much as men, the world over.
In terms of future global sustainability and equity, as the Gender and Water Alliance also reminds us, water remains a critically gendered issue.
Read more about Gender & Women and about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water; and see more photographs of around Liverpool & Merseyside.
Josephine Butler House in Liverpool’s Hope Street Quarter is named for the famous social reformer, and the site of the first UK Radium Institute. Latterly an elegant adjunct to Myrtle Street’s The Symphony apartments, it sits opposite the Philharmonic Hall. But the intended ambiance has been ruined by a dismal failure and omission on the part of Liverpool City Council, who have permitted Josephine Butler House to be grimly defaced with little prospect of anything better, or even just intact, taking its place.
The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we’re told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more ‘good, moral people’ from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.
Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a ‘welter of regulation’ cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.
Of course ‘good, moral’ people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of ‘all talents’.
Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.
The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.
Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren’t an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They’re essential.
And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this – applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor – is already in place.
Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.
How do people come to be leaders in their communities? Are they anointed or appointed? Do they take or earn the authority to represent their peers? What are the rationales behind their belief that they should lead? Do others agree? And what are their objectives, and why? It all depends on where you’re coming from, and what sort of ‘community’ it is. So how should those who work in regeneration with communities and their leaders approach this complex and delicate issue?
The answer to these questions is, of course, that there is in fact No One Answer.
People come to be leaders through many different routes. For some authority and legitimacy is always a struggle. For others it just comes with who you are.
Different ‘communities’ for different purposes
This is a tale of different ‘communities‘ in different places and at different times. Some communities are geographically based, some interest based, some economic, some cultural.
‘Communities’ can comprise locations defined by their mono-cultural base (whether Protestant, Punjabi or Presbyterian), whilst at the other end of the spectrum some exist only as loosely connected groups of people who enjoy Politics, Portsmouth City or Painting. Leadership in these different communities will obviously not be of just one kind.
Intentions and expected outcomes
The intended outcomes of the leadership role vary. Some people believe they’re there to uphold tradition and (in their mind) maintain stability in an unstable world. Others seek to be leaders precisely so they can change things.
Traditional leaders and those (at the opposite end of the spectrum) who are of the ‘change the world’ tendency often to see their remit as wide. Others have more piece-meal and modest expectations, perhaps to improve things in a specific and direct way.
Authority to lead
The really interesting thing is that traditionalists and revolutionaries alike usually derive their authority from (what they perceive as) universal social values or mores. But those who seek more modest and specific changes tend to legitimise their positions in reasoned ways, perhaps in terms of the avoidance of harm or similar logically justifiable and rational objectives.
There is a chasm between those who exert overall authority as such – whether to maintain the status quo or radically to alter it – and those who seek to manage specific change, which they believe can be demonstrated to be for the better.
And these forms of influence are not randomly distributed. They tend to be associated with differences in community / cultural experience, age, gender and class. One person’s assumption of power and influence may well become, without any such overt intention, another person’s disempowerment.
Competing beliefs and challenges
Community leadership and wider social interests are sometimes hard to bring together in a world where there are competing beliefs about what legitimate authority in a community might be; and indeed about what constitutes a ‘community’.
Here lies one of the biggest challenges for those of us who seek to work with people in their (and our) own localities. Delivering stability and change together is hard to handle well.
In diversity lies strength?
Where the bottom line is overt – in for instance FTSE 100 Board Rooms – the evidence is incontrovertible, that diversity of gender (e.g. The McKinsey Report: Women Matter) and culture enhances good decision-making.
But how can (or ‘should’) we apply that knowledge in communities where at present the bottom line is not overt (what exactly is being ‘lead’?) and is certainly not up for discussion?
Social Diversity & Inclusion
‘Workable’ Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (‘Regeneration Rethink’)