Oh no! Not another equality and diversity workshop. Or is it?
As a trainer over the years I have overheard all sorts of comments before the start of an equality, diversity and inclusion workshop. Ranging from the enthusiastic to the deeply sceptical, and lots more in between (and some unrepeatable to the sensitive ear!) I have also become accustomed to people being pleasantly surprised and sometimes even amazed that it is possible to learn something new about a subject many people think they already know so well. Because let’s face it, almost everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to fairness, equality and what we should be doing.
I am also passionate about learning. Not only offering other people opportunities to learn, but also my own. And for the past 20 years I have been continuously exploring, learning about and applying different ways to create the kind of workplace (and world) where we can all thrive. And I have made a remarkable discovery. A finding that has changed not only my practice as an educator, but also my outlook on life and how fairness and inclusion can be achieved in a world that seems to struggle to be the kind of place I want my children and children’s children to grow up in.
So what is this surprising unearthing that has made such difference? And if it is so remarkable why is it not more popular? But excitingly, but for very different reasons, it is. So what is it?
A simple practice that has been popularised for it’s widely acknowledged stress reducing and wellbeing benefits, this simple practice of paying attention to the present moment and stepping out of autopilot, is also now linked with reducing the harmful effects of conscious and unconscious bias, improving intercultural relationships and promoting acts of compassion toward strangers. And there is more. Mindfulness is fast becoming an important way of equipping people with the emotional intelligence needed to work with topics that can be emotive, no more so than matters relating to bias and inclusion. I have experienced the benefits of mindfulness in tackling sensitive topics both personally and when training and coaching others. The beauty of a mindful orientation to supporting change is that it’s gentle accepting approach to exploring personal worldviews, offers a gateway to go beyond our natural defensiveness when confronted with our own bias unconscious, to gently ‘leaning in’ and connecting with our deepest core values, and enabling our natural kindness and compassion to arise when we encounter the distress of others (and our own). In short mindfulness helps us be less overwhelmed by strong emotions, and to be fully engaged and present with situations that require our attention and considered action.
Finally, a great feature of mindfulness is that it is simple to learn, and with practise and the right kind of support, its benefits, including being more responsive and inclusive toward others, can be experienced within a very short space of time. And through the lens of mindfulness people can begin to be more attentive to the realities of bias and their effects, to act to support those in need, and promote greater inclusion in the workplace and beyond.