The exclusive nature of inclusion
Jackie Handy tells DIVA why inclusion is a journey we are all on together, and a journey we must all take ownership of, at that...
I’m a 45-year-old lesbian from Birmingham in the West Midlands, and I've experienced discrimination and prejudice in many forms.
There were some great pros to growing up in the 70s and 80s – both decades where outdoor leisure time was the norm and I could ride my bike down hills with my coat hood clinging to my head, blowing like a superhero's cape in the western wind.
But, the 70s and 80s also represented a time where exclusion was the norm.
Women were (even more) objectified, gays and lesbians stereotyped, black and ethnic minorities ridiculed on our TV screens, and if you suffered with a physical or mental disability, you were probably largely misunderstood.
At five years old, I had my first experience with discrimination (although back then I saw it just as kids being mean).
I had a squint in my left eye which caused it to turn inwards, and so I looked a little different from the other kids from the other kids on my street. I was also the only kid in the street going off to Catholic school. Names like "bonk eye" and "bible-basher" were the labels I was given – just because I was different.
At 15, my world almost fell apart. I had battled for years with my inner sexuality demons, finally coming out as a 15-year-old. Big mistake… huge.
Many of my so-called school friends felt labels such as, "lesbo", "lemon", "Jif", "lezza" (and worse) were appropriate descriptors of my difference. Despite this bullying, I made it through – my (more mature) friends and importantly, my family, helped me through.
Now aged 45, I look back at those years of bullying, mockery and whispered conversations with sadness. Not sadness from my perspective, but with sadness for the bullies themselves.
Amongst other things, I’m a master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and I’m very aware of how the language we use influences our feelings and our behaviours. I’m also aware that we learn language from the words we hear around us every day...
My story demonstrates just how parents, teachers and society in general needs to think much more consciously about the words we use around our children and the negative labels we attach to the differences in our diverse world.
I’ve spent time in and out of the closet and in fact, didn’t fully come out in the workplace until my late 30s – fearful that somehow the bullying of the past would rear its head again, limiting my chances of success in the corporate world. Was it the right decision? I don’t know. But for me, it was the only way I could cope.
My career took me into the world of recruitment, staff engagement and learning and development. A world filled with diversity in all its forms. A world where talent and potential talent comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and genders.
It was in this environment that I finally found my voice and was able to share my story and thoughts on using the "sins of the past" to frame true inclusion in the future.
In September 2018, I delivered my first TEDx talk in Telford, entitled "the exclusive nature of inclusion". It focuses on the fact that although grand corporate gestures surrounding diversity and inclusion are welcome, there are small steps we can all take to help the cause.
Developing an understanding of what it feels like to walk in the shoes of someone in a different social group to our own, on top of a conscious mindfulness of the language and labels we use in our homes and in our workplaces, are both simple ways to start.
Honestly? I felt naked on that stage – completely exposed to the world with its labelling and its judgements. Yet what I experienced that day was pure acceptance and love. Raw emotions visible from a tear-filled crowd, and a standing ovation that reminded me that my decision to speak at TEDx was the right one.
I’m a 45-year-old lesbian from Birmingham. I’m just like many of you reading this and I have probably experienced similar prejudice in this world. But finally at 45 I truly know that this world is (mainly) full of kind, caring, inclusive people.
Inclusion is a journey we are all on together, and we must all take ownership of its success. It’s not important that we all stand on stages delivering talks about our experiences, but it is vital that we all take small steps to collectively make a big difference.
What will your next step be?
Jackie Handy has supported hundreds of individuals in numerous organisations around the world in accelerating performance and enhancing workforce engagement through her consultancy, Runway Global. She lives in Worcestershire with her wife Shar and their cockerpoo, Barnaby.
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