#BREAKTHEBIAS … because #ITSNOTOK
It is Time – No More Prejudice! No More Inequalities!
If we want to create a more equal society, we need to #breakthebias – the often-unconscious biases that influence our professional and personal interactions. Part of doing this is learning about empathy and understanding of gender diversity, non-binary genders, and the LGBTQIA+ population.
This is how Shared Value Africa Initiative (SVAI) CEO and activist, Tiekie Barnard prepped the virtual stage for a lively discussion at a recent #breakthebias webinar hosted by the SVAI, founders of the GBVF #ITSNOTOK movement, and supported by Mercedes-Benz South Africa.
The webinar brought together speakers and participants from across the corporate, academic and LGBTIQA+ community spectrums and the African continent.
Appropriately themed: It is time – No More Prejudice. No More Inequalities, the discussion placed the spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community and centred on what individuals and organisations can do to help break the biases we navigate the world with – biases based on assumptions, beliefs or attitudes can be incredibly hurtful to others.
“Regardless of any particular reference to gender, we should make room for one another and acknowledge individual impact and contribution,” said Abey Kgotle, Executive Director Human Resources and Corporate Affairs at Mercedes-Benz South Africa. “We must strive, each and every day, to break the bias that society has weighed on people. We all have the capability to appreciate, accept and love the next person. This notion moves beyond tolerance. This capability should not be marked with specific conditions.”
However, in order to have a sustainable approach to dealing with the biases that exist, one needs to firstly address the historic systemic and structural barriers, noted Nene Molefi, a respected author, owner and CEO of Mandate Molefi Consultants.
More importantly, she added, given attitudinal challenges on a daily basis, the issue of psychological safety is of paramount importance – a safe space for interpersonal risk taking. People must be able to bring their whole self to work, without fearing that they’ll be humiliated or isolated or rejected because of who they are. Finally, we also have to address the issue of intersectionality – because even within the LGBTQIA+ community, there is also discrimination with regards to the intersections of race and class.
Abey noted the importance of corporate culture in helping organisations to address diversity and inclusion. At Mercedes-Benz South Africa, the cardinal values of passion, respect, integrity and discipline underpin how everyone engages and identifies – he singled out respect as one of the core values and human rights of an inclusive society.
Embracing the spirit of Ubuntu is the key to humankind standing together regardless of background, personal preferences or beliefs, according to Sphelele Nxumalo (Rooi), Outreach Coordinator at the Uthingo Network. “Human dignity must always be at the core of our actions, thoughts, and deeds when interacting with others.”
Sadly, as Sixolile Mabombo, non-executive board member of Uthingo Africa pointed out, there is still a lot to be done about just welcoming people in all their diversity, in all spaces, and being able to exist without having to deal with the microaggressions that occur every day. “We end up seeking safe enclaves of spaces, where we can simply be and exist – this is not a common experience across all of South African society,” they said.
A noteworthy point was the responsibility each of us as has to educate family, friends, colleagues and our broader community. “Together we can achieve great things, but change starts with me, it starts with you, and it starts with us,” said Abey.
Throughout the discussion, recurring themes were integrity, understanding, compassion and education. As pointed out by the panel, part of trying to break the bias is addressing what is on people’s minds and being able to have this type of conversation in a safe way and in a safe space.
In fact, education was seen as instrumental if we are to successfully abolish the system of homophobia, which perpetuates marginalization and discrimination in society as well as within the workplace.
As pointed out by Prof Corné Davis of the University of Johannesburg: “Much of the fear, stigmatization and discrimination is because people simply don’t know. If we want to progress with social inclusion, we need to address the knowledge gap, which is a top global sustainability objective and one that is not yet an integral part of either our tertiary or corporate dialogues.”
Considerable work remains to be done within educational spaces, added Chiedza Skyum, Programme Lead: Global Challenges Faculty at the Africa Leadership University. “We need to be able to foster safe communities that can connect online, ensuring students feel supported wherever they are. The reality is that education must move beyond the constraints of the traditional places of learning – the educational institutions themselves to influence and have the broader community become part of a learning experience.”
Similarly, education is equally vital within the political sphere to ensure the highest decision-making levels within a country embrace inclusive policies that speaks to the issues that the LGBTQIA+ community are facing.
“It is important for politicians and for government to address policy issues that speak to and find ways of helping the LGBTQIA+ community and, in particular, support for dealing with the hate crimes that, for example, the LGBTQIA+ community is facing in South Africa,” said Bulelani Mzila, a gender diversity political activist and founder of Isibani Civil Society Forum.
During the panel discussion it was evident that leadership is of paramount importance in breaking the bias. In particular those who are in a position to guide the direction that the organisation can take with regards to requirements for policies, practices and systems that can help to eliminate and break the bias.
But, as Sixolile rightly said: “In the end, even as leadership start to address the systemic issues and the policies that govern interactions between staff, each person will still bring their own bias into the workplace and it’s nearly impossible to eradicate it all.”
“Truly breaking the bias will be when any individual can walk into any space, anywhere and just be received as a human being first and foremost, beyond anything else of how they express themselves in the rest of their identity,” Sixolile concluded.