Diversity Challenge

Gail McCarthy

Smart Communities Ltd (SCL) like many organisations within Somerset want to improve the representation of the communities we provide services for. We want to start a conversation about how we can create more space within our governing structures for more diverse lived experiences enabling meaningful contributions and more participation from the communities we work with.

I was going to continue this piece by outlining the reasons why all within SCL value diversity and give examples of how diversity is integral to all our work and how our values and mission are intertwined with the core principles of fairness, equality, and belief in challenging oppression and discrimination wherever we encounter it.

This piece was going to be about why this is not a tick box one off attempt to diversify our Board but about embedding it within our mission as an organisation.

I was going to talk about these challenges then I attended a Diversity celebration event in Bridgwater in October 2022. Now, I want to talk about this which is at the heart of why our Diversity Challenge is needed now more than ever.

Bridgwater Together was a well-attended and supported event due to the excellent co-ordination and organisation by our very own Somerset Diverse Communities team and our partner organisations. But what really brought it together was the many diverse communities living and working in Sedgemoor and Somerset that came together to share their culture, food, creativity, and their everyday lived experience. Amongst the colourful costumes, the tasty dishes of food, the displays of art and live performances from many ethnicities living and working in Somerset I watched a line of people stand up on stage with placards some of them children. Each placard told a story of recent incidents within the area they live.

The placards told of individual racial insults, assaults, and discrimination.

One woman told of how she could not protect her child of five years of age from derogatory comments about the colour of her skin in a crowded shopping area. No one supported her or spoke up, everyone looked away whilst she had to explain to her small child why people are making cruel remarks related to the colour of her young child’s skin.

The woman then asked the audience “What are you going to do about this?”

What struck me most was that the people in the room were probably all allies of the woman and that the real power of what these placards were saying would never be heard by the preparators of such mindless discriminatory comments and acts. This is the issue how do we as allies of those that are being persecuted and oppressed stand up alongside and how can we help make the change needed?

What are we going to do? What will I do?

I would ask each of us who work and live within our communities to think about how we can bring the stories on the placards to those who need to hear them and influence the change we need to achieve.

There is little point in telling someone something is not acceptable unless you are prepared to have a discussion as to why it is not acceptable.

Getting beyond comments and understanding why someone thinks as they do, can provide an opportunity to have a conversation about where a belief or view originated. This can encourage discussion and dispel myths and unfounded views about minority groups. It allows for reflection and facts to be shared enabling the possibility of more positive beliefs and views.

Through our conversations, our interactions, and our modelling of positive behaviours and views we can do something.

I ask you again on behalf of the people with the placards at a celebration event for Diversity. What can you do?