Minding your language in the workplace

Tuesday, 1st October 2019

Blog by pro-manchester Comms Manager, Mel Hill

Last week, we welcomed a full house at Mills and Reeve for our Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity committee’s event – ‘Minding Your Language in the Workplace’

A diverse panel, chaired by Heather Lacey – Eversheds Sutherland welcomed Simone Roche MBE – Founder and CEO, Northern Power Women; Peter Fahy – Chair, We Stand Together; Natasha Broomfield-Reid – Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing Lead, Mills & Reeve and Graham Helm – National Doorstep Sport Advisor, StreetGames.

The panel discussed the challenges businesses face as their workforce diversifies. The use of language in the workplace; what we say, how we say it and who we say it to can have a significant impact on our own behaviour and the behaviour of those around us.

Graham Helm has worked in youth work for over 10 years and sadly lost his sight, leaving him with some significant challenges to overcome. Of his disability, Graham says: “I used to work in local authority, where people addressed handbook after handbook in order to ensure they were ‘saying the right thing’ without actually asking me whether I wanted to discuss the subject of my disability.

“It starts with culture in the workplace,” continued Graham. “The trust I have in the world I work in now, where people ask me what they should say about the fact that I am blind rather than referring to a policy is refreshing and also makes for some really interesting conversations. While I can’t join in on the conversation about someone’s new haircut, it doesn’t mean people can’t have that conversation because I’m ‘excluded’.”

“It’s okay to ask yourself ‘can I say that?’” says Simone Roche. “It’s important to open that space and ensure you’re asking whether someone is comfortable with your language.”

“How can individuals create solid relationships in the workplace?” asked our chair, Heather Lacey.

“Every business has visions and values but as an organisation are you living and breathing by this? If you’re not empowering your team, it’s not going to work,” continued Simone.

Inclusive workplaces don’t happen quickly. Learning about individuals’ differences and ensuring those differences are explored and catered to are key.

Natasha Broomfield-Reid reiterated this point: “Embedding an inclusive culture isn’t going to happen overnight – it’s a long process. You need to allow those open conversations and discussions that enable us to learn together as an organisation.

“Nobody expects their workplace to have an incredibly inclusive and diverse workplace straight away, but what people – particularly millennials – want to see is that their workplace is driving that change and making a real difference to its workforce.”

Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police spoke openly and honestly about the struggles he had with institutionalisation while at the force.

“You have to start by understanding the culture of your organisation. Who are the significant people who may not align with new structures or changes? They are the people you need to speak with and understand why they may not want to open up the inclusivity conversation and ask why they are pushing back against it too.

“Being flexible with how you approach people is the most important thing you can do, particularly as a manager. People in different roles, from different backgrounds or different cultures will react to your language entirely differently.

“As Chief Constable, I could be in the Home Office one day and in a drug raid the next. In these situations, as you can imagine, I had to adapt massively. They were entirely different environments where my language and persona were completely different.

“This can be compared with an office where you may have people from BAME, LGBT+, disabled or other backgrounds and how you speak to them should be adapted accordingly. At the end of the day, if you show that interest and humility people will welcome it.”

A hugely insightful evening, which has received excellent feedback and opened up an important conversation between business leaders in the room.

If you’d like more information on what our Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity committee is up to, please get in touch with Claire Turnbull on claire.turnbull@pro-manchester.co.uk