Barry Phillips Speech from NI Equality & Diversity Awards 2018

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 25 March 2018

"Lord Lieutenant, ladies and gentlemen good evening.

Welcome to these Gala Awards and thank you so much for supporting this event.

May I say a big thank you right at the start to our main sponsors this evening Diamond Recruitment and Jones Cassidy Brett solicitors and I’d also like to thank Mukesh Sharma for his early support for the Gala.

And, of course, I must say, good luck to everyone in for the awards this evening.

So what is tonight all about? It’s basically two things:

  1. First marking how far we have come on our journey towards greater equality and diversity in Northern Ireland. Granted we have some distance to go. But tonight is about remembering just how far we’ve come. Where we are now is unrecognisable compared to where we were 30 years ago, 20 years ago or even just a decade ago.
  2. Secondly, tonight is about recognising the great work being done by employers and by individuals here in the area of Equality and Diversity. We know from studying the impact of equality legislation since the 70s that activity to improve equality issues at work change things for the better inside the workplace but outside too in the wider community. This is really important. In the absence of any effective government here the significance of the work of employers and individuals to drive us towards greater diversity in Northern Ireland cannot be overstated.

Early activity addressing equality issues rightly focused on what might be said to be called overt or conscious discrimination. Now, much of the activity as you’ll know, is directed at what is commonly referred to as unconscious discrimination or unconscious bias.

I want to ask you all something about unconscious bias in a moment but first of all I’d like to play you a video clip of an interview that took place last year between a BBC Journalist and an expert on Korea. Some of you may have already seen the clip. As you’ll discover the interview didn’t quite go as planned.

I’m sure everyone will agree that the expert did very well to keep his composure in the circumstances. But my question is this. How did the nanny do? Did she do well in the circumstances?

Actually these are trick questions because there was no nanny in the video. But perhaps you, like many online that chatted about the video afterwards, made a snap judgement, your unconscious bias kicked in and led you to what you thought was a reasonable but ultimately wrong conclusion. The lady in the video was the expert’s wife, an assumption you could also have made bearing in mind he was introduced as an expert on Korea and someone likely to have spent time in that country, she appeared of Korean decent and their children of mixed race.

The approach of unconscious bias is to recognise we all have these biases, a really important first step before we then set about working out how to tackle them.

One employer I’m aware of in NI doing interesting things to tackle unconscious bias is the Ulster Orchestra. Their MD is in the process of setting up blind auditions for new members of the orchestra as one measure of a number to tackle their current gender imbalance of 60% males in the orchestra. Who knows may be they will be here next year up for an award.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a word that perhaps I can ask you to think about afterwards.  The word is this: “Homophily”.

Homophily may be a word that’s new to you but I can tell you we all suffer from it in this room. It refers to the faintly depressing tendency of human beings to seek out and surround themselves by people like themselves. We all do this because we want to feel normal and the best way to achieve this is to have people around us similar to us.

On one level it’s a fairly innocuous habit. But there’s research that suggests that when it comes to decision taking if we surround ourselves by people like ourselves our decisions tend to be more conservative, more risk averse, less adventurous.

If it’s right that in Northern Ireland we need bold decision takers be it in the political or business world then this has to be the best argument for diversity that can be made.

I want to leave you all with a challenge this evening: to see if you can do some sort of homophilic exorcism on yourself!

I’d like to invite you to step right out of your normal circle of people sometime this evening and go look for someone who is nothing like you! Find them at the bar, chase them in the toilets, introduce yourself to them in the queue later at the ticket machine in the car park – you’ll never get a better chance to improve the diversity of those in your world than tonight. We’ve got Columbians here, Latvians, Indians, West Indians, able bodied and not so able bodied, transsexuals, gay people, not so gay people, straight people, humanists, popular rists! The whole shebang!

I like to play you now another video on behalf of the judges for the Awards tonight.

Before I do this I’d just like to say:

Lord Lieutenant, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.

I really hope you have a great evening."

Note: View the full list of winners, highly commended and shortlisted organisations, along with our video highlights reel.

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This article is correct at 25/03/2018
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