19th June 2021

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Nigel Owens MBE shares his insight on inclusivity and the biggest threat to society

NIGEL Owens MBE is many things: the most capped referee in international rugby history, a speaker and educator on depression, eating disorders and addiction, hasta’s mental health and inclusivity ambassador, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. President of Wellbeing at hasta World, Dylan Salamon, asked the rugby legend to share his thoughts on the state of inclusivity, how to get more people onboard and the biggest threat to society.

Nigel said: “Pride month is a hugely important time for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate and be celebrated. It’s a time to rejoice our freedom from discrimination and honour our differences as a collective. To be truly inclusive is to accept our differences, be treated the same and not impose our opinion on others. It is when we force, not encourage, that we enter a space where we can face resistance.

“It should go without saying that in 2021 everyone, not just leaders, needs to address homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism in a zero tolerance manner. The most effective way to achieve widespread tolerance, in my opinion, is to understand where that view came from, even if I am wholly against it. Is it cultural? Are those words used flippantly among family and friends without any knowledge of the gravitas they hold? In what context were these offensive remarks said? To be inclusive is to educate, not cancel.

“Extremism is the number one threat to society and ultimately to inclusivity. Be it religious, political left or political right, extremism in any design removes the opportunity to converse and learn from each other. Of course, there are words that are offensive and outright wrong to say or antiquated ways of thinking that we do not need to regurgitate. Where we are sometimes failing is cancelling people immediately and calling them out on their transgression before we understand their perspective. Rather than call out and alienate, ask and educate, make them included in the conversation. In this way, I believe we will succeed in respect and true inclusivity. When we have respect for our way of life and respect for our opinions, this paves the way for society to move forward in a more inclusive way.

“A few years ago, I was speaking at an event hosted by a corporate company about inclusivity and my own journey. An employee, who was visibly conflicted, sought me out afterwards. They expressed they were torn between their beliefs, how they felt after my speech and about me; to be pro LGBTQ+ is to denounce their religion. I quietly said, “The fact that you don’t actively hate is enough. Acceptance of my existence and letting me be is enough”. Whilst you may not agree with this thinking and the rigid pillars of scriptures, its imperative we use encouragement and respect to cultivate conversations with people from all walks of life. This is a long journey and we don’t want to drag people with us, we want those who will follow us instead.

“As leaders, we need to encourage acceptance and ensure the same opportunities are available for all, regardless of our differences. This comes with the understanding that sometimes when we wanted to be treated the same, we need to be treated differently.

“If you had an employee that physically could not reach the canteen on a higher floor but there was a ‘no food at your desk’ policy, you cannot deny that person their lunch hour. So what do you do? You can tailor procedures to ensure that person has their rights; install a lift or allow them to eat at their desk with another staff member. Same rights – just treated differently.

“I’ve worked with a number of different organisations in a staggeringly varied range of sectors. Companies that operate in the industrial and agricultural sector are leading the way in inclusivity best practise – I’m sure your own unconscious bias would not have placed these sectors up there.

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“The workplace needs to be an environment for all staff to feel safe and themselves. No one should be judged and there shouldn’t be a perceived norm. By ensuring that people are treated the same, we don’t alienate and, instead, grow positive and long lasting relationships. Inclusivity is straightforward: safety for all.

“You can show support and allyship in a very simple way: do not spread hate. Challenge derogatory language and educate. If someone makes a mistake, forgive and establish a space where mindsets can change and one that cultivates acceptance. Over the coming months I will be working with hasta, driving the inclusivity agenda and helping leaders reach their goals and learn how to communicate to employees regarding mental health and diversity.

“We have come such a long way, there is still more to do. Lets get as many people on the team as possible.”

 

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