Chronicles of Bravery

Published on: Mon 25 January 2021 by Claudia Cooney

2020’s Real-Life Lessons in Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, and Predictions for 2021

Only a few weeks ago, the entire global population rejoiced in the celebration of the new year. 2020 marked a time in history like no other; and its ramifications continue to rock the very core of communities, worldwide.

But whilst the last year was unmistakably defined by a global pandemic, it also paved a way for monumental success stories. These real-life examples (from real-life leaders) represent equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in the brightest light; and certainly provide today’s organisations with serious food for thought.

In-line with the exciting launch of RightTrack Learning’s new, purpose-driven ethos of “Be Brave”, we’re rounding up 2020’s biggest moments of bravery. These mini-chronicles not only showcase EDI, but provide lessons in how workplaces just like yours can fully commit to equality, diversity, and inclusion practices in 2021.

Last Year’s Top 4 Chronicles of Bravery

1. Kenneth Felts Came Out at the Age of 90

90 year-old Kenneth Felts thought he would take his secret about being gay “to the grave”. But in April 2020, when Colorado USA went into lockdown, Felts found himself home alone; and writing memoirs to pass the time.

One of Felts’s fondest memoirs was about the first love of his life, Phillip – whom he had met over 60 years ago, at his then workplace, The Credit Retail Company.

Phillip helped Felts with writing his reports; and the two soon started dating and became a couple. However, the couple’s happiness (back then) was short-lived, due to their Christian upbringing and the reception homosexuality generally received, in the sixties.

Despite knowing he was gay form the age of twelve, Felts ended his relationship with Phillip after just one month of dating – but forever kept a flame alight in his heart.

It was in April 2020, when Felts reportedly, found himself saying to his daughter “I wish I had never left Phillip”, out of the blue.

This sparked an honest conversation; and lead to Felts announcing his sexual identity, to his family, friends, and numerous connections on Facebook.

The 90 year-old’s revelation was welcomed and massively celebrated, nationwide. Last year, Felts attended the Virtual Pride Festival for the first time as an (out) gay man, and claimed that he had “Never felt so free”, whilst wearing an iconic rainbow-coloured hoodie.

With some help, Felts even managed to track Phillip’s recent whereabouts down; but Phillip had sadly, already passed away a few years ago. However, this brave leader has no regrets about coming out publicly; and essentially, going viral. It has made him realise how much love and acceptance there is in the world.

Kenneth Felts’s remarkable story is testament to how human beings have come leaps and bounds where acceptance and inclusivity is concerned. Now moving towards a full century of his life, Felts finally feels liberated, and this will have a direct (positive) impact on his mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

2. UK Supermarkets United After Sainsbury’s Advert Prompts Racism

In November 2020, Sainsbury’s aired a Christmas advert which was met with racist abuse on social media.

The advert showed a father and daughter talking over the phone and looking forward to the festive celebrations. This was interspersed with flashbacks of past family Christmases – while the father boasted about making the best gravy.

This perfectly wonderful tribute to family bonding during the Christmas season, sparked outrage across parts of the UK.

The reason? The family featured in the advert, just so happened to be black.

Astonishingly, some viewers took to Twitter to complain about how Sainsbury’s had completely “Alienated the few white remaining customers they had”, whilst others made comments such as “You may as well rename yourself Blackbury’s”. (Source: The Independent).

Rachael Eyre, Head of Brand Communications and Creative at Sainsbury’s backed the company’s Christmas adverts by stating, “We strive to be an inclusive retailer and we’re proud to unite with our industry colleagues to stand up against racism. We’re passionate about reflecting modern Britain and celebrating the diversity of the communities we serve, from our advertising to the products we sell.”

Following the online backlash, other leading supermarkets including Aldi, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, and Tesco united back in November to take a stand; and ran their adverts back-to-back during two primetime slots on Channel 4. The supermarkets proudly used the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism – and their collective spirit spoke volumes, as these competitors would normally completely avoid airing their ads so close together.

This brave comeback against racism was more than just a viral good will gesture from these companies. By actively speaking against the discriminatory complaints about Sainsbury’s, the brands have presented themselves as being socially responsible, likeable, and genuinely compassionate.

3. Elliot Page Announced that He’s Transgender in a Powerful Letter

In what was probably, one of the most heartwarming letters of 2020, Elliot Page shared that he is transgender back in December 2020; and that his preferred pronouns are “he” and “they”.

The Oscar-nominated star of Juno, Whip It, and Netflix’s Umbrella Academy bravely shared the news with fans across Instagram and Twitter, and described his joy as being “fragile”. He has long-feared the violence and discrimination against the trans community, and poignantly referred to the staggering number of transgender people who have been murdered in 2020 alone (many of whom were Black and Latino trans women).

The digital letter, as well as the follow-up “thank you” posts, attracted millions of Likes and colossal, worldwide engagement from supportive fans. The actor was congratulated by other celebrities including Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, and RuPaul’s Drag Race star, Peppermint. His wife fondly wrote that he is “a gift to the world” and has been exceptionally proud of his honesty and courage.

Page’s announcement is reportedly, a historic moment for trans masculine visibility (across the globe). Whilst the media coverage of his story hasn’t been perfect, the reception has been largely positive and respectful.

IMDb – which only recently changed its policy around publishing trans actors’ birth names – were quick to change all of Page’s credits and pronouns, as did Wikipedia and Netflix. Outlets used the actor’s correct pronouns when reporting the news; and most headlines avoided using his former name.

Compared to the story of Caitlyn Jenner, for example (who came out as trans in 2015), Page’s announcement has come in a vastly different media landscape. This is a marked improvement, ushered in by years of tireless work by trans activists and educators. Might this be another gesture towards a world that is entirely evolving, for the better?

4. The Black Lives Matter Movement and Death of George Floyd, Made History

On May 25th, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46 year-old black man. This was following a 911 call from a convenience store employee, who reported that Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.

Just seventeen minutes after the first police car arrived at the scene, Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers – showing no signs of life.

The victim’s confirmed cause of death was asphyxiation, something that is morbidly easy to remember, as the year 2020 (upon its darkest reflection) is somewhat synonymous with the single phrase: “I can’t breathe”.

The historic death of George Floyd last year, ignited a wave of global protests (which remain active and at their peak today); and catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement.

Whilst the BLM movement has been standing-up against an issue that has arguably, plagued the human race for decades – in the year 2020, BLM achieved significant “wins”, for lack of better word.

This, most importantly, started off with the arrest and subsequent charge of the police officers responsible for Floyd’s death. But that’s not all – protestors from every corner of the world have shown solidarity and demanded that governments actively put an end to police brutality and institutional racism.

In 2020, celebrities donated millions of pounds to BLM’s affiliated organisations and remarkably, CEOs have resigned to make way for black leaders. Regardless of their perceived stature, some brands have been publicly called out for their lack of diversity; and statues of colonialists and slave traders have been toppled.

Since Floyd’s death, and the increased magnitude of Black Lives Matter, people (and organisations) have reflected on their unintentional “racial ignorance”; and more and more workplaces have actively made lasting changes for the purpose of racial equality; and are continuing to hold themselves accountable for racial bias.

Even outside of diversity and inclusion, the BLM movement, as a result of Floyd’s death, has been a standout moment of 2020. It provides lifetime lessons that all organisations – of any industry – should without fail, take heed of.

Join the Movement and Be Brave too: How You & Your Workplace Can Support Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.

The topic of equality, diversity, and inclusion is no longer just “nice to discuss” in HR meetings, over cups of coffee.

As our Chronicles of Bravery show, the dynamics of the workplace are changing. In fact, it’s reported that organisations are welcoming a rising number of Gen Z workers – who are known to value a work-life balance and team wellbeing, more than anything else.

With this in mind, companies need to have firm practises in place, that fully support EDI. Not only will this forge a positive workplace culture, but it will nurture better brand recognition, likeablility, and even long-term profitability.

But where do organisations like yours begin? As well as sparking some inspiration with our Chronicles of Bravery, we’ve taken the liberty of asking a few leading EDI professionals for their valuable insights (and actionable advice).

Talmud Bah: Senior EDI Consultant at RightTrack Learning

Q) In your opinion, what are the “hot topics” around Diversity & Inclusion in 2021?

EDI isn’t a new topic. For instance, the George Floyd movement propelled EDI; but with BAME communities at the helm of it. So that would be one of the “hot topics” for me – but we must remember, that this is the start of a fundamental conversation, not the end.

Q) What are the top 3 actions that organisations should have on their EDI agenda in 2021?

Firstly, recognise that EDI is ongoing development. The second action would be to understand that EDI needs to be embedded from the top down. And finally, be brave and embrace the full inclusive spectrum. Some organisations feel comfortable with sexuality and gender, but shy away from race. Some feel less comfortable with neuro-diversity, but are okay to deal with visible disability, etc. Inclusion means all, diversity means all, equality means all.

Q) What one piece of advice would you give to professionals who want to make a positive impact for EDI in 2021?

I would have to say “remain genuine”. There are many ways to be successful and make a profit; but EDI is so important and super impactful. Essentially, it affects the lives of so many marginalised and isolated groups; and bad practice of it can damage work and deliverables anyway. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true. In that truth, you have intent, passion and drive; enabling you to find the inspiration you need, to essentially change hearts and minds.

Head of Talent at Premier League Football Club

Q) In your opinion, what are the “hot topics” around Diversity & Inclusion in 2021?

“Authentic Allyship”. This means taking an active part in change and not being a passive bystander. This is a movement, not a target.

Q) What are the top 3 actions that organisations should have on their EDI agenda in 2021?

First of all, put it on the agenda at the highest level and keep it there. The second is to think reward, not risk – so many companies are still so worried about what EDI is, they’ll eventually end up being beaten with, as opposed to working from a baseline of the benefits of diversity and inclusion. The final action would be to make a practical plan which others can buy into, and 100% commit to it.

Q) What one piece of advice would you give to professionals who want to make a positive impact for EDI in 2021?

Without a doubt, dial up your curiosity, personal knowledge, and awareness . Activate your allyship – then spark that in those around you!

Claire Bonnet: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Project Officer at University of Birmingham

Q) In your opinion, what are the “hot topics” around Diversity & Inclusion in 2021?

Honestly, I couldn’t choose just one area as there is so much to do and be aware of. 2020 was a devastating year for so many people and I think it highlighted inequalities like never before. Which is a jarring thing to say when you work in this field; but I’ve certainly had conversations with acquaintances, colleagues, and friends about topics that we’d never broached before. Hopefully, 2021 gives us a bit of grace (!) to listen to, and learn from those with lived experiences.

Q) What are the top 3 actions that organisations should have on their EDI agenda in 2021?

Given the increase in people wanting to remain working from home, organisations need to think about how they will ensure their staff remain connected- that would be my first point. Next, is the matter of accessibility and usability, with so many people relying on their laptops, online meetings, and accessing websites for information – we need to question how organisations working towards ensuring they are accessible for all. Lastly, we must plan for a post generational workforce. Today’s workforce spans five generations and this requires organisations to look at their workforce’s needs.

Q) What one piece of advice would you give to professionals who want to make a positive impact for EDI in 2021?

Strive to develop your critical thinking skills, ask the right questions and don’t be scared to get it wrong – just own it when you do.

Paula Whelan: Head of Diversity & Inclusion at RightTrack Learning

Q) In your opinion, what are the “hot topics” around Diversity & Inclusion in 2021?

It’s got to be Conscious Inclusion – as we start 2021, working in the virtual world continues to be the norm for many employees. This can leave people feeling isolated and disconnected from each other and their organisation / company. Leaders and managers therefore must work harder to provide that sense of belonging and feeling of being valued within their staff group. In organisations where some staff are furloughed, some are working remotely and others are on site, this can create divides and build resentment; managers must find ways to consciously include all staff no matter what their working arrangements are.

Q) What are the top 3 actions that organisations should have on their EDI agenda in 2021?

The first would be to review and develop an EDI strategy, with specific actions for the coming 12 months. Next, I would ensure that all staff have received full EDI training, with a focus on creative an inclusive culture – this is so important. And finally, I would advise organisations to revisit their HR policies, and ensure they are fully inclusive.

Q) What one piece of advice would you give to professionals who want to make a positive impact for EDI in 2021?

Research tells us that inappropriate banter has a huge negative impact on individuals, teams, and the business. So, I would strongly urge businesses to equip their managers and supervisors to manage these behaviours so that all staff feel safe and included in their workplace.

Make Braver Decisions for 2021. Keep Equality, Diverstiy & Inclusion at the Core of Your Successful Workplace

Following one of the most divisive and difficult years in history, has come an ever-increased opportunity for learning and positive change.

Whilst the real-life stories of bravery have painted a more than inspiring picture, the responsibility for nurturing equality, diversity, and inclusion lies with each and every individual, across every respective workplace.

The professional landscape has evolved. Recent history tells us that some of the biggest brands in the world have taken accountability for their soft, workplace practises and are no longer trivialising EDI and matters of social responsibility.

You could argue that it is somewhat startling, that organisations (essentially made up of people), have taken decades to prioritise these very people’s wellbeing, dignity, and human rights. But, we can take great solace in knowing that organisations – and global communities at large – are now making a huge effort to actively promote inclusivity in a meaningful way.

In many ways, the answer is simple. But as with any revolutionary change in life, the journey requires consistency, communication, and perhaps even moments of discomfort. This is exactly why we refer to it as Being Brave, because only the brave have the capability to change the world. And don’t we owe our future generations a workplace that is fair, and free from bias and discrimination?

The future is in our hands.