The EDI Delivery Group hosted a session on the impacts of labels. The goals of this meeting support our wider EDI strategy which ensures empowerment, agility and excellence through valuing each member within our organisation.
Aquilla Lindo-Cozzella, Director of Projects & EDI
Employees across Corndel came together to learn about labelling and the role labels play relating to the 9 Protected Characteristics of the Equality Act (2010). Education and learning is built into our purpose and as educators, we model organisational learning. Through creating a safe space to hold brave conversations, staff were encouraged to empathically discuss labelling and the role this plays in different contexts such as the workplace, our relationships with clients, learners and more generally, with each other.
Through exploring theories around labelling and prejudice, we applied this to the Protected Characteristics by creating breakout rooms. The purpose was to create an interactive space for employees to reflect and discuss one of the 9 Protected Characteristics through initially watching a video of labelling in a specific context. However, it’s important to note that we don’t just limit this to the Protected Characteristics and look beyond this on our EDI journey.
Our approach to managing breakout sessions has evolved over time. We soon realised that the presence of a facilitator helped to maintain focus and to ensure that all voices were heard. While many of our staff have roles as Facilitators, Coaches and Tutors, the majority of our EDI Employee Resource Group (ERG) do not. It’s also a part of our development offer to ERG volunteers that we support their professional development, through widening their skill sets and creating opportunities for them to display their talents.
Discussing lived experience and learning about discrimination and prejudice can raise emotions and has the potential for conflict. While we hold to the mantra that ‘it’s O.K. to be uncomfortable’, we know that it’s important to create and cultivate a state of psychological safety throughout the workplace culture; particularly when delivering L&D related to EDI.
When planning the session, we decided that breakout rooms would create a brave space for people to display empathy by considering instances of when they themselves have been labelled and try and put themselves in other peoples shoes. But more importantly to reflect on when they have labelled others and the impact of doing so.
We found videos on the Characteristics and asked the following questions:
- What was wrong about this video/scenario?
- How might these individuals internalise these assumptions?
- Can any of you relate from these lived experiences?
- What would you recommend to counter this?
- What are steps we can take as individuals?
Pavlina Wilkin, Corndel EDI Subject Matter Lead
To set people up well for the breakout room, we were keen to properly ground the session at the start. This was to ensure that participants felt that they could open up and for negative or difficult emotions
to be recognised and channelled into learning. We wanted to introduce a therapeutic element into the session and were inspired by a collaborative project between The National Archives, the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN) and Stillpoint Spaces:
“Key to this is the necessity to become aware or present to feelings we may have that, if not handled carefully, can distort our views of what happened and our ability to ultimately interpret the past in a way that does justice to the story.”
We are lucky enough to have staff in our team from a range of professional backgrounds, including experienced and qualified therapists. Their involvement brought another dimension to the session and supports our objective of creating psychologically safe spaces for brave conversations given we would be exposing them to content about the impact of labelling that might be challenging or even triggering.
Beth Hughes, Professional Development Expert and Integrative Counsellor:
I began the activity by telling participants that a stressful situation can trigger a fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system. As our minds and body are connected, we might become overwhelmed as our body tenses, which may result in experiencing symptoms such as an increased heart rate, restlessness or flushing of the skin. At times like this, it can be helpful to ground oneself and refocus on what is happening in the present moment. By relaxing the body, signals travel up to the brain which leads to more relaxing thoughts and calmer emotions. I invited participants to try two therapeutic techniques used to process traumatic material: The ‘54321’ and ‘Butterfly Hug’ techniques. It’s important to find a technique that is right for the individual.
Nicole Greene, Business Development Researcher and ERG Member
Once a safe space had been created, I delved into labelling theory. The term was coined in 1963 by Howard Becker to describe crime and deviance in the United States. While much of the theory is outdated, the central element of the theory is that people’s behaviour is influenced significantly by the way others in society label them and this can be applied to many different contexts.
The process of labelling works like this. We give a label to individual. The ‘labeller’ is then likely to presume that the individual they have labelled will behave in a specific way. It’s important to recognise that labels can be both negative and positive. For example, at work we might continuously label someone as ‘confident’ and ‘organised’. These positive labels might influence a promotion, despite the individual not being right for the job. Similarly, someone might be described as ‘shy’ and ‘timid’ and might be overlooked when it comes to getting a promotion.
After providing an overview of the theory, I looked deeper at what individuals may be subjected to as a result of labels. This included being expected to be a role model, scapegoating, positive and negative stereotypes and being held to the highest of standards. The impacts this has on the individual includes the internalisation of the categorisation placed upon them, resulting in:
- Self-fulfilling prophecies
- Self doubt
- Depression or anxiety
- Increased survival mode
Through providing context to the theory, this paved the way for our breakout room session where participants were invited to discuss these issues in more depth.
Aquilla Lindo-Cozzella, Director of Projects & EDI
ERG facilitators shared the video giving time for those present to reflect. Participants were encouraged to speak about labelling both in their everyday life and in the workplace – looking at how labelling can have a positive and negative impact. The session brought out many emotions on individuals and the feedback showed that individuals saw how easy it is to label one another.
After the breakout rooms, we used Menti to capture feedback from the different discussions that took place. For the ERG, this was about ensuring accountability and for people to have personalised actions for after the session.
The key actions included:
- Challenging assumptions and asking questions
- Being mindful of our impact on others
- Recognising your own biases
- Educate oneself and to learn from others
The aim of capturing participants responses was for people to continue their learning outside the session. It’s important that the teachings are applied to people’s everyday lives.
Nicky Chapman, Professional Development Expert & Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist
I decided to take a compassionate approach with the closing exercise because having compassion for yourself means that you honour and accept your humanness (very important considering our topic of conversation). When I think about compassion, I always bring to mind this quote from the Dalai Lama:
“If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.”
I drew upon the research and work of, Paul Gilbert OBE, who has been instrumental in bringing compassion to the world of therapy and personal development and led an exercise in which participants were invited to recognise any tendency to activate the threat system and how they might activate the soothing system instead. https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk/
- Use an interdisciplinary approach for both content and those getting involved in the planning and delivery of the session to promote diversity of thought in EDI sessions. During our session, we predominately focused on sociological and psychological insights, as well as using different resource across the team for research, delivery and facilitation.
- Test out video resources to ensure that it will resonate with a large group.
- Create more time for action planning. Not everyone will be able to compose their thoughts and share their actions in the moment. It’s important to create other opportunities for those needing more time to think.
- Keep the conversation going outside the sessions. Encourage line managers to continue the discussions and to create a space where employees can open up individually and in teams