In this month’s blog, our CEO Sandi Wassmer reminds us of the importance of giving voice to the lived experience of anyone who faces discrimination.
What it’s like to experience discrimination
With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, I worry about equality, diversity, and inclusion becoming over politicised, and the real, lived experiences of people who face discrimination being lost in the mix. Until discrimination no longer exists, those of us who experience it day in, day out, must be listened to, heard, and understood if we have any hope of eradicating it.
If you think that just because I’ve been successful in my career and I’m now a CEO means that I have either overcome or no longer experience discrimination, think again. Being blind and a long cane user means that my disability arrives before I do, and I experience discrimination every single day; it is a constant challenge to keep myself grounded and to stop the hurt it inflicts on me from turning into anger.
The types of discrimination I face range from subtle ignorance to overt attacks. In the main, when entering a shop with my husband, shop assistants speak to him about me and not directly to me. I’ve been manhandled and dragged into a taxi by the end of my cane. I’ve been met with shock and confusion when I tell people I have an actual paying job, let alone that I’m a CEO. I’ve been ignored, belittled, talked down to, and generally treated like my entire person is one massive disability. And I’ve been shouted at, spat at, and called a few names that I’d best not repeat.
I’ve been ignored, belittled, talked down to, and generally treated like my entire person is one massive disability. And I’ve been shouted at, spat at, and called a few names that I’d best not repeat.Sandi Wassmer
Although I try to take every opportunity to educate, the message is loud and clear that I am viewed by many as lesser, not good enough, invalid, and not a complete or a worthy human being. No matter how much I tell myself otherwise, the requirement to process this emotionally can be pretty hard going. I am glad to say that I am quite resilient, but some days it simply reduces me to tears.
So, as I am a practical sort, what is it that I am saying needs to be done? Well, we all must be open and ready to handle whatever comes. For those who experience discrimination, they need to feel safe and secure to be able to speak up about their experiences without recrimination and to trust that others will do something about it. For everyone else, it’s about listening, hearing, being empathic and compassionate, and being comfortable with what may be incredibly difficult to hear and hold. It’s about being an advocate, an ally, a facilitator, a change agent, and any other name you want to give to stopping discrimination of any type.
I will repeat myself until I’m heard—we are all in this together, all part of one human family, and all equally human. We can’t rely on someone else to make discrimination a thing of the past. After all, it is not laws that make a just society, people do.
This blog post was written by Sandi Wassmer, CEO, Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion. It was originally posted on 12 April 2021 and revised in July 2022.