Equity and Inclusion – Why we don’t live in an equitable society

As much as 85-95 per cent of respondents agree that they want to live in an equitable society.
So why have we never achieved this?
Well, because we live in a society that is governed and maintained by the norms that support the existing power structure.

This was the simple power analysis that Torbjörn Messing used when opening ICLD’s workshop on equality/fair and inclusive treatment, 3 April 2016.
Talking about gender and diversity issues often brings down the mood, which is why many people avoid talking about them.

But then how can we bring about a change?
During the workshop, 20 or so participants from ICLD’s municipal partnership were accordingly asked to comply with two simple rules:
1) You’re allowed to think out loud, make mistakes and then change your mind.
2) We should interpret what other people say as sympathetically as possible. 



Partnership coordinators and project leaders engaging in supportive discussions.

The workshop leader, Torbjörn Messing, explains the rules on the basis that everyone who comments could, potentially, be criticised on the basis of their identity markets – as a “normative person”, Torbjörn might be told that he lacks relevant experience of discrimination, whilst a “non-normative person” might be told that they’re just speaking for themselves. 

The coordinators and project managers attending the workshop were tasked with asking themselves some difficult questions.
A simple exercise revealed that we are quick to believe that things are worse on the quality front, the further away from ourselves we look.
That our own work unit, for example, is more equal than the situation in the country as a whole.

That makes things easier for us, because we don’t have to change our own methodologies, let alone ourselves.
But this was one of the most important insights, according to many of the participants.
We can’t expect to help others change if we don’t have the courage to change ourselves. And for those of you who couldn’t attend the workshop, the MP team has some suggestions on looking for experts within your own organisation.


Dichotomies – how our brains lay the foundations for inequality

A psychological level explanation was also provided, in addition to the social causal link with which Torbjörn Mässing started the day.
This second explanation addressed dichotomies: our brains sort the impressions we receive, and they have only two groupings in which to place them. It is literally either/or – nothing can be put in the same grouping at the same time.

We also tend to regard one of these groupings as slightly “better” than the other. And at that point, we’ve created a norm. Norm criticism is designed to examine these norms and then criticise the problems inherent therein. It’s important to be aware that not all norms are bad.

On the contrary: the majority of norms are absolutely necessary for our social cohesion and development. Norm criticism is not, in other words, about abandoning all norms – it’s about examining and criticising the prevailing power structures that unconsciously result in certain groupings and privileges.
It’s about being aware of your complicity in oppression, as Professor Kumashiro puts it in his research into non-oppressive learning.


Knowledge, self-realisation and courage – tools in equality work

One fundamental approach entails focusing on the individual and, at the same time, seeing the barrier structures. It is at individual level that the problems with inequality manifest themselves, while it is the barrier structures that we both can and should influence.

The problem is that we have norms and are unable to handle people who do not fit in with these norms.
– The trick is to shift our gaze from the individual to the organisational structures and to change them, according to Torbjörn Mässing.
One fundamental analysis that everyone can conduct as part of their partnership project is based on the above description of dichotomy. The analysis involves, quite simply, looking at how we sort (segregation/apartheid) and which of the two groupings have the highest status (hierarchy/power analysis). 
Tomas often uses equality as an example. The analysis quickly shows that segregation begins at birth, with boys, for example, being given greater freedom to act and allowed to go further than girls.
If we let this freedom to act stand for hierarchy, we can see that this pattern is retained into working life and public contexts, with men often occupying 2/3 of the space in public meetings and in the media.

Tomas notes, here, that it has to do both with quantity and with quality – don’t just look at the number of newspaper articles in which men comment, look at what they’re talking about too, and about the status of what they’re commenting on. 
The so-called 4R method takes this even further. In the example above, we’ve dealt with R1 and R2. Which leaves us with the third stage, which involves analysing the effects of R1 and R2, and the final stage, R4, which involves drawing up action plans. 
R1. Representation
R2. Resources
R3: Realia (equality analysis: what are the consequences of R1 and R2?) 
R4: Results (draw up action plans)
>> Find out more about the 4R method at jämställ.nu!


Tip for Municipal Partnership actors: 

Don’t just measure “empty spaces” when analysing equality: we must fill these spaces with content. So don’t just count the number of men and women in your activities: interview both men and women about their perceptions. 

Look for expertise within your own organisation. The municipality, county council or region will always have a number of extremely knowledgeable people when it comes to gender and diversity. Invite them in to discuss your municipal partnership, particularly in the run-up to applications. Discuss how you can incorporate equality into the project’s planning, implementation and results!