As I sit at my desk to write this, I’m just looking at my immediate surroundings in the ombudsman service and thinking how it’s so easy to take for granted the inclusive environment and diverse workforce that we have here. We make sure that we hire the best people for the job by focusing on a person’s skill set, rather than their sexual orientation, race, religious belief or disability. As a result, we not only have a workforce as diverse as the consumer’s we help, but one that celebrates that diversity through the creation of different networks and groups. Just ask our LGBT network, Jewish network, our disability network, our mental health network or our carers’ network.
But, I know that you don’t have to look far outside of our ombudsman bubble to see situations where our differences aren’t necessarily celebrated in the same way – or even taken into account. We often hear from consumers who tell us that a financial business is failing to treat them fairly. For instance, we have seen cases where a consumer has repeatedly told a business that they are deaf, or have hearing difficulties, but that business insists on phoning them to chase a debt repayment. We know how many different accessibility tools there are to make it as easy as possible for any consumer to get in touch – we have a lot of them here – so this is unacceptable in our view.
Looking into wider society, a colleague of mine, who uses a wheelchair, recently told me about a situation where he was attempting to visit a tourist attraction with his young son. The place in question told them that because another wheelchair was already in the attraction, they would not be allowed entry. Apparently, a “one-wheelchair at a time” policy was in place to avoid a fire hazard. At the same time, a friend of mine told me that the company she worked for were refusing to allow her to add her girlfriend to her benefits package. After asking why, she was told that while she co-owned a property with her girlfriend, and was due to enter into a civil partnership, there was no way to prove that they were in a relationship. Her partner “could’ve just been a friend”.
It’s this sort of prejudice that people continue to encounter every day. As I said, we’re lucky at the ombudsman – we have a culture that recognises people perform best, when they’re feeling at their best. But it does take work. From the staff member who spent months planning their vision for the LGBT network, and getting an executive level champion to help their cause – through to our accessibility team who spent weeks testing our SignSolutions line so we can ‘speak’ to a consumer through a sign language interpreter. Everyone has their part to play.
As I said, it’s all too easy to take this for granted, and to forget the hard work that goes behind it. The National Diversity Awards makes sure that not only does this hard work not go unnoticed; it is celebrated and used to inspire others. Having been lucky enough to sponsor an award for the last two years now, I am constantly amazed and humbled at the stories that are shared on the night. Stories that remind me there is always work to be done to create a truly inclusive and diverse society.
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