What makes organisational activities good for everyone?

19.06.2017

‘The most distressing experiences in my subject organisation are probably instances of belittlement, which I have encountered when reporting inappropriate behaviour. Advances that meet the criteria for sexual harassment have been dismissed with a shrug and comments such as ‘they are always a bit like that when drunk’ and ‘they are actually a good person’.’

As many as 7.5% of the students at the University of Helsinki have encountered bullying. One tenth of the students have a family. All forms of sexual orientations and genders are represented in us. In fact, few students correspond to the image of ‘the average student’ who would not belong in any minority or would not encounter discrimination.

Equality means that everyone is similar regardless of any personal qualities, and that the diversity of these qualities is taken into account.

Why and how should equality be taken into account in organisational activities? Here are some thoughts on this!

Why is equality important?

Taking equality into account in organisational activities is important because the members of any organisation are not alike. By taking diversity into account in organisational activities, we can ensure that everyone is able to participate in the organisation’s activities. Members are ready to give their entire potential for the organisation only if the organisation feels like a place where you can be yourself.

On the other hand, intolerant and discriminatory atmosphere and activities can completely exclude people from the organisation’s activities. At worst, bullying and discrimination may cause self-destructiveness.

Lately, an increasing number of organisations have made significant investments in providing everyone the opportunity to participate in their activities. This development is very gratifying. It makes it easy for others to start promoting equality, too: many justifications, means and operating models now exist on the organisational field. You only need to choose the ones that suit your organisation.

Here are examples from recent measures taken by Dilemma ry and Biosfääri ry.

‘This year, Biosfääri has tried to include themes related to equality in all our activities: communication and events are trilingual, official titles have been made gender neutral and the number of alcohol-free events has been increased. We aim to increase the number of persons in charge of equality in our organisations next autumn. Among our organisational actors, we have also paid attention to customs and practices that sustain discrimination, for instance, refraining from telling condescending jokes related to freshmen.’

– Heidi Annala, person in charge of equality in Biosfääri ry

 

‘This year, Dilemma has been making sure that all event descriptions have a mention of the principles of safe space as well as information on accessibility and that all communications would primarily be trilingual. The objective of increasing our supply of alcohol-free events has been one major theme – we have already organised a gallery excursion, for instance. On the other hand, we have tried to solve the issue of how to influence our organisation’s operating culture and to genuinely have everyone feeling comfortable. In fact, Dilemma organised an evening on safe spaces on 18 April, inviting members to come and share their own experiences and to consider problem areas and solutions. Now we are working on Dilemma’s own principles of safe space, new operating instructions for future tutors and having a specific person named for upcoming events who could be identified by their sash.’

– Saila Pönkä, person in charge of equality in Dilemma ry

Where to start?

In case your organisation does not have an equality plan, drafting one should be started as soon as possible. You can use the version in HYY’s Organisation Wiki (http://wiki.hyy.fi/index.php/Yhdenvertaisuus) or other organisations’ equality plans as models. You could also conduct a member survey on the theme, as the results would reveal which issues should be developed in your organisation at the very least.

To ensure that equality is taken into account, you should name someone in charge of it either in your organisation’s Board or as an official. The Organisation Wiki features examples on what the person in charge of equality could pay attention to in the organisation’s activities.

What to do with discriminatory traditions?

At times, old traditions and practices must be re-evaluated in the name of equality. Changes start from issues that might seem small.

For instance, the way in which guests are placed on their seats at anniversaries might be very significant to the participants. Traditional placement is done by dividing participants into men and women based on their names and then placing them side by side. However, a person’s gender cannot be deduced from their name. Traditional placement also discriminates against couples who cannot sit side by side because they are not assumed to be a man and a woman. Many organisations already take this matter into account; they no longer pay attention to the assumed genders of participants.

It is good to remember that organisational memory only goes back a couple of years. Abandoning sexist traditions, for instance, might be met with strong resistance at first, but no one will want to go back to the old ways anymore after a few years. On the contrary, both new and old members will be wondering how the organisation could have acted in such a discriminatory manner only a few years earlier.

Do you need help? Is something related to the theme puzzling you?
I am more than happy to help you in all issues related to equality that organisations might have.

Lauri Linna
Member of HYY’s Board
lauri.linna@hyy.fi

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