Zero Discrimination Day started in 2014 by UNAIDS, highlighting how people can be better informed and promote the rights of people living with and affected by HIV. Today, it has expanded to celebrate the right of everyone to live a full and productive life, promoting inclusion, compassion, peace and, above all, a movement for change.
Zero Discrimination Day maintains focus on the negative impacts of discrimination and encourages people to stand up and speak out, celebrating diversity, promoting inclusivity and taking action to create a more equitable and just world.
People think that we've come a long way when it comes to discrimination, and in many ways we have. When we reflect on transformative social change such as women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, Stonewall’s work on gay rights and equal marriage, and countless other pivotal moments in our history, we can be comforted by the distance that we've come.
It's right to acknowledge the strides that has been made and honour those who have enabled it, while also recognising that progress has sometimes felt spiky, inconsistent and fragile. But there’s still lots to do, and we must never become complacent.
Disability is an excellent example: it's sometimes hard to believe that it’s only been 20 years since the UK passed laws making discrimination against disabled people illegal. No doubt many of you will remember the outcry that accompanied the passing of the DDA. I’m fortunate to partner closely with a number of disability-focused charities, through whom I’ve learnt a huge amount about the social barriers – environmental, attitudinal, and organisational – that are still faced by the communities and people they support.
Our client SignHealth is the Deaf health charity that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people. As a hearing woman, I’ve been devastated to learn about the health inequalities routinely faced by Deaf and hearing-impaired people. For example, I take for granted that when I need to speak to a clinician they’ll speak my language – but that same right is not afforded to someone whose first language is British Sign Language, and many other barriers to basic healthcare still exist.
As a gay woman, I have been fortunate to have been able to live an open life, with the relative freedom of being in London, surrounded by an inclusive queer community. In contrast, I have friends in both the UK, Europe and other parts of the world who live in constant fear; over the last few years, the LGBT+ community in Poland have been subjected to exclusion zones by many local authorities, and the question of trans rights is currently a very live discussion here in the UK.
Across the Atlantic, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the longstanding abortion ruling known as Roe v Wade has already had a chilling effect on reproductive healthcare provision, with its influence being felt around the world. This is not only a catastrophic reversal of women’s rights, but for literally millions of women facing the loss of access to abortion clinics, it could have life or death consequences.
These global trends are worrying, and a clear reminder that even when rights are gained, we must be vigilant. We need to keep stressing the importance of inclusivity, maintain the momentum, avoid further regression and ensure that past atrocities do not return.
I set up Cadence Partners ten years ago with the declared intention of combating the discrimination I saw in my working life as a recruiter. Even relatively early in my career, I was struck by the seismic impact my decisions could have on people's professional prospects and their personal lives. More concerningly, I saw how lightly this enormous influence was treated by many others in the recruitment business.
Every day, I saw really brilliant people – really fantastic and capable people – being overlooked for totally spurious reasons. Appointment decisions were being made on poor, limited information, with incredible levels of bias being displayed throughout the decision-making process. Too often, even the basic legal requirements weren’t even taken into account – I knew I just couldn’t be part of that culture for the rest of my career!
At Cadence Partners, we want all leaders to have an inclusive and equitable mindset, and for this to be embedded into the way organisations are run, and embedded into their recruitment practices. There is no perfect solution, but we can all be better: so we aim to inspire, challenge, educate and partner with organisations who aspire to build and develop a workplace that is genuinely and authentically committed to being inclusive, and driving positive social change.
Perhaps counterintuitively, I would like to live in a society which didn’t need Cadence Partners to exist – an equitable, just and representative society, where everyone has an opportunity, whatever their background.
On Zero Discrimination Day, I ask you all to stay attentive, informed and intentional. We must all acknowledge that not everybody has the same freedoms, privileges, and access that we have, and we should never take these for granted. We must strive to stay informed, educate ourselves and act as allies to those who still face discrimination, so we can continue making progress forward to a fully inclusive, flourishing world.