"A right delayed is a right denied" - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Proclaimed in 1948 by the United Nations (UN), December 10th is celebrated every year as World Human Rights Day.
On this day in 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a “milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
With a different theme observed every year to guide global efforts and strategies, the theme for World Human Rights Day 2021 is ‘EQUALITY - Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights.’ This year’s theme relates to Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
“The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Equality is aligned with the 2030 Agenda and with the UN approach set out in the document Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart of Sustainable Development. This includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others,” the UN said in a statement.
Given the magnitude of socio-economic shifts the world has undergone in recent months as well as years, there has been a growing spotlight on aspects of equality, inclusion and equity. Particular to the workplace, employers have demonstrated tremendous interest in shaping policies, infrastructure, culture and mindsets to be more inclusive and equitable.
How can organisations, leaders and employees contribute to furthering the agenda of equality and indeed leave no one behind? Let’s find out!
Five priorities to boost equality, inclusion and non-discrimination at work
Equal access to economic opportunities
A key contributing factor to continued discrimination is a visible divide in the social status of an individual, which improves or declines based on their ability to enhance their standard of living. However, the lack of access to equal opportunities cements the divide, reinforcing the access as well as lack of it for many. While policies of positive discrimination, such as reservation in India, have worked to ensure minimum participation, they still do not serve the agenda of equality fully, where individuals have access to education as well jobs based on their skills and expertise. In fact, with inadequate access to education, the opportunity to skill oneself with basics is also compromised.
While CSR initiatives have made a difference in this segment, to accelerate change, there is an urgent need to make such support mainstream rather than a volunteering activity. Only then will mindsets and culture change, eliminating bias and paving the way for equal access to opportunity.
Pay transparency and equity
While the workforce has been vocal about the need for pay equity and transparency, loopholes continue to remain and one of the most pressing ones among them is remuneration, stemming from unchecked bias. Regardless of the gender or community your employees belong to, organisations need to ensure that they are given their due for their efforts and contributions to the organisation.
The opportunity gap has to be addressed and accounted for. Building salary ranges to flexible pay negotiations to even having open conversations about the pay practices in the company, especially at the time of recruitment, are critical. Moreover, pay-equity has to be an ongoing endeavour and it becomes a constant conversation so that your employees feel valued, secure, and pledge their loyalty. Your people have to be at the center of your business strategy and so must be their compensation.
Being socially responsible as individuals and employers
In the last couple of years, we have seen the boundary between work and personal life disappearing and companies assuming greater responsibility of the social welfare of their employees and the community at large. The endeavour needs to continue with a key focus on supporting people and groups who are underrepresented. Organisations need to invest in their local communities by creating opportunities for them. Additionally, by identifying the background and circumstance of various stakeholders of their business, they can respond in a positive and proactive way.
The business practices and work policies of companies must be such that they respect the people from diverse groups and promote social inclusion. With a human rights-based economy as the foundation of a new social contract, businesses play a key role in upholding practices that guarantee the community the right to development and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Inclusive working environment
Even though there are several policies introduced to ensure that nobody in the workforce faces any discrimination, organisations often have a hard time putting those policies into practice. While it may be inevitable that an individual inside an organisation may face some form of discrimination, having a well-structured grievance forum could ensure that they speak up about the issues they face without a fear of risking their positions.
Often, discrimination happens because perpetrators of the action are unaware of the implications behind them. Ignorance about the many ways in which one can indulge in micro-aggressive behaviour can be mitigated if they are sensitised adequately. This will also underscore the organisation’s commitment to making the workforce inclusive and free of discrimination.
Visible and vocal allyship
History is witness to how advocacy has been instrumental in bringing about monumental shifts to the status-quo. It takes one individual to start a movement, but it takes a village to amplify that voice and impact. When it comes to equality, until there is a visible and vocal allyship across organisations demanding equality for one and all, the status-quo will stand firm. Change breeds in uncomfortable conversations, and the magnitude of inequality that continues to exist today, the conversations need to be backed up by multiple voices of support, advocacy and allyship.
The road ahead is clearly a long one. Attaining equality can be fast-tracked, only if each one stands up for the other. What is the one way you will contribute to the movement of equality? Tell us in the comments.