Diversity in the industry is a hot topic, but will improving it remain on the ‘to-do’ list? And will associations, companies and individuals act to bring change? Juliet Sargeant says we cannot keep saying change will take time, when there are actions we can be taking today; the time for excuses and lacklustre promises is over.
The world gasped in unison at the death of George Floyd; we all agreed that no citizen should be killed by the very officers tasked with serving him with protection from criminal acts, under the law. The death of Mr Floyd mattered, but a more thorny issue seems to be how much his life mattered; the life that he lived before 25 May 2020. Does it matter that his life chances and those of other black and minority ethnic people are different from those of white people? Does it matter that a BAME baby born in the UK in 2020 is likely to live a shorter life, be poorer and suffer greater health problems than a white baby? Does it matter that it is harder for BAME people to enter, progress and be heard in some professions?
I start with these questions, because I cannot assume that the answer from everyone is ‘yes’; because once we admit that it matters, then the next question is, how much does it matter? Does it matter enough to make changes? To change the way our whole society works? The way that our children are raised to see white as the norm; to default to the white perspective; to listen more openly to a white voice and to see non-white as different?
This task of change seems too massive; understandably we defer to higher powers, to the elected authorities, to our leaders; government, of course, but equality laws are already in place, so now we need to look closer to home; at how the spirit of these laws is being lost in the application. On paper, Britain is equal – in reality, it is not.
So, is horticulture equal? We asked several of our industry’s leading bodies to reflect on diversity within the landscape industry and their sectors in particular.
We elect and pay our leaders to shape and grow our industry; to not only comply narrowly with legal requirements, but to envision and inspire a future that we can be proud of and that young people will want to be part of.
Conversation and collaboration is always essential to change, but it cannot be a substitute for individual action. Each organisation which represents a sector of our industry needs to take responsibility for the things that they themselves can change. Reviews, research, data, reports, discussion are all very well, but I invite you to
consider the actions that you could take tomorrow: training for your staff about diversity and unconscious bias; correcting the imbalance of your board; reaching out to under-represented communities; grants for marginalised groups; work experience programmes and career opportunities; more platforms for BAME professionals (and not just to speak about diversity!); the support and development of role models; career mentoring schemes; and open, empathic and robust complaints procedures.
Each society within the horticulture industry must put its own house in order. But societies are made up of people and so change will also involve individuals having the humility to ask difficult questions about their own life and career advancement; courage to reflect on past actions; motivation to become better informed and integrity to stand up for what is right.
It may be difficult for white people to see them, but there are barriers into and within horticulture, believe me: ranging from overt racism and bullying from individuals, through unconscious bias and well-meaning ignorance within our institutions, to apologetic cowardice and looking the other way.
I am heartened to see genuine efforts at change, but the thing that saddens and frustrates me is to hear our leaders saying yet again, “It’s going to take time”. Setting a lengthy timeline soothes those that are afraid of losing out and reassures people who seek the impossible paradox of change that does not upset the status quo. But, a comfortable and imperceptibly slow rate of change is what we have had for the last two centuries; I would like to see a greater sense of urgency. The under representation of BAME people in horticulture and other professions is not a new problem, we should be beyond the conception stage by now; we need to rapidly move to action.
In his 20s, my father was told by the legal profession: “Be patient, change will not happen quickly”. His life has come and gone. I am now in the latter part of my career. My daughter, in her first job in television, was told by her producer not to bother pitching any black presenters to a particular channel – “They will never have a black lead for a programme.” In 30 years’ time, will Amy’s daughter be told the same thing as she starts her career? “It’s complicated – it will take time – be patient”? Three careers spanning half a century, three black lives – does it matter?
Juliet Sargeant MRCP FSGD FLI
For organisations and businesses looking to improve their marketing to diverse groups of society:
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It’s hard to argue against there being a lack of BAME representation in horticulture.
Rather than pointing fingers, though, it’s time to figure out why the industry
is not appealing to those from these backgrounds and how we can collectively
change this – and sooner rather than later