Paul Deemer, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at NHS Employers, draws attention to a selection of poems which encapsulate inclusion. He highlights the importance of creating a workplace where employees feel they have a voice and are supported to stay and develop. Paul is presenting at the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion Conference which takes place on 15 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.
Songs of innocence and experience
Between 1789 and 1794, William Blake wrote a series of 45 poems called Songs of Innocence and Experience which were designed to be a critique of society at that time. In those poems he criticised the treatment of racial minorities, highlighted the abuse of children subjected to child labour and questioned what he saw as the corrupt and repressive practices of the Church. In doing this, Blake was continuing the long tradition that threads through to today of poets acting as the conscience of society and prodding and pushing us into challenging and changing things. These challenges would spark debate – which in turn would start movements and then eventually lead to legislative and societal change.
Not much different to today really! Except the process is quicker and the changes are driven from a variety of angles – not all legislative. Indeed, I would argue, the change is often driven through the workplace and therefore very much in the gift and control of our profession – human resources and organisational development. So – what are the poets of today telling us that we should be listening to – and how can we heed their words and bring about meaningful and sustainable change?
There is – I am pleased to say – still a very healthy poetry tradition in modern day society. And they have a lot to tell us about inclusivity and removing barriers – the theme of my workshop. Lemn Sisay in his collection of poems Gold From The Stone pens a poem called Understanding Difference which ends with the lines:
“I am the black person
That fights for equality,
Which is yours as well as mine…”
Nikita Gill in her 2017 collection Wild Embers writes a poem called Surviving which is all about domestic abuse and opens with these lines:
“We live in a world
that would rather ask women
why did you stay
with someone who hit you,
than ask why the man
she had trusted with her love
had betrayed her,
had the audacity to think
he had any right to hit her.”
My favourite at the moment is George The Poet – the William Blake of our times. In his 2015 collection Search Party, he has a poem called All Existence is Contribution. One line from this captures the spirit of the poem:
“Everyone brings something to the table,
But not everyone gets a seat.
And when people don’t get a seat,
Then people don’t get to eat.”
I would argue that our role as HR and OD professionals is to make sure that our policies and practices around equality, domestic abuse and inclusion (the themes of the three poems above) encapsulate the voices of all and bring about the change that we – and our citizens – want to see in our wider society. In that way, we can ensure that our workplaces are the safe, welcoming and nurturing environments that we want them to be.