Working On It: on working with inclusion and norm critical thinking in Corona times
By Emma Rubin
How do we create workplaces with space for everyone in a time of Corona, where Zoom meetings and digital workshops have become the norm? And can distance help to create space for change? This is the case, according to the newly minted consortium Working On It which consists of four experienced norm critical consultants. Here, they explain how they work with inclusion in a time where distance is of vital importance.
Few sentences have gained as much importance to the Danish people as the one presented to us in the spring of 2020: Together separately. But how can we be together separately? And how does one create space in the community for everybody – even during a pandemic? To talk about this, I have interviewed anthropologist and gender specialist Elin Ferm, norm critical designer Stine Kunkel, diversity scientist and communicator Sabrina Vitting-Seerup and inclusion coach Rikke Voergård-Olesen. They have united their expertise and experiences to create Working on It: a consortium that, among other things, works with stereotypes regarding gender and sexuality in the workplace. As they put it: “We want people to get past the ‘there is a problem’-stage and towards ‘how do we solve it?’”. But what is the problem? Is inclusion truly lacking in this age, where we are together separately? To this question, Working On It answers: Yes!
”We all have biases”, Elin Ferm says and continues, ”this idea that we can divide people into fixed categories.” “But it is not necessarily the categories themselves that make up the problem,” Rikke Voergård-Olesen elaborates, “it is what we attribute to the categories. The stereotypes that we have, they block the way for a lot of good things in the workplace. They create differential treatment and discrimination. This is why it is important that people become aware of the fact that they have them and that they practise how to question them”.
Study after study on the job satisfaction of LGBTI+ people show that many do not feel as if they can be themselves at work. For example, the trade unions LO, FTF and Akademikerne were all able to show that only 27% felt as if they, to a great extent, could be themselves at work.
Apart from the personal expenses on the individual employees, who are not able to be their authentic selves at work, Working On It also points out that this has consequences for the bottom line of companies. Sabrina Vitting-Seerup describes it as such: ”We have these fixed categories inside our heads about gender, sexuality, ethnicity and so on, and we need to get beyond these stereotypes if we want to live in a Denmark where we honour talent, ambition and competence – regardless of the body that contains them”.
But how does one work on breaking down stereotypes and ensuring inclusion during a global pandemic, where physical distance has become part of everyday life? “Somehow, in this strange lockdown-pandemic-age – or perhaps because of it – some of these topics have risen on the agenda”, Elin Ferm explains, “suddenly people are paying attention to movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter in a way they didn’t before”. “And Corona shows how norms can change very quickly,” Stine Kunkel points out. “One of the things we so often hear when talking about the inclusion of LGBT+ minorities is that ‘it needs time’ – ‘equality is on its way; it just needs some time’. But with Corona, it took, what? Seven hours before the country shut down? And people suddenly stopped giving handshakes”. Rikke Voergård-Olesen expresses it as such: “Denmark has received a norm critical injection, and we are seizing this moment to install new norms in the workplaces we are co-operating with.”
Talking about their work, Working On It explains how digital space can help bringing people together. “First and foremost, the good thing about digitalisation in a norm-critical context is that the digital space is so anonymous”, says Sabrina Vitting-Seerup, “and we are able to make use of this anonymity and distance. People can write more openly, and I have seen people share personal stories they never shared during physical workshops.” It is also a question of utilising the digital space in terms of keeping in touch and finding allies to collaborate with, Working On It believes. This is one of the reasons the four of them got together separately.
About Working On It
Working On It is an assemblage of three consulting houses (Ren Snak, NORM og Normværk), who started working together during the Corona pandemic to help businesses working towards more inclusive workplaces. Read more at www.workingonit.nu