Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow explains how employers have led the way in promoting diversity.
'View from the Chair' article by Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission NI, published in the Business Newsletter, 2 Sept 2014
Just over a week ago around 30,000 people gathered in Belfast’s Botanic gardens to enjoy the vibrant colour, sights, international sounds and tastes of Mela - Ireland’s largest multi-cultural festival.
It is easy sometimes to become discouraged by the continuing pollution of our society by prejudice and race hate attacks, but the spectacle of so many people celebrating the diversity of our community and enjoying one another’s culture offers a glimpse of what sharing this place we call home might look like.
I believe that over the past few decades, Northern Ireland’s employers have led the way in encouraging the development of a more diverse society. People have come from all parts of the world to work in our businesses, industries and professions and in many cases, their employers have played an active and vital role in encouraging good race relations and challenging any suspicion or hostility in the workplace.
I believe that this has been an important factor in influencing attitudes here because time spent at work accounts for a large slice of the lives of those of us in full-time employment – over half our waking hours every working day. It is frequently in the workplace that local people meet and get to know, often for the first time, others from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
When prejudice exists in society, whether it be racist, sectarian or of any other kind, it tends to surface in the workplace, and when this happens, it must be confronted. The Equality Commission works with employers to help them put policies in place to deal with any problems or tensions that arise as a result of diversity in the workplace. Most employers have risen to that challenge, and there has been a great deal of good work carried out to ensure that workplaces are both harmonious and inclusive and built on an ethos of equality and mutual respect.
The trust and good relationships which so often develop between people from different backgrounds who work together, should provide us with a sound foundation to build a spirit in the community at large which is not just inclusive and respectful, but ready to challenge forcefully any expressions of racial prejudice.
We should value the fact that, over the past decade or so, significant numbers of people from many different countries have chosen to come here to work and make a valuable contribution to our economy and our social, civic and cultural life. To live up to the vote of confidence they have placed in Northern Ireland, we should each do all in our power to see that they are welcomed with warmth and respect.