13 / 5 / 2014 Midnight
Two incredible things happened to me yesterday which - at first hearing - you might think are unrelated - but which (to me) totally capture what this week has been all about.
This week has been Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week 2014 within the NHS. The theme for the week has been Click and Connect - and we have been focusing on the power of networks and the role of social media in this more interconnected world that we live in. As Head of Equality, Diversity and Human Rights, I've been privileged to be fronting up the activities and communications around these themes - and I've met some fantastic people this week and had some amazing feedback from people - both virtually and face to face.
But yesterday - as I said - two things happened which just encapsulated what the whole week was about for me: Morrisey joined Twitter; and I met Esther. You probably know Morrrisey - but you probably don't know Esther. Just in case you don't know him, Morrisey is the former lead singer and lyricist of one of the iconic pop groups of the 1980's - The Smiths. Morrisey is best known I guess for being a) miserable b) a bit of a Luddite and c) a bit of a loner. But - over and above all of these things - Morrisey is (in mine and many other fans' views) a bit of a genius and a modern day Shakespeare. So him joining Twitter was a big thing for many of us - because we will now be able to share more of his pearls of wisdom and be a small part of his world.
Esther came to our BME Networking event in London yesterday. It was a great day - and it started early. I got to the venue at about 9.00 am and the team were already there and had everything set up - even though we didn't start until 10.30 am. Fantastic as always! At about 9.30am I noticed a small figure enter the room and go to sit quietly at one of the round tables that filled the room. She sat down and was reading through her papers and didn't seem to want to engage with anybody - almost avoiding eye contact deliberately. There weren't many people in the room at that time, so I took the opportunity (as the "host") to introduce myself to those that were there. Esther told me that she was the Marketing Manager for a national health and social care BME forum and we exchanged a few names and mutual contacts. She was clearly delighted to be at the event - and really looking forward to the day. I promised to introduce her to a few more people later on.
As I said, the day was great - lots of fantastic input from our speakers and presenters - some challenging questions from our audience - and a healthy dose of scepticism and pessimism from some of the "old hands". But the real defining moment for me was the final activity of the day where we asked each of the tables in the room to create a mood board. If you don't know what a mood board is - it is a visual representation method used by many advertising / marketing companies to encapsulate the product that they are creating. For our purposes, we asked the tables to visualise - using sticky tape, ribbons, glue - what diversity and networks in the NHS should look like for them.
There was an initial lull in the room as people looked around their tables waiting for someone to take a lead. But then the room just exploded into action! People were suddenly standing up, waving their arms - shouting, laughing. There was sticky tape and paint and glitter flying everywhere! It was like some sort of adult nursery! After about half an hour the groups were asked to present their visualisations. We went round table by table until we got to Esther's table. Imagine my surprise when the quiet, small woman that I had met earlier jumped up brandishing the fruits of the groups work and espousing their vision of diversity for the NHS in the shape of two hands around an amazing logo! (You can see the fruits of theirs and the other groups' labours on Twitter - hashtag #EQW2014).
At the end of the event, Esther was one of the last people to leave the room - and so I had another opportunity to catch up with her. As I approached her, she was holding on to the mood board for dear life. I actually wanted to take it off of her - because we wanted to take them all in and showcase them somehow. But Esther suddenly started telling me about how she wanted to take it home and show her mum and family. What could I do? I just thanked her for coming and wished her a safe journey home.
Esther's enthusiasm at that point was infectious. She had clearly been energised by the day and had clearly captured the spirit of the whole event - which was to make connections and build links between people.
I've been in the field of diversity now for some time and so I do sometimes have moments - like some of those other "old hands" - when I wonder if it is all worth it; when I wonder whether what I am doing is really making any difference. But when I meet someone like Esther and see the passion and energy that she and her colleagues put into that day I am immediately re-energised and heartened. And she made me think of a song that Morrisey wrote - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Not because of the subject matter of the song particularly, but it's about the fact that for things like life, love and diversity the light never goes out - it just gets passed on to others.
I feel safe in Esther's hands.