Walking a mile in someone else's shoes

Paul Deemer

18 / 9 / 2015 1.24pm

Paul Deemer, head of diversity and inclusion, discusses working in the diversity field ahead of the working better for patients conference on 23 September. 

I often get asked what motivates me to work in the field of diversity and inclusion, and how I’m able to empathise and rationalise the different perspectives and interests/ self-interests that operate around me day-to-day. 

In a similar vein, the big question to myself when we started planning our showcase diversity conference was - how can we do justice to the different aspects of diversity in a meaningful way?

The answer to both questions was the same: the secret lies in seeing the world from the other person's perspective, putting yourself in their shoes - and walking a mile.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
For the conference, this led us to conclude that the best perspective was a patient one. So, we are encouraging our delegates to spend the day thinking about how health and social care looks from the patient perspective (whether that be male/ female, black/ white, disabled/ non-disabled, old/ young, religious/ atheist, lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ trans/ heterosexual). 

For me, more generally (and on a daily basis), this involves me really placing myself in that other person's world - and seeing it through their eyes.

I have worked in this field for long enough now to know that there is no panacea - and I quickly dismiss the idea that there is with anyone new coming into the discipline. 

This is not pessimism - but realism. But I operate on an optimistic realistic level - in the knowledge that things are improving. Despite the challenges that remain (and that will always be there probably), I have seen great progress in many aspects of diversity in recent decades - particularly disability, gender and sexual orientation. 

I’m not saying that things are perfect - because they certainly aren't - but they are much improved and the working world in the UK is essentially a better place for people in terms of diversity and inclusion. But it is still tainted by aspects of discrimination, harassment and bullying which are not acceptable. 

That's why I will continue to work in this field and why - if you look through my eyes - you will see a world that is bright - but could be brighter.

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