In many ways, for many people, 2020 has been a radically difficult year. A year in which we have looked at the human condition under a literal and metaphorical microscope.
From the spread of a new and deadly virus during this global pandemic to a true awakening (or at least re-awakening) around the problem of racism and other forms of inequality, this year has elicited polarizing opinions as much as it has illuminated polarized human experiences.
But there have been flashes of light in the 2020 darkness too. Moments of true heroism, selfless acts of love, and of course the evidence of the humongous resiliency and endurance of the human spirit and of our communities.
The bright sparks that have emerged are rooted in those powerful moments in which we have gathered together — collaboratively yet socially distanced of course — to solve the collective challenges ailing us all.
You can see the bright sparks of collaboration in the health care workers who came together to care for us despite the dangers, in the discovery of viable vaccines, in the BLM protests which gathered so many, in the informal neighbourly networks that sprung up, and in the acts of kindness large and small that have helped folks “get by”.
Do you want to forget 2020?
Many of us would sooner wish to forget 2020. Perhaps you want that calendar to quickly tick through the dwindling days that remain of 2020 to sprout anew and renewed in January 1st 2021. Perhaps you would prefer to erase this troublesome year from your memory.
Don’t! Don’t forget 2020!
This year has so very much to teach us.
It can teach us profound and deep lessons that collectively we need to pause for a moment to make sense of so that we can bring them with us into 2021 and far beyond.
I wish for us all to make new meaning of the well known phrase “never let a good crisis go to waste”. As there is so much to be gleaned from how we reacted to this crisis, who it impacted most and why, that we could apply to nurturing and growing our human societies into better ones as we grow into our future.
To kick off that reflective process, I’d like to share the 5 things I hope we all learned about the problem of inequality from the year 2020.
In turn, I hope this post inspires you to share 5 things you learned from this radically difficult year.
Here we go…here are 5 things I hope we all learned about inequality this year:
- Inequality exists, is all around us, and is growing
Inequality is obviously not a new phenomenon. If you are a person who comes from a group that typically experiences bias, discrimination, and unequal opportunity you have probably always known that inequality was all around.
But for many people who identify with privileged majority groups in our society and even for those who simply don’t pay attention as acutely to these issues, this year has been a watershed moment in realizing that inequality truly exists all around us in our society. Not only does it exist unfortunately, progress is not guaranteed, and across many dimensions, it is in fact growing.
Whether it was George Floyd’s murder by police, or the radical inequities we have witness in terms of the communities most impacted by the virus due to the intersection between the virus and a multitude of inequalities and existing negative social determinants of health this year has made us sit up and take note that inequality is a pervasive problem in our society and indeed is one of the most important problems of our time. Three statistics to wake you up on the problem of inequality below:
- According to Oxfam, 26 billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. That statistic will have worsened in 2020.
- According to the National Academy of Sciences, 1 in every 1000 Black men will be killed by police in America in their lifetime.
- According to org women are disproportionately at risk at the front lines of the pandemic as they make up greater than 70% of all frontline workers and they are also most vulnerable to job loss and financial security during this pandemic. This reality is deepened for women who are also racialized and socio economically disadvantaged.
How do you feel about these statistics. Are you OK with them?
- Inequality has BIG consequences for the people around us
If you haven’t personally faced inequalities during this pandemic count yourself lucky AND please note, it’s time to strive to drive awareness in yourself and the folks in your midst about the experiences of people around you that may be different to yours.
Inequality is all around you, it’s being experienced by your co-workers, your neighbors, your favorite local shop owner. It’s being experienced by them deeply and pervasively. Everywhere you look — if you really look — there are people in your close proximity who are facing a myriad of inequalities and challenges during this pandemic.
They face challenges you may never know personally or understand — due only to who they are, the color of their skin, their gender, their disability status, their socio economic status, the kind of job they might hold, and more. That’s because people in your midst have always suffered from systemic and structural inequalities and this pandemic has rapidly widened the gulf between your experience and theirs. The consequences of this inequality were BIG before the pandemic and they are HUGE now. Whether you know it or not their experiences impact your experience too.
Can we learn to pay attention to their experiences, ask questions?
Can you (can we) seek to understand?
- Inequality is a problem we all need to and CAN play a role in solving for it
It can be easy to default to the thinking that inequality is too big of a problem to solve and so we turn our attention away from it or we think of people above us or beyond us as being responsible for fixing it. Whether we know it or not all of us have a role to play in building and re-building inequality into our systems — our systems of work and our systems of community.
More importantly perhaps, we all need to play a role in dismantling it.
You see, we are all biased, ALL OF US! You, me, your next door neighbor, your boss. Our biases are conditioned by the world in which we live, by our upbringings, our experiences, by the continued existence of profound inequalities. These biases of ours creep into everyday decisions that we make EVERY DAY!
However, all’s not lost. We can work to reduce bias effectively – in our decisions and our systems – by better bringing diverse perspectives and experiences of people who may hold different views to our tables and by getting radically curious about how inequality is creeping into our decision making and our designs.
That’s why our team created the novel Equity Sequence a methodology anyone can learn to unpack bias, discrimination, and inequality in everyday decision-making in order to transform it.
You can help transform it.
In 2020 I’ve witnessed public health officials inadvertently building inequality into critical
COVID-19 messages, I’ve witnessed police services make woefully biased responses to protests, I’ve seen governments make radically unequal decisions about who gets to remain economically active and who does not without adequate consideration to the unequal consequences of those decisions, I’ve seen pandemic plans that didn’t take the homeless population into account, I’ve seen work from home strategies that ignored working parents and caregivers and junior and less privileged employees. We can do better as a society. We can do better as organizations, we can do better as individuals. We can seek to solve problems of inequality in every decision that we make.
You can help.
- There is an opportunity RIGHT NOW to create a paradigm shift
Much ink has been spilled about the corporate reaction to the BLM movement. Questions have been asked about whether the myriad of public statements that have been drafted are performative, whether social media activism is in any way sufficient to change any reality for any person or peoples negatively affected by inequality in this challenging world. However, what I would say as an individual who pursues the solving of problems of inequality for a living is that we could be — in this moment — on the cusp of a true paradigm shift and that we shouldn’t pass this moment by.
There is a window of opportunity open in ourselves, in our organizations, and in our communities to have a real conversation about the problems of inequality, how they show up, and what to do about them, and now is the time to kick that window in and turn it into a huge set of french doors – opening onto a new world. A new world in which we are all hands-on deck to solve these problems.
Are you in?
- Collaboration is a human superpower
Finally, what I really want you all to take from this year, this magically horrible year, and specifically from what we’ve learned about the problems of inequality this year, is that collaboration and common cause are truly a human superpower.
If we are going to change what seem like intractable realities — such as the ongoing prevalence of systemic racism, of sexism, of poverty, and more — we need to treat these problems the way we treated the problem of COVID-19 as a pernicious and negative scourge impacting all of humanity badly.
We need to be galvanized by that HUGE HUMAN PROBLEM and be inspired to work together (not in silos) towards our collective aim – which is a society in which everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.
Why wouldn’t you want to live in that kind of society?
This is not the time to factionalize, it’s not the time to devolve into subtle arguments about which inequalities matter most, or who deserves the most attention or credit. This is a time to band together, across common-cause, across inequalities, to support the most vulnerable, to empower the most vulnerable, to knit together as champions of change, to listen acutely to those who have different experiences and perspectives then you or me, and to go forward…TOGETHER to solve one of the greatest problems of our time.
That problem is the problem of inequality. It is neither intractable nor is it guaranteed to change and get better.
Will you be part of the solution?
Final thoughts on this crazy year
On the eve of 2021…I wish for you to take these lessons and these questions deliberately and purposefully into 2021.
Do something with these lessons.
Do not forget 2020. It has so much to teach us.
What lessons will you carry into 2021 from the year 2020 to help build a better future?
Anna Dewar Gully is Founder & Co-CEO of Tidal Equality. Tidal Equality helps organizations build equality with innovations in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion space including the Equity Sequence™, a radically simple practice anyone can use to make systemic change. Prior to Tidal Equality, Anna spent 15 years in organizational strategy, public policy, and transformation. You can follow Anna on LinkedIn and Twitter.