Jacqueline Winstanley

Jacqueline Winstanley BSC Hons UK
CEO Universal Inclusion
Advisory Board Member

I have been reminded recently, far closer to home than I would like to have seen, of the presence and impact of the “ISM” in the room and more specifically the workplace when stated Policies and Procedures fall short of delivering the Diverse and Inclusive environment they are intended to create.

So what is an “ISM”? And why do we need to understand and eradicate it?

To me it’s something that exists when the “Fight or Flight” response, learned behavior and emotional regulation interact simultaneously.

The Fight/Flight mechanism was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1839 in relation to animal behavior.

The concept is well documented in terms of physiological and psychological responses within Humans, in particular the concept of emotional regulation where, during a reaction, the intensity of emotion that is brought on by the stimulus will also determine the nature and intensity of the behavioral response.

In essence when faced with a physical or theoretical interaction, individuals with higher levels of emotional reactivity may be prone to anxiety and aggression, which illustrates the implications of appropriate emotional reaction alongside the Fight/Flight response.

So in the spirit of the famous hair advert, that’s the science but what does it really mean and how can we utilize this understanding to reduce the ISM, that accompanies so much destruction around the world?

What, can we learn and banish from the workplace and society as a whole in those split seconds, where one individual decides that the other is of less value than themselves and exhibits what can only be a learned behavior?

In trying to capture this, I find myself looking back over my life and trying to pinpoint the exact time that I experienced the concept of right and wrong and what subsequently shaped the path that I have travelled in the pursuit of reducing inequalities, often to lengths that others would just not go to, leaving me standing in isolation.

My earliest memory in this regard was of my Friend Carl. We played for hours in what we called the Rose Garden, the ladybird meadow and the green in front of our houses where we lived .

I never really noticed the things about Carl that were later to cause him so much pain. I was slightly envious of his curly hair and what we called his ‘sun-kissed’ skin and he of my milk-white legs and pencil-straight hair.

I could outrun him, he could find the best hiding places and make the best perfume from the roses in the rose garden

We finished each others’ sentences, put plasters on each other’s grazed knees and shared the lunches that we had both been sent out with each morning.

Suddenly however, our ideal, little world was rocked by the behavior of others and I heard for the first time the words that cut so deep – more deeply than the punches and the vile things that were sometimes thrown at him as our Fight or Flight mechanism didn’t quite get us away quickly enough.

I remember the attempts of others to tempt me away from my time with him with promises of positive and negative consequences. I still remember – like it was yesterday – the terminology applied to me for denying the temptation to abandon my friend.

Equally, I can still hear how fast our hearts pounded as we braved the – now almost daily – ritual of outrunning or outsmarting the cruel intentions of others.

Our school path, notably long and frequently visited by piercing wind, was our battlefield, our school bell our savior, as we endured years of this cat and mouse scenario.

Did others try to step in and help? Not that I remember. Some apologised in darkened corners, some gave knowing glances, but no real help. Others formed alliances, often, I now realize based on the fear of being the target themselves.

Therein lies my first memory of when I stood up to what I now know to be Racism and latterly in my friend’s life Disablism.

Some might say we have come a long way in terms of the fight against and understanding the presence of the “ISM”. We have laws in place to protect people from it.

Top tier companies produce policies & procedures which, whilst well intended, are often reliant on one individual. They therefore become prone to lapses when individuals take up other responsibilities and move on. Or they fail as business priorities, such as restructuring do not adequately consider the emergence of the “ISM” , so often inherent in the process.

This is particularly the case for people with hidden and fluctuating conditions, as in such circumstances there are no visual reminders to those who are charged with the implementation process. Increasingly stunting Inclusive Economic Growth with the stroke of a pen or touch of a keyboard.

What is missing in the majority of cases when the “ISM” is allowed to flourish. are structured and supportive frameworks which everyone in the organisation is aware of, understand and become embedded in working practice.

We have moved beyond the consideration of unconscious bias, there is no hiding behind ” the letter of the law” we now need to implement Global solutions with supportive pathways that will bring about real change.