One of the hardest things to see is the poverty in Bangkok: amongst the neon lit massage parlours, expat bars, towering hotels and Bladerunner like Sky Train tracks, young women with children, just babies really, sit begging in the street.
I realise it’s a sight i’m not used to, mainly because in the UK any mother begging with a child would be taken in by social services and given help, or the child would be taken into care.
As i walked home last night, one of these children, he can only have been three or four, was lying on a towel on the street, his mother quite some distance away talking to someone. Cradled in his arms was a puppy, itself fast asleep on him, it can only have been a few weeks old. It was a picture of unbearable pathos, although, in it’s way, the sight of the two of them finding comfort in each other was reassuring.
Knowing what to do in these situations is hard: at home, i would not give money. There’s a thought that it’s best to give money to a charity that supports homeless people, not to give it directly to the person themselves. Here, i’m less sure.
I was heading home after dinner with a friend. She’s a senior executive in a global business. It’s a new job, the last one having been taken away from her. On telling her employer that she was thinking of starting a family, which would restrict her travel, she lost her job four weeks later. Naturally it went to appeal and was settled out of court, but it bought me right back to thinking about the journeys we take in search of equality.
I won’t apologise for writing a few pieces about this recently, as it’s an important battle and reflects my evolving thinking as i write further around the Social Age, around Social Leadership and the nature of ethical, fair decision making.
As my friend described the process, she explained how many of her fellow Execs had been sympathetic, outraged even, but had not intervened, instead saying things like ‘That’s how it works in Asia‘, despite both of them being based in the UK. The ways we justify unfairness are indicative of wider issues: it’s essentially a personal choice of whether we value being within the community that is unfair as opposed to risking being excluded through our actions.
When i think about that small child, asleep on the pavement, my choice was simple, do i give money, possibly perpetuating the situation or would i give money to a charity or body that may include support to change lifestyle, to find a home. I’m also aware that by giving money you can encourage a culture of begging, which may not be good for anyone.
But the choice to do something is reasonably clear. Doing nothing perpetuates the inequality, but there are many routes to change.
There are parallels to the employment situation: does a bystander do something, or say nothing? By tacitly and silently allowing the situation to play out, you are encouraging, complicit in and perpetuating a toxic culture.
The argument of ‘that’s how it’s done‘ is self fulfilling: if that’s how we respond, then that’s how it will continue to be done. We change culture by removing the spaces for toxic behaviours to be exhibited. We remove permission to exclude.
For the business, the current situation was simple: they knew that most cases are settled out of court, so it’s a simple process of paying to remove the problem. It may be legal, but by no measure is it right. Legal and right are different things, as i’ve been writing about recently in regards to the case of disgraced footballer Ched Evans and the way his status as a role model is not a matter of law.
If you read my work around the foundations of the Social Age, you’ll see themes: the need to engage with communities, to be magnetic to talent, to be fair. These are not coincidental: they make us agile, able to respond and bring our communities with us. They let us be creative (because we have inclusive cultures with clear permission to experiment and fail) and they let us innovate by iterating and developing ideas over time. If the culture if fragmented, you can have none of it, and without it, you cannot thrive.
Equality is more than a matter of conscience. It’s a matter of good business. But it won’t be delivered by rules, processes and laws alone. It’s delivered through our actions, and sometimes we have to fight.