I sit on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee at Meaden & Moore. In a townhall session last year, we had an amazing firm wide discussion around what the topic means to all of us, and how we think Meaden & Moore can make continuous improvements in this vital area. Our aim is to put a formal framework around our ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, and create a sharing environment for continuous improvement.
During that townhall, I confirmed the importance of empathy as a life skill and how the development of that skill can help everyone in building a tool kit for improving their own approach to equity, diversity and inclusion.
The basis for this comment comes from my volunteer work with a UK not-for-profit organisation – EmpathyLab – that links the science of reading and Empathy to social action, providing assistance to authors, schools and libraries in teaching empathy as a core skill. EmpathyLab targets children in an effort to help create a better society for our future. EmpahthyLab state ‘We believe that empathy is a beacon of hope in a divided world.’
Their target might be children, but the principles and teachings apply to any age and are of particular importance in the professional environment. Miranda McKearney – one of the founders of EmphathyLab – is keen to adapt her teachings for the working world, but in the meantime, I wanted to draw upon their main messages.
‘Young people are growing up in a society with a major empathy deficit; hate crimes are at their highest level since records began and there are increasing concerns about the negative effects of social media.’
Central to the activities of the organisation is EmpathyDay – which is 10 June this year. They use the day to promote empathy and provide support and guidance across many sectors and organisations. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes - or in line with this year’s theme, walking in someone else’s shoes - and recognising the impact your actions will have on others, is the starting point to demonstrating empathy with people who may have a different culture, background, race, gender, age band or social group to you… As I said, a vital skill in the professional environment and a core part of our ED&I toolkit.
I include below some relevant extracts from EmpathyLab, to help us all start the journey toward empathy development and excellence.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is our ability to imagine and share someone else’s feelings and perspectives. Research shows it is:
- A pivotal social/emotional competence: influential frameworks include empathy as a key factor
- An essential ingredient in education: it builds the relationships pupils need to learn/feel safe (Settling Children to Learn, Bomber & Hughes, 2013)
- A key factor in moral behavior: Empathy, Justice, and Moral Behavior, Decety & Cowell, 2015
Empathy is made up of 3 main elements:
- FEELING: where we resonate with other people’s feelings
- THINKING: where we use reason and imagination to work out how someone else feels
- ACTING: where we are inspired to help others, having experienced what they are feeling
If we keep these elements in our minds when we’re dealing with colleagues, service providers, clients (and family members!), it’s a great start towards practicing the skills required. It sounds obvious (and we all truly believe that we do this anyway), but if we’re all honest with ourselves we will see that there is always room for improvement.
- Empathic people are made, not born. Only 10% of our empathic capacity is genetic (Warrier et al 2018)
- 94% of employers say that in the workplace, social and emotional skills are as important as academic qualifications (Sutton Trust, 2018)
- Empathy is a vital social and emotional skill. Research shows these skills are more significant for young people’s academic attainment than IQ (Public Health England, 2014)
- Hate crimes increased by 10% in 2018/19 (England and Wales), the highest level since Home Office records began. Hate crimes have more than doubled since 2012/13. (Home Office, 2019)
For more information on EmpathyLab and the plans they have for EmpathyDay (it’s all virtual and will be available online), please visit here. You may like to use the information available for yourself as part of your own ED&I toolkit, or share the activities available with any children that might be part of your world. If you’d like to involve your local school in Empathy Day, please contact us here.