Innocent banter or potential sacking offence? If nothing else, the various comments made by Andy Gray which led to his dismissal have highlighted the inherent dangers of discrimination, however discreet, within any organisation.
The BBC was recently found guilty of age discrimination against Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly; at Sky Sports the roles are almost reversed as it is employees who have inadvertently, but spectacularly, demonstrated their outdated sexist views.
Nowadays, even the most innocuous of comments beside the coffee machine could reverberate among colleagues and right to the top. You don’t have to be a public figure like Gray to find yourself disciplined for a casual or unintended slur on another human being, whether on the grounds of gender, race or age – but how many organisations have in place a proper diversity and equality policy to address discrimination within their ranks? And how many actually act on its contents?
In short, the purpose of such a policy is to provide diversity and equality to all employees irrespective of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability, age, nationality, national origin, sexuality, religion or belief, marital status and social class, to prevent all forms of unlawful and unfair discrimination.
The policy should promote a working environment where all employees are treated fairly and equally; it should be enshrined in an organisation’s company handbook and/or intranet guidelines, monitored annually and implemented across the whole workforce. Any breaches of the policy should be regarded as misconduct with the potential to lead to disciplinary proceedings.
You might hope that the football industry would have learnt its lesson in 1998 when Rachel Anderson – at the time the only female football agent in England – famously won her case against the Professional Football Association: they had refused her entry to the PFA awards ceremony because she was a woman. And yet, thirteen years later, Gray and his fellow commentator Richard Keys have been branded “prehistoric” and football generally an “old boys’ club.” And now Gray has paid the ultimate price for his sexist attitude.
Although this incident has been positive in bringing the sport’s “institutionalised sexism” into the open, it has reinforced that we still have a long way to go before we will witness true equality. Sexism is still rife among pals in pubs across the country, but we can go a long way towards encouraging more enlightened attitudes by addressing the issue within places of work – both inside and outside the sports industry.