Twelfth Night – be ‘what you will’

So I am going to go and see Shakespeare’s twelfth night this week in an open air setting and as, it is one I have not read before, I chose to read it this weekend. For those who have not read it …a  very quick summary

Orsino loves Lady Olivia but it is not reciprocated.  Viola disguises herself as a man, (Cesario) to work for Orsino (a man) who she falls in love with but he thinks she is a man. Malvolio is the main focus of the sub plot , described as a puritan by play critics who is tricked into believing Olivia is in love with him by a letter written by Maria impersonating Olivia.  Olivia however has fallen in love with Viola (thinking she is a man). To woo Olivia, Malvolio is told in this letter  to dress in yellow stockings and cross garters and smile a lot to win her love (Shakespeare clearly had a wicked sense of humour).  A very simplified version of the plot for the purposes of today’s debate….  but how does this all apply to HR you may ask?  Well this play has often be described as a ‘transvestite comedy’ as many of the key characters engage in cross dressing throughout the play and for 16th Century that was quite a big deal.  Even more so when we think the puritan figure Malvolio who perhaps represents traditional society is the one that is  most ridiculed and at the end of the play the most unhappy. Perhaps Shakespeare was a secret activist against convention? another debate.

So rather than thinking about transvestites or transgender perspectives of which we can also do a blog…  I am thinking today about diversity and whether still in the 21st century we hold beliefs that hamper our ability to perform at work. Monica in our team has been talking to me about  unconscious bias and I have to admit I wondered what on earth she was going on about. There’s  a whole host of intellectual stuff around it when I googled (perhaps one for Monica to explain if you are interested) but I think the main point I gleaned was that we still today and -perhaps automatically and biologically –  are quick to judge people who are different to us (if not on a conscious level but a subconscious level) and could we do more to try and think more about the issue of equalities at a cultural and individual level rather than a one size fits all approach that a lot of standard equality and diversity training delivers?

I’ll go one stage further just to provoke debate (and I don’t know the answer), but earlier in the week Monica spoke about mediation and the feelings of isolation that can happen if teams are not functioning well.  Mediation is great for getting people to see each others’ perspectives but again are some of these tensions around diversity- not culturally per se- but  people feeling differently, seeing differently, thinking differently and being brought together in teams and expected to always work harmoniously?

Perhaps one for a debate at some point? But for now  if you want to wear yellow stockings or be different why not? It may make people understand who you are more and get to know the real you… (maybe I’ll stick to navy for now)

Article by Michelle Harte – Head of HR, West Midlands Employers

(Find out more about Michelle) 

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