The royal wedding divided people’s opinion: some saw it as an over the top, decadent affair, others thought it was a much-needed injection of optimism. Either way, it captured public attention. It also taught us a lesson, highly relevant to the big questions our society faces today.
It wasn’t the bride’s dress that stole the show, but the words of Bishop Michael Curry, head of the US Episcopal Church. He spoke about the “power of love” and painted an emotional vision of “neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way”. The delivery and flowery language might have made some Britons, including members of the royal family, slightly uncomfortable but his message hit a nerve. Because love isn’t exactly the way in our communities at the moment. Recent terror attacks, the rise of knife crime in our cities and a more hostile environment towards migrants epitomised by the Brexit debate paint a picture of divided communities, social fragmentation and declining levels of political trust.
Social integration isn’t a fluffy, navel-gazing policy interest anymore – it has suddenly become key to Britain’s status as an open, safe and progressive society. A recent House of Lords select committee inquiry concluded that we don’t have a coherent vision of citizenship and what it means in the UK in the 21st century. As a result, fewer people feel they have a stake in the country and responsibility towards it.
How do we tackle this? Though inspiring, Curry didn’t offer much practical advice in his speech. However, a key lesson from the post-Brexit fallout is that we all spend too much time with people who have similar opinions and backgrounds to us. At best this means we don’t get exposed to different views; at worst this makes us hostile and closed off to the ‘others’ who aren’t part of our social group. This closed-off outlook can also have a negative impact on our workplaces, as we shy away from inclusivity and stick with what we know.
But how do we address this? By definition, bringing people together whose paths don’t cross is tricky to do and even more difficult to do at scale. Volunteering is one good way to do it: research by Volunteering Matters shows that volunteers improve their appreciation for other people’s points of view, increase their network and have a greater sense of community. I’ve seen the practical application of this first hand through the CIPD’s Steps Ahead Mentoring programme. We found that not only did the young people involved find work, but the HR professionals who volunteered as mentors also changed their perception of young people and in many cases reviewed their recruitment practices to make their workplaces more youth friendly.
And it isn’t just through supporting young people that HR can contribute to Curry’s vision of community. Although it might not traditionally be seen as a profession at the heart of driving positive change in communities (like education, health or social work, for example), with such pivotal positions in the labour market, HR people can make a huge difference to schools, pupils, jobseekers and small charities. And of course they also have a key role to play in promoting the profession locally and helping the CIPD to engage its members to champion better work and working lives.
Thousands of CIPD members are already volunteering in this way and Volunteers’ Week gives us an opportunity to recognise and thank them for their efforts. In the spirit of bringing people together, we are hosting a Volunteer Summit next week where we will hear more about the very real ways HR is already giving back and contributing to what Curry would recognise as communities “where love is the way”.
Katerina Rüdiger is head of member, branch and community engagement at the CIPD. Click here for further information about volunteering via the CIPD