Race Equality Week

Here’s a chilling statistic for you. It is normal for 75% of ethnic minorities to experience racism in the workplace. Just let that sink in for a minute. For three quarters of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population discrimination at work is a normal experience. This is one of the outputs of research conducted by Green Park and The Collaboratory and has led to their creation of the UK’s first racial Equality Week due to get started on Monday 1st February.

It comes at a time of hope following the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the US. For those of you who missed it please take six minutes with a cuppa to listen to Amanda Gorman’s poem from last week’s ceremony.

The Hill I Climb, Amanda Gorman (transcript available here)

Race Equality Week has a simple message – let’s not go back to normal. This sentiment dovetails beautifully with the thrust of the ‘Hill I Climb’ poem, which also includes the line “we seek harm to none and harmony for all”. Next week across the country senior leaders will meet with staff to build their understanding of the challenges, barriers and issues in a series of ‘safe space’ conversations. These will culminate in a collection of Big Promises made between employers and employees about the changes they will make. I will be watching keenly to see whether these words turn into actions and if your employer is taking part I encourage you to do so as well.

For those of you whose employer may have missed the boat worry not. The intention is for this to become an annual cycle of conversations and commitment so ask your organisation ‘why are we not taking part in this’. It is an especially powerful challenge if it is raised by allies rather than People of Colour.

As someone who has experienced racism from childhood, I can assure you that the many statistics you have read and comments you have heard are not only very likely to be true they are most probably understated. The goal of most campaigners on this agenda is not to tip the balance of the scales but merely to achieve equilibrium.

So if this short post has encouraged you to find out what more you can personally do I suggest a visit to the Race Equality Matters website. I’ll leave you with Amanda’s words:

“But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright…
…In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Brew Monday

This week I want to shine a massive spotlight on Samaritans. Brew Monday is an absolute gem of an idea and given the current circumstances, really needed. Turning a fundraising activity to support people in need at exactly the same time as encouraging a behaviour that works in support of your cause is in my eyes pure genius! My donation is on its way. It also made me think about how much more I could do to check in on friends and family and not just because we are in a lockdown but as a standard daily habit.

But first, it’s important for me to look in the mirror. It is far too easy to immediately leap into how do I help others without considering my own needs. Last week I talked about cups running low or empty and the cumulative impact of multiple lockdowns added to heightened work stress is certainly impacting on me. Mental health inexplicably remains a taboo subject and when I reflect on my own thoughts on my mental health it stems from a perception that an admittance that my anxiety is building, my stress is growing and ability to cope diminishing feels like an admittance of failure, a lack of personal strength, wimping out. I have to confess that historically I have placed too little emphasis on my own mental health. Sky News posted this really helpful article earlier this month and it is well worth a read. So if you are now thinking you should complete your own self assessment there are some great tools out there including this one from the NHS – Your Mind Plan.

My wider inclusion question for this week stems from this. I believe we are getting better about being open about mental health challenges we may be facing but there is still a long way to go. In the workplace there remains a reluctance to openly talk about mental health and we are far more likely to rally round and offer support to a colleague with flu, a chronic bad back or a leg break than one with a mental health problem. So what action can we take?

Three things really. The first is to start with yourself. We often place our own self care at the bottom of the pile. There has never been a more important time to rethink that list of priorities and place ourselves first.

The second: personal development. Build your knowledge around what to look for, how to support and critically where to signpost. Supporting someone with a mental health problem may require a skilled practitioner. Sometimes the best thing you can do is encourage someone to seek professional help. For tips on things you can do to support others this website is a great starting point.

And the third thing is what you can ask your employer to do. A couple of years ago I heard Dr Shaun Davis speak about the benefits of the Royal Mail’s Mental Health First Aider programme. Having trained colleagues readily available to support members of staff is a great way of both demonstrating organisational commitment and understanding but is also a brilliant support programme for your staff. You can read a bit more about what they have done here. What if every employer had a Mental Health First Aid programme? What if we thought about Mental Health First Aid in the same way as we currently think about physical First Aid? I will definitely be asking this question in my organisation, will you? #ImNotTired

The Parent Trap

Well like many thousands of other parents up and down the country our household has just managed to navigate the first full week of home school 2.0. First of all, hats off to the teachers at the schools our kids go to as this version, albeit more sapping on bandwidth, is distinctly better for my children than last year when we were all caught rather off guard.

Disney’s The Parent Trap

In many ways this echoes our organisational responses where we have been able to take our learning from 2020 lockdown and introduce / rekindle some of the practices we developed then. I must admit I have never known a working environment more forgiving and understanding of the challenges facing working parents than I have experienced over the past 12 months. I sincerely hope we keep in mind the adjustments we have all made to accommodate toddlers interrupting Zoom calls, the sounds of siblings arguing in the background and colleagues crashing out of virtual meetings whilst a teenager in the background fires up a next generation console.

However, there is a risk and a danger that we over compensate our focus on those individuals who are juggling multiple family balls. There is a wonderful film produced by Accenture titled Inclusion starts with I. Why I love this narrative is that explores both invisible and visible difference and highlights that inclusion extends far beyond protected characteristics. So whilst a video call with me may well give you audio and visual clues that I am juggling home schooling and work. With another colleague you may well not be aware of the mental health impacts lockdown is having on them, or the caring responsibilities (and associated pressures) they have for an elderly relative or vulnerable loved one at home or the financial difficulties that they could be facing.

Inclusion starts with I (Accenture)

There is also a line in the film that wonderfully highlights the potential imbalance we can introduce for those people without kids “it’s the strain of feeling that I am expected to do more, simply because I don’t have children”.

This lockdown is tougher for all of us. We are more tired and jaded than we were last Spring. The weather is bleaker, the mornings darker and the days shorter. Blue Monday is just a (rinse repeat) weekend away. It is a time when our levels of kindness need to be at their greatest but our own cups are running low or in many cases may well be empty. My urge this week is to avoid falling into the ‘Parent Trap’ of solely recognising or acknowledging any ‘obvious’ challenges people are facing. Let us try to be mindful of the wide variety of challenges any of us could be facing and be curious and supportive. Kindness is a simple act that is often underrated. Let’s try to ask at least one other person each day how they are doing and if there is anything we can do to help and support. It may feel like a small thing to do but it could make a big difference…

#ImNotTired are you?

Three is the magic number…

This week I am going to start with a trip down memory lane. We would start school music lessons with a distribution of instruments. The kids who went first would often go for a xylophone or something else equally exciting, a glockenspiel perhaps. Gradually as the cupboard emptied the best you could hope for was a tambourine but i can certainly say that nobody wanted to be left at the very end. For if you were last or close to last the only instrument left was often a triangle, apable of a single solitary note often drowned out by the excitable kid next to you bashing a drum or set of bongos. If this opening has got you feeling particularly misty eyed and yearning to hear the sound of percussive instruments then I’d suggest having a look at this video of a wooden ball, playing Bach, on a giant xylophone in the German woods…

A very different way to play a bit of Bach

That opening preamble was a very roundabout way of talking about the magical power of triangles that would go on to feature prominently in my primary school education. From use of triangles to build strong bridges out of straws past Pythagoras’ theorem and onto fascination of the pyramids of Egypt – triangles started popping up everywhere. This continued through my early career. I would learn about the importance of a triangulation of methods when conducting research and barely a moment would pass by before someone would introduce me the latest business model which all seemed to have a fascination with basic shapes: circles, squares and yes plenty of triangles. My favourite of these three sided models is Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle and, with the latest challenges we are all facing in lockdown, I am sure we could all do with a little rescuing right now.

So turning my attention to the world of inclusion. I am sure you will all share my horror at the events that took place at Capitol Hill this week. Though it may feel that we are very distant from that type of riotous supremacist bahaviour I would urge you to recollect what transpired this Spring on the back of the Black Lives Matters protests on the streets of London and outside the Houses of Parliament. It is not fantasy to imagine something similar happening on our shores. And so to my triangle.

It is the start of a New Year and you may well work for an organisation that back in June was swift to post a statement either about anti-racism or potentially more broadly about inclusion. I’d encourage you to ask the question of senior management “how are we getting on?”. What progress have we made in the past six months?”. And most importantly, “how do you know if we are making progress, what measures do we use?”

Too often, I fear that our focus on delivering equity and inclusion is far too easily drawn to looking at demographics. What is the ethnicity of our workforce? What’s the gender balance of senior leadership? How many of our employees declare they have a disability? The problem with this approach is two fold:
1. it ignores the quality of experience by simply counting numbers
2. it counts numbers that take a long time to change and therefore there is no swift of understanding whether or not you are making progress

It is here where an alternative triangulated view comes in handy. What if we all challenged our organisations to look at three metrics:

  1. Yes please continue to measure and monitor the varying identity of our staff we would love to have a vibrant, cosmopolitan mix (Diversity)
  2. While you are at it can you please check the experience of all our staff and measure how far people feel able to be themselves in the workplace (Belonging)
  3. In order to get things really moving can we check the capability and confidence of our most senior leaders. They set the tone for the whole organisation so we would value knowing they had high levels of Emotional and Cultural Intelligence (Leadership)

What if we encouraged all of our organisations to take a broader approach to identifying what progress we are making and the evolving lived experience of all our people. That’s something we could start to improve immediately and would help us understand if we were making the necessary progress towards a more inclusive and diverse workplace…

I’d love to hear about what approaches your companies take to measuring themselves on this and if you don’t know please make it your aim to find out this coming week. If we really want to see change these are the questions we need to ask and the answers we need to know. It should only take a small amount of effort but it could make a big difference. #ImNotTired are you?

New Year, new plans…

Happy New Year everyone! After a welcome rest and opportunity to recharge my batteries I am ready to go once again. There was reason for despair over the festive period as Liz Truss really tried her best to dampen my spirits with a bizarre equalities speech. Though parts of it have been deleted upon uploading to the Government website the general thrust was that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the UK. This, coupled to the realignment of Brexit to the ‘levelling up agenda, reminded me of this political cartoon:

Pitching the white working class against the black and brown population is an old trick. It is a diversionary tactic designed to divide and rule. Though racial equity is the focus of this illustration my reflection got me thinking more broadly. How often do our policies ignore or negatively impact our minoritised communities, whilst ironically simultaneously benefitting an even smaller minority of the population? The latest promised vehicle for delivering economic equity and tackling disparity is the ‘levelling up’ agenda. The challenge is that it is yet to be suitably defined. But I started wondering what if we hijacked the phrase and defined the term very clearly and precisely with our own interpretation? What if we collectively sought to popularise what levelling up could and should mean for us within the social policies of our companies and the actions of our local councils?

We have seen both parties struggle with tackling regeneration over the past 20 years. My personal feeling is that this is because we do not address the causes of hardship with a misplaced belief that a new town centre (often a grey one with plenty of steps and an overpriced collection of flats nearby) is the secret to resolving all ills. To truly level up we need to look at how we balance the inequality in our education system, the marginalisation of certain groups, issues of poverty, destitution and homelessness as well as delivering strong economic returns. The Centre for Social Justice and The Equality Trust have both produced compelling evidence that tackling poverty and boosting economic performance are not only compatible but actually necessary dual policies. I am committing to boost my knowledge of this agenda in the coming months and will endeavour to find a guest blogger from one of those organisations to share their opinions with us.

As we start the New Year, I thought I would be cheeky and ask two questions of you all. The first links to the theme of this blog and simply asks what does ‘levelling up’ mean to you? If this is the language our Government is using for a key political agenda that will impact on equity in the Britain we should all have an opinion on what it means. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The second is a wider question related to a new year and new goals and aspirations. From an equity and inclusion perspective what area of your knowledge or understanding are you looking to develop? Confidence is an important attribute for all allies and it provides the foundation that enables us to act and support others or lobby for equity when we feel it is absent. I have found that confidence can be grown from a single strong starting point. So for those of you who may not want to post I simply encourage you to pick one area, develop a plan of how you will improve your capability confidence and then monitor (and most importantly) celebrate your progress.

There is huge amount of opportunity for us in 2021 and after a good rest over the festive period #ImNotTired. Are you?