Can I have a ‘T’ please Bob?

I look back on the 80’s with a lot of fondness. In our household growing up we were definitely fans of a gameshow and my childhood years were brimming with (what I hazily remember) as high quality entertainment. My second favourite show was Blockbusters – my first was Bullseye and I spent my formative years thinking that everyone dreamed of owning a speedboat. Back to Blockbusters and I still cannot fathom how two people needing to answer 5 questions was fair when compared to one person needing to answer 4… This week’s blog has a tenuous link to that quiz show and the polite chuckles that seeped out when a contestant seemingly asked for hot beverage (we saved the serious guffaws for when they requested a trip to the loo).

That is as light hearted as this week’s post will get as we turn to much more serious matters. The decision to grant the LGB Alliance charitable status has caused a stir. I feel out of my depth on this debate and hope that others will be able to share their own reflections on the situation. I can only go by what I have seen from organisations I respect like Stonewall.

I am concerned about the lack of understanding and support for the trans community. I feel there is a public debate being played out where people hold strong opinions or perspectives but have only heard one, incredibly biased side of the story. Elliot Page is playing his part but we need more voices, especially from high profile allies. I have been fortunate and blessed to have some open conversations with a small number of trans people and from those discussions have a greater appreciation of how challenging a place the world is for them and how actually small changes by me could make them feel a greater sense of being included.

The outpouring of concern and criticism from the LGBTQ+ community suggests that many see the award of charitable status to the Alliance as a negative and divisive move. The campaign against MP John Nicolson who questioned the decision fuels my concerns. My own inclusion perspective is that as minoritised audiences we have greater strength in numbers. We need to be mutual allies across all identities and I have always seen great strength, solidarity and efficacy within the unified LGBTQ+ community.

So this week is a solidarity post. A reaffirmation of my intention to stand with the trans community to do what I can to challenge hate, provide support and help open the minds of other people to be empathetic and understanding of trans colleagues, friends or family. I know I need to learn more, I am sure I can do more and I am committed to finding out what that could be. #ImNotTired

Groupthink, plans sink…

Wow well that was a week an a half. There is so much I could write about but I have decided to start this week’s post discussing football, or more specifically the failed attempt to form a breakaway European Super League. Everyone, their dog and their dog’s favourite rubber chicken waded into this debate, including the Prime Minister (who personally I feel has bigger things to worry about). For those of you that missed it 12 European Teams, including the self-anointed Premier League ‘Big Six, tried to create a new midweek elite continental competition. No-one was happy about it and it led to protests, crisis meetings, media vilification and after just 48 hours an embarrassing u-turn by the Premier League teams involved.

One of the primary reasons for the failing of this project was the fact that a group of like minded individuals with similar ideas, visions and plans came together to discuss the future. They sought no external input and were arrogant enough to believe that everyone else would just fall into line. The fact that they had not only avoided testing their thinking with supporters but also with their own coaching and playing staff is mind boggling. Sound familiar? So many organisations suffer from this insular challenge without diversity of thought in key decision making roles and a steadfast refusal to listen to other perspectives and viewpoints. So next time you are in a meeting, or being involved in making decisions ask yourself who is impacted by this choice but isn’t in the room? What viewpoints or perspectives are missing from this conversation…

Groupthink is a significant problem for inclusion ambitions. It is also the root cause for many systemic and institutional issues preventing equity or equality. We know there is a challenge with demographic diversity and diversity of thought in major institutions, top companies and key decision making positions across society.

This week we remembered Stephen Lawrence and his family who are still fighting for justice. We thought of George Floyd and his family that will have gained some small comfort from the Chauvin verdict and we wait to see if this landmark judgement has a ripple effect on the US Judicial system. Football feels like a trivial entry point to this week’s post given the gravity of what has happened this week but my main point was first penned by someone else. Reflecting on the European Super League debacle, former West Ham & England footballer Carlton Cole tweeted this:

The fallout from the Super League announcement was a direct challenge against groupthink. There are lots of other areas where groupthink is holding us back from social justice and equity. I couldn’t agree with Carlton more and I long for a time when we can be united in challenging issues of inequality, discrimination and hate with a similar level of vim and vigour… #I’mNotTired

Is there a dark side to firsts?

Sporting firsts are often held up and heralded as major breakthroughs. Last weekend we had a triple helping of that at both the beginning and end of The Masters and sandwiched in the middle of that the Grand National. Lee Elder who was the first Black golfer to compete in The Masters was added to the line up of honorary starters for a tournament steeped in tradition but with a history riddled with inequality. It felt fitting though that the tournament was won by Hideki Matsuyama the first Japanese golfer to triumph on Augusta’s lightning fast greens and undulating fairways. The respectful act of his caddie Shota Hayafuji replacing the flagstick on the 18th, removing his cap and bowing to the course has got people talking all over the world.

In between Hideki’s stunning performance and Lee’s understated appearance came Rachael Blackmore’s historic triumph as the first female jockey to win the Grand National on Minella Times. We also had the Boat Races with Cambridge Men and Women both victorious. But I think it is important in celebrating these moments to also acknowledge how long it has taken for progress to happen. Lee Elder was the first Black player to compete at The Masters in 1975 even though the tournament began in 1934. It wasn’t until 1977 that women were allowed to compete in horse racing and it has taken over 40 years to produce our first female champion of the jump season’s biggest race. The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race started in 1829 (Oxford won that year in case you were wondering) It was almost 100 years before the Women’s race was introduced in 1927 and not till 1935 it became a side by side race (Oxford won the first Women’s side by side race as well). It wasn’t until 2015 that the Women’s race was moved to the Thames to take place on the same day as the Men’s race and a further three years for both crews to get equal billing.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning with Minella Times CREDIT: PA

The purpose of today’s post is not to undermine or pick holes in these achievements. I am a big fan when we break new ground in terms of equality. My question this week is whilst we are celebrating these achievements are we sufficiently impatient in wanting more progress? Are we prepared to not be satisfied with a single triumph and continue to ask more challenging questions? When will we have a Women’s Masters tournament at Augusta? They welcomed their first two female members in 2012 but since then only four more women have been able to join. The coverage of the Boat Races is improving but it still feels more weighted toward the Men’s event. There is also clearly more work to be done in levelling the ‘riding field’ in horse racing, a topic expertly handled on this link exploring comparable performance in flat racing. This article builds on the work of Vanessa Cashmore, a Liverpool University MBA student, who published a study into the performance of female jockeys in comparison with their male counterparts from 2003 – 2016.

So let’s celebrate milestones and breakthroughs. Let’s fling kudos and admiration at those people that beat the odds to achieve career ambitions. But at the same time let’s ask questions about the progress that we are making in terms of equality of opportunity and participation.

Faith healing…

There are not many subjects I look back on from my school days and think – I wished I had paid more attention. However, one topic where I feel that is very pertinent is Religious Education. Spring is a time of year that is jam packed with a range of key religious moments and I feel my knowledge is nowhere near where it needs to be. I strongly believe that cultural intelligence is an important component of the inclusive leaders toolbox. When blended with emotional intelligence it enables you to effectively support and understand your colleagues from a broad range of cultural backgrounds. I will explore cultural intelligence in more depth in a future blog but for today I am focussing on faith and how important it is to build a personal understanding of different faiths, key moments and religious practices.

I had originally intended this as a pre Easter blog but Sewell put pay to that. So this week is a lighter focus on religion and faith and what better way to do this than through a quiz? I have placed hyperlinks to sources for further information, if like me you feel the need to broaden your knowledge.

  1. On which day of the week does Ascension Day always fall and how many days after Easter Sunday does it take place?
  2. Why do people of the Jewish faith light candles on Yom Hashoah?
  3. How long does Ramadan last and how many fundamental principles are there?
  4. In the Hindu faith Shivratri occurs on the 14th day of every lunar month. Maha Shivaratri has the most spiritual significance why is this?
  5. Baisakhi is a festival that marks the Rabi harvest and coincides with the solar equinox usually on the 13th April but what happens every 36 years

In writing this piece I sought to find out more about Baha’i. It is without question the faith I know least about and from my initial reading I think there is a focus on daily prayer and ritual rather that significant focal points. I was struck by the belief that “throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.”

The important thing to highlight is that these dates have special meaning to people holding these faiths. This may mean that there daily routine is impacted as they make adjustments to allow for fasting, prayer or meditation. Awareness of these special moments will enable you to better support colleagues and friends and be mindful of how they may choose mark these days. I know I have to get much better at this – but #ImNotTired.

Queen’s Gambit declined

I loved chess when I was younger, drifted away from it until the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit drew me back in. The Queen’s Gambit is an opening where white tries to entice black to accept what appears to be a free pawn. The purpose of the sacrifice is to open up the centre for white to control. As with all chess openings there are a myriad of variations one of which is known as the Queens Gambit declined where black opts to ignore the ‘pawn’ and carry on with their plans and development of pieces…

This week’s blog was going to be a low key affair. I am taking two weeks much needed annual leave and had partially crafted a post ready to upload. Then the Sewell Report dropped midweek, and my jaw hit the floor. It has led me to focus on that but I must confess to not really having the words or craft to pull together something cpnscise and coherent. So if you are looking for an articulate, reflective piece I’d highly recommend this wonderful article by Kalwant Bhopal instead. I can’t match her skill and the past 24 hours have left me numb, filled with despair and despondency. It’s not really what I had planned for my fortnight break but here we are and I needed to say something. In thinking about what I wanted to write I took a break played a game of chess, and it was there that my thoughts turned to the Queen’s Gambit declined…

I feel that the Sewell report is designed to lock me in a box. I feel that my experiences, and those of the millions of Black and Brown British citizens have been gaslit by our own Government. However, according to the report, to say so means that I am living in a bygone age and am suffering from ‘victimhood’. It is a shallow attempt to simultaneously discredit the notion of systemic racism and damn anyone who disagrees.

My thoughts are that fixating on the report is the equivalent of accepting the Queens’ Gambit. It is a pawn I do not want and a conversation I will not have. Rather than attempting to continue the debate I am instead resolved to continue working to address inequality wherever I find it and simply ignore the document. So what therefore is the purpose and point of today’s blog post?

This is really for the ally readers. I have two simple questions for you. Do you agree with the conclusions of the Sewell Report? If not, what action have you taken to reflect that through your circles and spheres of influence? Have you reached out to any Black or Brown colleagues to see how they are feeling and offer your support? The voices I have heard speaking out have been predominantly Black or Brown. From David Lammy to Pete Olusoga to Shereen Daniels and countless others… It would be nice to see a ‘lighter palette’ of those vocalising disagreement and concern.

I wrote in January about my fear that the Government’s strategy was one of division – to pit the black, brown and white working class against each other. I’ll leave you with this eloquent and accurate summation from Rehana Azam General Secretary of the GMB Union that shares that concern. “Only this Government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic people and communities. This feels like a deeply cynical report that not only ignores black and ethnic minority worker’s worries and concerns. But is part of an election strategy to divide working class people and voters. It’s completely irresponsible and immoral”.

We cannot afford to be tired!!!