This week will be my first dedicated foray into exploring a term or phrase that I think is misunderstood or wilfully misconstrued. This week let’s talk about privilege and I’ll start with a definition.
privilege : a special right or advantage that a particular person or group of people has
I think there are two key challenges with how this definition is understood. The first is a perception that privilege is material and that when you have it you are aware that you have it. The second is a subconscious correlation between privilege and wealth, birthright and access to riches. The phrase ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’ may well come to mind when the concept of privilege is raised. Both of these interpretations can lead people to assume that a suggestion that they have privilege means they have never faced hardship. This is fundamentally untrue. Privilege is not binary and you can simultaneously hold privilege and lack it. I’ll use myself as an example…
I’m black, grew up in a working class family and have an invisible disability. So in some aspects of my life I have to deal with challenge and disadvantage simply because of my identity. I have experiences that go right across the spectrum from explicit in your face racism to disapproving glances when my MS has led me to need to use an accessible toilet.
On the other hand I am heterosexual so have never had to keep secret my relationships or not hold my partner’s hand in public. I am male so have not faced issues of sexism in the workplace. I was fortunate enough to be privately educated which I believe gave me a helping hand in gaining qualifications and experiences that have underpinned my career. I’m not a wheelchair user and don’t have sight loss so I don’t have to plan in detail every journey where I need to use public transport.
In the video below John Ameachi explores privilege through the lens of race and eloquently talks about privilege as “an absence of an inconvenience, impediment or challenge”. It is this lack of tangibility that causes some of the problems. If you are not automatically aware of the privilege you hold, how can you understand how it positively impacts on your life on a day to day basis?
Understanding your privilege is important. It helps you be a better ally. It improves your ability to be mindful of potentially affinity bias and your blind spots. But most importantly, it allows you to be more consciously aware of inequality of experience, boosting your empathy and inclusive practice. If you would like to understand more about privilege I recommend registering for this free two hour live streamed webinar on July 1st run by the Privilege Project.
We need to talk about privilege more openly and in a non guarded and non judgemental way. I believe the term has most power when used to explore difference rather than criticise or chastise. I hope to see many more regular, balanced conversations about privilege and how it affects us all in the not too distant future. #ImNotTired
Sadly (or thankfully for those of you who have heard my not so dulcet tones), I’m not about to burst into a mid 70’s rock classic… because on this week’s topic I don’t like, I don’t like it, I don’t like it. This week I’ll be talking about recruitment and the challenges and opportunities open to us to lead for change and move away from the status quo.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs I am a big fan of achieving diversity through inclusion. However, there are some processes and diversity focused actions that are important. Recruitment is one of them. I believe there are three important components to think about:
Entry level recruitment
Progression pathways and development opportunities
Senior level appointments
Where I feel some organisations get it wrong is a solitary focus on the first element. Whilst it’s important to think about having more open and inclusive entry routes, on their own they are far from enough. The real challenge when we think about demographic diversity of a workforce is not in lower graded roles but in senior management. I believe you address this through rebalancing the support and development you provide to under represented groups to create more equitable opportunities to progress (more on this in a future post). Alongside this organisations and senior level hiring managers must start challenging themselves on how they attract and recruit into the top jobs.
It is at this point that an underlying desire to preserve the status quo kicks in. The primary cause? Affinity bias brilliantly explained in the video below. How many times have we heard phrases like “We need someone who will hit the ground running” or “I am looking for someone who will gel with the team”? In interviews how often do we attempt to ease someone into the conversation by checking their knowledge, understanding or affinity with the business we are in? This is especially prevalent within charities where we place an additional emphasis on a candidates affiliation to the cause. My view on this is that this is an unhelpful hindrance to more equitable and inclusive recruitment. Unless the role you are recruiting for is chief organisational cheerleader surely we should be more interested in whether someone has the skills and attributes to perform the primary function of the role. In asking this question you have a predetermined view of your preferred answer. Candidates who provide the response we expect are already more favourable and those that don’t will feel a mood change in the room that not only kicks things off on the wrong foot but may even throw them off their game for the rest of the conversation. If you want an gentle opening question ask them what interests them most or excites them about their field of specialism or proposed area of work.
It isn’t of course as simple as our opening question. Far too often hiring managers will assume the magic bullet to solving the diversity question is placing the advert on more diverse job boards. In reality the process of change starts before you’ve even realised you have a vacancy. Is there an honest recognition within the organisation that there is a systemic problem, a host of long held barriers to diversifying your workforce through recruitment? We need to move beyond CV and covering letter. We need to consider the language we use in our advertisements and job specifications. There are tools that exist that will let you know if your wording is less appealing or engaging for a particular audience. What subliminal messages is your recruitment campaign sending? In this instance words matter more than a few token images of a diverse range of staff. Does the new post holder really need a degree? If so why? How will you test their capability? What reasonable adjustments do you offer candidates and how do you advertise these? Moving beyond “let us know if you need any adjustments” and instead including a sentence such as “we really want you to perform at your best in this process, we have the following adjustments in place <insert list> but if you need us to make any additional reasonable adjustments please let us know”. The latter sentence sends a much more powerful signal. Ask yourself is your process really two ticks or actually two fingers?
So if you are in a position to bring in someone new or influence how your organisation recruits think about the power you have as a hiring manager and the positive outcomes you can have on your organisation by changing your recruitment mindset, processes and approach. I’d love to hear from others on their reflections so please do comment below.
Oh here we are and here we are and here we go, let me kno-oh-ow … your thoughts on improving our recruitment practices… #ImNotTired
From Tom Cruise handing back his Golden Globes to Sam Smith being excluded from the best artist categories at The Brits, it’s been an interesting week in the world of awards. Let’s start on the other side of the pond. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association organises the Golden Globe Awards and has come under fire for questionable financial practices and a lack of diversity. This has been brewing since the LA Times expose in February and has now gone into overdrive with Tom Cruise returning three of his awards and NBC stating they will not broadcast the 2022 ceremony the Globes may well be on their way out. Action has been taken by people with influence and though the financial irregularities and questionable practices are certainly major factors, it is ‘positive’ that the same attention is being placed on the questions of racism and sexism within the organisation. That this move from influential individuals comes now at a time of heightened focus on equity and inclusion in society is poignant. It feels like a major step forward in tackling systemic and institutional issues of inequality
Back to the UK then and interestingly The Brit Awards was being celebrated for its warm embrace of diversity and inclusion, particularly the collaboration between Olly Alexander and Elton John performing the Pet Shop Boys classic “It’s a Sin”.
However, there was a mixed picture on a gender front. It was a big night for female artists with Dua Lipa winning two awards and Little Mix remarkably becoming the first female act to win the Best British Group award. That said the decision to continue to have gendered awards in other categories meant that Sam Smith who is non-binary was excluded from the shortlist for solo artist. This is despite their album Love Goes performing extremely well in the charts and being eligible for Best Album.
My reflections this week are twofold. There is enormous power in allies and individuals with influence using their position and status on behalf of others. Though I am sure that the reasons behind Cruise and others returning their Golden Globes is likely to be complex the impact that they have had is notable. The second is that we must stand in solidarity across all areas of difference and identity. So it whilst it is important to celebrate and be proud of moments of progress we saw at The Brits we must raise questions about all aspects of inclusion or we run the risk of creating an unhelpful hierarchy of identities. If we continue to push for everyone we’ll all be winners! #ImNotTired
So for those of you who are fans of or are just getting into Line of DUty this week’s post does contain spoilers so if you don’t want to impact your enjoyment of the programme you might want to give this week’s blog a miss.
Well it’s been a decade long build up to what must surely be the finale of Line of Duty. Since it aired on Sunday, watched by a record audience of nearly 13m people, there has been condemnation and outcry at how the series concluded. Underwhelming said some and creator Jed Mercurio has been forced to come out in defence of the ending. My own reflection is that the conclusion was spot on but the reaction to it contains some lessons that relate to inclusion work.
The first key lesson is an understanding of what systemic, institutionalised problems actually are. A perception that a small team of driven individuals can on their own remove these issues from an institution as sizeable as the police force is in my view more laughable than the chosen ending. The issues that were tackled by the show were deep rooted and held in place by those in power. It reminded me of the Frederick Douglass quote “If there is no struggle there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without demand”. It was clear that the handful of upstanding officers in AC-12 were doomed to fail as there were far too many higher ranking individuals keen to maintain the status quo. Despite this some held onto the romantic vision that ‘good’ will always overcome ‘evil’. It takes time, effort and the work of many to change an organisation’s culture
My second observation relates to Detective Superintendent Buckells. A lot of people have felt that him being the 4th man was incredulous because of his ineptitude. However, I am sure many of us can recall someone being promoted despite their incompetence. Within our own organisations do we see favouritism in promotion? Do we see people who resemble those in senior positions being elevated? This isn’t just a story of corruption it’s also a story of homogeneous leadership teams – organisations where it feels safer to promote individuals into senior positions who have similar backgrounds, thoughts and styles to existing staff.
My final reflection is about what ‘institutional’ (corruption, racism, homophobia) really means and how the term has been unhelpfully misinterpreted. Line of Duty made a poignant tribute to both Stephen Lawrence and Christopher Adler in series 6 and I feel the link was made intentionally to draw comparisons about the lack of progress in addressing institutional racism in the police force. When the term was coined in the MacPherson report it had a very specific meaning.
“discrimination or unequal treatment on the basis of membership of a particular ethnic group (typically one that is a minority or marginalised), arising from systems, structures, or expectations that have become established within an institution or organisation.”
My feeling is that the ‘institutional’ element of the term has been unhelpfully misinterpreted. For some I sense that they perceive the phrase to mean that everyone / the majority of individuals within an organisation are racist or corrupt or homophobic etc… This causes an allergic reaction to the term and an unwillingness to use it. I think it is important to acknowledge that it’s the system and structures that are the issue in many organisations as well as the people that enable, uphold and maintain them. Their numbers can often be small but they will create the culture and processes to continue the status quo. Institutional and systemic issues preventing equality permeate all aspects of our society. It will take significant effort from the majority of us to try and topple them. There are people in positions of influence and power that will be desperate to maintain them. A few brave and committed souls working in isolation are never likely to succeed as the odds are stacked so heavily against them. So in my humble opinion, Jed Mercurio got the finale of his brilliant series absolutely spot on and if we really want to change things in our society there is a long and difficult road ahead. #ImNotTired are you?