Alien Nation

As the sun sets on this year’s Pride Month there are a few things I’d like to share. All my points this week are inspired by the power of children and my growing realisation that the next generation carry my hope for humanity. As the debate continues to rage on trans rights, a conversation with my 12 year old son hammered home that the inclusion challenges and stigmatising are an ‘adult’ construct. Interjecting into a conversation about the trans agenda he simply and innocently stated “I don’t see what the problem is?” When I probed to better understand how he had formed his view he commented that there were quite a few people in his year that identified as non-binary and that he and his classmates had acknowledged those choices and had adopted those individual’s preferences.

We should be ashamed that we live in a society where some people only feel seen and recognised for who they are when they buy a coffee at Starbucks. The fact that a group of 12 year old kids fresh out of primary school can accept those choices is a positive societal step in the right direction – yet I know others will vehemently disagree.

Starbucks – #EveryNameIsAStory campaign

The question I found myself asking was how do we explain things in a way that enables everyone to empathise? What was different about the way these children have been taught that enables them to think, act and behave more inclusively? Clearly, education plays a pivotal roles and it made me reflect that at work I often challenge myself to explain things in a way a child would understand. This brings me to the second part of my post this week. In participating in Virtual Pride at work I had the opportunity to listen to the brilliant Rachel Williams from the Proud Trust. They shared the story Alien Nation, which simply explains how things came to be as they are and how together we can build a better world…

So I urge any of you who are wondering how do I broach the topic of trans rights at work or at home? How do I confidently face into the storm and help my colleagues, friends or family to understand the importance of their actions and why this matters so much? I highly recommend reading Alien Nation. At the same time I say to those people who have concerns or reservations about trans inclusion let’s sit down and talk rationally, openly and without judgement or negativity. I believe it is possible to arrive at solutions that respond to concerns on both sides and lead to positive outcomes for everyone. Things do not have to be as they always were. There is another way that treats everyone with the fairness, dignity and respect they deserve. To achieve that we need to discuss this matter sensitively and with mutual respect and not head down divisive or polarising channels.

I’ll finish off today by discussing use of pronouns. Here is a link to a helpful article on the subject. I use mine in my email signature and they appear after my name in Zoom calls. I confess I have not got to the point yet where I will ask someone what pronouns they use – but I do endeavour to use the right pronouns when someone shares them with me. My son found it tough at first but is persevering with his classmates and is finding it increasingly natural and easy.

It might take some getting used to, but it causes you no harm and using the right pronouns for someone will make them feel acknowledged and valid.

Neil McDonald, Stonewall

and surely we all want to live in a world where we feel acknowledged and valid? #ImNotTired

Managing the menopause: bringing organisations out in a hot flush

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my wife to watch the Davina McCall programme on the menopause. It was a big eye opener for me and I became much more aware of so many things I hadn’t even considered. So I reached out to Pippa Blessett from Exceptional Zebra to write a guest blog for me and I am incredibly grateful that she responded to my call. I’ll not steal Pippa’s thunder but my biggest takeaway from this is that as well as being responsive to the current focus on menopause we must have a wider workplace conversation about hormonal health. When I then think about that through an intersectional lens I believe it is critical that we include and consider our trans colleagues as part of that work…

Anxiety, headaches, broken sleep – all symptoms of the menopause, but it seems these can also be common symptoms for employers and line managers who are responsible for staff without proper guidance on how to provide appropriate support during this time.

In May 2021, Davina McCall presented a programme on Channel 4 – Sex, Myths and the Menopause – which exposed the lack of basic information and support available to women in the UK. It also highlighted the significant impact the menopausal transition can have on short and long term physical and mental health.  We now realise, as a responsible employer,  there are significant implications, both in terms of providing the humanitarian and legal support required, but also to manage the impact on productivity, absenteeism, lost intellectual capital and staff churn.

The cost to business is potentially huge. 9/10 women who’ve experienced the menopause felt it had a negative effect on their working life, with 25% experiencing severe symptoms.  Couple this with the over-50s being the fastest growing group of workers in the UK, and ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem.’ 

It’s clear the menopause cannot be a silent topic in the workplace any longer. But if you’re an organisation without a designated HR function (or you have one but they don’t proactively support on this topic), where to begin? There are two clear areas that are keeping employers awake at night: firstly, the lack of information and how to start with this sensitive topic; and secondly, the notion that opening the dialogue somehow makes them more legally liable. 

In reality, I would argue that managing the menopause in the workplace is simply one part of developing a genuine culture of diversity and inclusivity.  If work is somewhere with a sense of trust, where challenging conversations of any kind can take place knowing that you will be listened to and supported, then a myriad of issues are included as part of a healthy, productive workplace.

Good news – employers do not have to be menopause experts.  HR Consultant Jackie Monk of Harwood HR Solutions explains, “Managers are not expected to be medical experts. However, they do have a duty of care towards any employees experiencing menopausal symptoms. It’s about listening, avoiding assumptions and asking what women need to support them. Managers can signpost support and may need to make reasonable adjustments to help support them.”  A menopause policy helps clarify the expectations on both parties, but it is also best viewed in a wider context of inclusivity. As Jackie says, “Having a policy isn’t a tick box exercise, it’s about saying ‘this is on our agenda and we are listening’.”

When it comes to providing practical support, it’s not necessarily complex or expensive.  There are lots of small ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can all make a big difference to managing challenging symptoms. For example, support café’s (virtual or in person), offering extra desk fans, seating near lavatories or a window, cotton/extra uniforms, added comfort breaks and flagging up issues with deadlines or workloads.  Information is essential for both employer and employee, and signposting to reliable resources can also help to open up those sensitive discussions.

Employers are also realising that the menopause discussion is much broader than perhaps initially thought, with wider health implications for internal as well as external relationships. 

Tina Brown, MD at CCM Group explains, “The menopause should really be part of a greater discussion around female hormonal health and how to support individuals whatever their challenges.  Pregnancy policies, for example, rarely cover sickness and fatigue or the mental health impact of miscarriage or postnatal depression.”

Whilst Paul Ince, MD at www.likemind.media sees the opportunities to take a supportive approach beyond internal staffing and out to external contacts, saying: “The average age of our clients is around mid 40’s, and I can now see that there have been occasions when a client was probably experiencing symptoms that I could have been more supportive of had I understood.  We work hard to create a workplace where people want to be, but there is an opportunity to build these values into our relationships externally too.” 

Instead of viewing managing the menopause in the workplace as just another headache, organisations that are alert that listen and respond have the advantage of being able to get ahead of the competition by viewing this as an opportunity to strengthening internal and external relationships.  With a focus on living company values, building a true culture of inclusivity and sharing relevant information, all organisations have the power to develop robust relationships that not only provide essential support but can have a positive impact on the bottom line too.

Pippa Blessett is a performance and leadership training specialist and Founder of www.exceptionalzebra.com. If you are interested in finding out more and work for an SME, Pippa runs more detailed workshops you can find out more here.

Howzat?!

Well the world of sport keeps on giving in terms of inclusion story lines. This week I had the option of the England Men’s national football team, ongoing booing of players taking the knee, Gareth Southgate’s open letter to the Nation and James O’Brien’s enthralling yet bizarre conversation with an England fan who fessed up to booing the national team at the Riverside Stadium before their match against Romania.

However, that blockbuster plot has been gazumped by the tale of Ollie Robinson, a bold response by the ECB, a series of historic tweets being revealed and the Secretary of State jumping in to say the reaction from the cricket governing body was “over the top”. I am on tenterhooks as to what happens next as the choice of suspending Robinson before an investigation was a relatively straightforward one despite impressive debut figures of 7-101 with the ball and 42 with the bat (for non cricket fans that is a great performance). With the likes of James Anderson (the world record holder for most Test wickets by a seam bowler), Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan (Vice Captain and Captain of the limited overs team) being brought into the frame the situation has changed.

A

The second test against New Zealand is now underway and time will tell how the ECB, captain Joe Root and Head Coach Chris Silverwood will deal with the revelations. Robinson has taken a short break from cricket but personally the most critical part of the story came in the shape of political comment on the situation. I do not believe any Government should be attempting to intervene on matters like this, let alone to suggest the ECB have over reacted, Let’s be clear it is to be commended that in the middle of this the ECB centred the feelings of those people who were the targets of Robinson’s tweets. His immediate contrition is a positive step but this could so easily have been dismissed and brushed under the carpet. Former England batsman Mark Ramprakash summed it up best when he reflected “I’ve heard people express sort of sympathy with Ollie Robinson, and say ‘hasn’t he shown a lot of character?’, but I haven’t heard enough about the victims or the people that these tweets are aimed at”.

However, my main point this week is the potential negative power of and perils of social media. Ramprakash’s point is important because comments like this can cause real harm. It has made me wonder if in my youth I have posted a comment or shared something that I would now regret. Whether I have caused harm and upset to others through my thoughtless actions. My lesson from the Robinson case is a personal one. To be mindful of what I say, write and share. Not because of the potential for it to come back to haunt me but because of the negative harm it can cause others. Being inclusive and making other people feel welcome requires conscious mindful practice. I hope this case serves as a wake up call to all of us. Comments like this are not banter they are one aspect of a wider damaging and pervasive culture. An environment built on micro aggressions – the impact of which is articulately explained by Melinda Epler in the video below.

Mismatch point

Imagine this. You have a high performer in your organisation. They are super impressive at their day job consistently delivering amazing results. There is a lesser part of their role that they say gives them anxiety and negatively impacts on their mental health. They decide they don’t want to do that for a two week period saying that it will positively help their well being and help them perform in the main function of their role.

Do you:
a) Public castigate them for their perspective
b) Fine them a hefty chunk of cash for not doing it
c) Threaten to throw them out if they do it again
d) Have a conversation with them to understand how you could better support them

A winner of four grand slams, Naomi Osaka’s greatest victory could be her call for change

Well if you are the organisers of the Tennis Grand Slams you would choose A-C and only actually (begrudgingly) contemplate D after one of your star players withdraws from the French Open and you are roundly criticised by the sporting world. Naomi Osaka has started an important conversation about the mental health of sports stars, especially those in individual sports. The pressure on them to perform is enormous and if like Osaka you are naturally a quiet, reserved and introverted person the prospect of having to answer questions at a potentially challenging and intimidating press conference is understandably likely to negatively impact your well-being.

I hope that in her bravery Osaka has opened the door to a genuine review about media expectations for professional athletes. We pay to watch them play not to answer a barrage of questions. Our interest is in their skills on court or on the pitch not how articulate they are when faced with a probing inquiry.

The lesson for us is how often to we have conversations with the people in our teams to enquire about their mental health and well-being? How regularly do we check in to see if there are aspects of the job that are in reality peripheral and could be adapted, adjusted or reallocated to improve their performance and productivity? Do we have environments where our teams feel able to speak up and be confident that we will listen, empathise and respond? Too often our default position can be well this is the way we have always done it. If we aspire to have a more inclusive society and more productive teams this has to change.

So my ask of any of you reading this week is speak to your colleagues and teams. Use the Osaka story as a natural route in and have a genuine, open and honest conversation about whether there are aspects of the work you do that causes undue stress or anxiety that could be done differently. I hope that this case will make a big splash on the world of sport resulting in positive change but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the ripples went much, much further.