Domino effect…

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Last week I had a very inspiring discussion with Jane Ide OBE who is a brilliant charity sector leader. In the conversation, we talked about how micro interventions could potentially be the way forward for the kind of inclusive change we are aiming to see in society. It got me thinking have we got our approach all wrong? Have we fixated too much on big ticket changes, seismic movements that would signal a momentous shift rather than concentrating on focused interventions, the sum of which could be greater than their collective parts?

In exploring this question, I thought about the small scale actions with very specific ambitions that are creating ripples that may potentially build up to a tidal wave for change. The first one that came to mind was Show The Salary, a simple ask ‘born out of frustration at the lack of action being taken to address pay gaps and inequity in the charity sector’. Using social media the organisers have consistently called out and challenged organisations posting jobs without showing the salary. Simultaneously, they encouraged organisations to sign their pledge to commit to always revealing it. If you want to understand more about why this is important you can read their excellent top eight reasons here. In summary though you get more candidates, you will run a fairer and more equitable process and you’ll help address pay equality within your organisation. If you are serious about being inclusive it’s a very simple positive action.

Next up was Stop Funding Hate, which was founded in 2016. The organisers were concerned about the drip feed of toxic headlines and the damaging effect they have on society. They want to see community harmony not fracture and therefore condemn those profiting from sowing seeds of division. So they are calling out companies who advertise in newspapers or channels (GB News the most recent focus) that they feel are having this impact. Their rationale is that newspaper sales are reducing and consequently advertising is a key element of profitability. So by encourage individuals to boycott companies who choose to advertise in those newspapers or channels they apply pressure to consider advertising elsewhere. In relation to GB News they have so far seemingly encouraged companies including Ikea, Kopparberg and Octopus Energy to stop advertising. What impact that will have is yet to be seen but their leverage is clearly evident.

Finally, I though about Change.org, which has just exploded this year. As a platform, it has become the epicentre for single issue campaigns and is reflective of the emergence of New Power (see video below). The impact of Change.org in 2020 was extraordinary and it is a wider signal of the power of mass mobilisation. Technology and social media have shifted the balance of power. It is now much more possible for ‘ordinary people’ to make real tangible change. So my question this week is whether the way forward is actually through small scale actions, lots of them, and that we achieve social justice through a thousand flowers blooming? If this is right how do we become more aware of the actions we can take? How do we track the small impacts and ensure that we amplify the difference they are making? Throw in one or two socially conscious mega influencers like Marcus Rashford and who knows what we could achieve… #ImNotTired

In losing, did we actually win?

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I know this feels like a strange title but please bear with me. In the aftermath of the post European Championship final racism we have seen the power of active allyship. People have been reporting individuals to aid police investigations, there has been widespread condemnation for the bigoted views that have been shared, a petition to permanently ban racists from football matches has reached over 1 million signatures and a defaced mural of Marcus Rashford in Withington has not only been repaired but covered in messages of support.

The messages of support are to be preserved on the Marcus Rashford mural (Source: PA Media)

Yesterday I was honoured to participate in a d&i leaders conversation about conscious inclusion with Chris MacRae and Anu Mandapati. In preparing for the session my mind was immediately drawn to how the nation has rallied in condemning the actions of the few who hurled abuse at Rashford, Sancho and Saka. This week’s blog is a blend of my notes from that session and reflections on what may be a watershed moment in the anti-racism movement in the UK.

  1. Words matter. Think about Inclusion (creating an environment that enables everyone to have access to resources and support) ahead of Diversity (the mix of people involved). Prioritise Equity (treating people differently to achieve an equality of outcome) rather than Equality (treating everyone the same). Using the England Team as an example we have a diverse team 8 of the 11 who started the final have a parent or grandparent who migrated to the UK but we have seen that they do not play in an inclusive environment.
  2. Actions matter. You have a choice when presented with discriminatory behaviour. Will you be a colluder joining in the actions or practice? Will you be a bystander standing by quietly while the abuse happens right in front of your eyes? Or will you be a challenger? Will you stand up for others? If you want to be a challenger but lack the confidence often the biggest hurdle is a fear of sparking confrontation. It is useful to have something pre prepared, maybe that you even practice in the mirror, so when you hear something that doesn’t sound right you can turn to that phrase to initiate a challenge. Your comment could be anything from “Sorry, but that’s out of order” to “What exactly do you mean by that?”. Remember it is not enough to think or believe I’m not racist, or homophobic, or ableist, or sexist. For starters it’s a flawed perception but principally if you are really serious about this you have to be actively anti.
  3. Invisible difference matters. Too often we focus on visible differences. The illustration below highlights how so much of our identity is invisible. Rashford is a case in point because while he is Black his major contribution over the past 12 months has been his exceptional lobbying on child poverty. He speaks eloquently and passionately from his own lived experience and has captured the attention, respect and support of a nation. However, if he had not been brave and open enough to share we would not know this about his background. It is important reminder that identity is broad, complex and often hidden.

4. Safe spaces matter. Sharing your lived experience, calling out discrimination and maintaining your dignity in the face of hostility are all significant drains on resilience. This level of emotional labour cannot be underestimated. It is therefore critical to create safe environments that enable under represented colleagues to share their experiences and speak truth to power. The optimum approach is to get these externally facilitated.

This feels like a moment. I was devastated when we lost the final. I was disgusted (but not surprised) by the fallout. But I have been energised by the public response, the support, the allyship and the conversations we are now starting to have. Tyrone Mings calling out the Home Secretary is my standout moment. Will this moment sprout wings and fly us to a new level? I don’t know but I am hopeful.

What’s coming home?

Before I get started this week I want to state that I am as deliriously excited as other England fans. My first memory of a major tournament was Mexico 86 – Gary Lineker scoring that hat trick against Poland with his bandaged hand and Diego Maradona dumping us out of the World Cup with his ‘hand of god’. Since then I’ve had the pain of Italia 90, heartache of Euro 96 and the despair of penalty shootouts (especially ’98 and ’04), Ronaldinho from the half way line and that Lampard ‘ghost goal’ in 2010. I am ecstactic the team have surpassed my wildest dreams and even if we don’t get over the line on Sunday I am grateful to them for making the ride go right the way to the end of the line. But what I value most about this team is their united stance against discrimination from taking the knee before matches to wearing a rainbow armband or laces during them.

Raheem Sterling & Kalvin Phillips take the knee before a pre tournament friendly at the Riverside Stadium. Photo: Sky

However, before a ball was kicked in anger at this tournament, there was anger, a lot of it and it was all aimed at our England team for their stance on racism. Our own supporters, many of whom I guess were probably bellowing out Three Lions on Wednesday night, were booing our team for their stance (see a mind boggling conversation with James O’Brien below). There was criticism from MPs with Tory Lee Anderson going as far as saying he would boycott the matches because players were taking the knee, he must be regretting that statement now. As the tournament has progressed some England fans have continued to boo the knee as well as the opposition’s national anthem. But all of this against an increasingly euphoric backdrop of fever pitch excitement, celebration and choruses of ‘it’s coming home’.

Which leads me to my question. What is coming home? Is it a trophy or could it be much more than that? Football is also known as the beautiful game and one of the most precious things about it is that it is a universal language that succeeded where esperanto failed. Sir Mo Farah recalls a story about when he came to Britain at the age of 8 (for the record he did not need to claim asylum as his father was a UK born citizen) that he could not speak much English but he integrated into primary school and made friends through playing football. In contrast, there are quite significant pockets of our nation that have criticised the national team for their anti-racism stance. Our supporters have consistently booed other national anthems and there is yet another fine on its way to the FA for the fans boorish efforts in the Danish match (which also included focussing a laser on Kasper Schmeichel’s face before Harry Kane’s penalty). Our newspapers have harangued our Black footballers, especially Raheem Sterling, who is often the focus of their ire (and ironically the best England player in this tournament), and this discriminatory practice emboldens racists and fuels social media harassment of players.

On the eve of the Euros, manager Gareth Southgate wrote an eloquent letter to out nation and I wonder when the competition is over whether this team can continue and amplify the conversation about inclusion that they have started? In his letter, Southgate writes

“Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people. I have never believed that we should just stick to football.

This role modelling extends beyond matters of racism. In addition to taking the knee, we saw Harry Kane don a rainbow captain’s armband in the match against Germany in recognition of Pride month and Jordan Henderson score his first England goal in the quarter final against Ukraine whilst wearing rainbow laces. This is not just a football story but one about inclusion, solidarity and allyship. It disturbs me to read articles criticising the brave and positive steps taken by this team and their exemplary manager. The claim by Financial Times, commentator Gideon Rachman that the letter was ‘suspiciously well written’ smacks of an elitist view that being a successful footballer and being able to string together a coherent piece of prose are incompatible skill sets. The team has not been hijacked, they are a group of young men who believe as a nation we can be better, as a society we can be more inclusive and that treating people with fairness, decency and respect should be fundamental pillars of our culture.

As a fan I will be willing them on with every fibre of my being, but in my eyes they are already winners. I hope their true victory lies in helping us to heal as a nation and encouraging more people to think, act and behave differently. The Italian national anthem is an absolute belter, in my mind probably the best of all anthems. Here’s hoping it is fully respected by those fans lucky enough to be in the stadium and that come the weekend we will all witness a new bit of football history and the start of a new social era. #ImNotTired

Loaded language: Fragility

This week my second excursion into the powerful world of language and phrases. Once again I’ll be exploring a term or phrase that I think is misunderstood or wilfully misconstrued. So let’s talk about fragility and I’ll start with a definition.

fragility: the quality of being delicate or vulnerable

There is an irony in this definition as often those displaying fragility are not actually the vulnerable ones but the conversation, action or situation makes them perceive that they are in a vulnerable position. At its worst fragility, can be shrouded in gaslighting – but that’s a term for another day…

So what is fragility in the world of inclusion and what impact does it have? What I have seen is an individual or an under represented group raising concern about their experience or how they are being treated. Author Robin DiAngelo first coined the phrase ‘White Fragility’ in the title of her 2018 book. However, the fragility I see extends beyond matters of race and covers all under represented groups. This is how I see it show up.

  • It is in part a denial of someone’s lived experience
  • It is a defensive position that fails to, or refuses to, acknowledge how you may have benefited from existing social structures and hierarchies
  • A negative reaction to any strong terms that are used to describe that experience
  • A rejection of ownership of being complicit in the problem, leading to centering the feelings and emotions of the individual from the ‘majority’ group at the expense of the individual from the under represented group

I’ll give you an example. An employee goes to speak to their boss about their experience of racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism in the work place. The boss starts off with a couple of gaslighting blows: asking them questions such as are you sure that is what was intended? They then move on to say that the terms the employee is using to describe the event are potentially overinflating the problem “I’m not sure I would say that was racist” or “those are really strong terms to describe that”. Then comes the fragility gut punch “I’ve been trying really hard to improve things for the team here” or “I’ve introduced policies and processes and we’ve given everyone training” a defensive reaction that centres themselves as the innocent victim in all of this.

This is painful to hear when you’ve experienced trauma. It is hard enough to muster the courage to share but your overriding hope is that your experience will be acknowledged, you will feel heard and your manager / the organisation will take action. It is not ok to have to fight your corner. It is not ok to be compelled to explain that you did experience racism, sexism, ableism or homophobia. It is not ok to have argue that the training hasn’t gone far enough, the revised policies aren’t working or that the organisation has to work harder to embed meaningful sustainable change. And it is definitely not ok for the conversation to become centred on the manager’s emotions and not the employees.

If you are the manager or leader in this scenario I understand how daunting, nerve wracking and challenging leading for this work can be for you, especially if you have minimal lived experience that you can draw on. Humility and curiosity are your strengths here. Listen to understand, be open to reviewing or revising your interventions and be brave enough to take action to support your under represented colleagues. If you can tap into your fragility but use it as a warning system rather than a response mechanism it could aid your work to being a better ally and inclusive leader.