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All good things…

As we are about to enter the Year of the Tiger it feels somewhat ironic to be bringing this blog to a close. The Year of the Tiger will apparently be about making big changes and having finally succumbed to COVID this week the biggest change for me will be taking a step back from blogging and immersing myself in a growing portfolio of work – almost all of which is centred on helping create a more inclusive world.

There is both a mental and emotional toll in researching and writing content and this month would have been a piece on the nationality and borders bill 2021. I feel that much of what needs to be said on this has been written by people far more knowledgeable and eloquent than me. I found this piece by Amnesty International to be really helpful.

My thanks to those of you who have read the blog and commented here or messaged me privately. There have also been a few joyous occasions when people have come to speak to me when they have seen me in person to say they have found the blog useful, challenging, entertaining or all three. It has been cathartic writing and sharing my thoughts and I have been given a huge sense of optimism at how many of us there are who share a passion for a more inclusive world.

I will leave the blog up in case you want to return to, or share, past posts, clips or linked articles. For now though this is me signing off, still not tired, just channelling my energy in a new way!

Perfect 10

I have a lot of time for Strictly Come Dancing but this year’s series has been wonderful, not just in terms of the dancing but also the inclusion stories woven through it. With John and Johannes, the first all male couple, and Rose Ayling-Ellis, raising deaf awareness, both in the final it promises to be an great night for on screen representation, inclusion and entertainment.

For any of you who missed Rose and Giovanni’s ‘silent’ dance I really encourage you to watch the video below, or tune in for the final as they will be performing it again. They kept the plan to perform part of the dance without music secret with Rose later saying, “I felt like I wanted to tell our story, because it’s positive and a lot of people, like, when they find out their child is deaf, they think of their world as crushed, but it shouldn’t be. Being deaf is a gift.”

That last sentence has really stuck with me: being deaf is a gift. Too often when we think about disability we frame it negatively, we consider it as an unfair burden or challenge. I love Rose’s story and how she has approached her Strictly appearance as an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and build positive understanding and connection with the deaf community.

The other big inclusion story has been of John and Johannes. I am sad, but unsurprised, that the pair have had to deal with repeated trolling throughout the contest. That small minority of people need to take a good look in the mirror because they have both been mesmerising and their dances have provided something distinctive and unique that we haven’t seen before.

“It’s bigger than the both of us and I know that there are people who are resonating with it right now and that’s all that matters” Johannes Radebe.

The real inclusion story started before the John even joined the show. In an article with the Metro he revealed that he had assumed he would have to dance with a woman ‘because that was what the narrative was’. It is interesting that he held this view for two reasons: firstly he was assuming he couldn’t influence the decision and secondly a same sex pairing had already been aired on Strictly with Nicola Adams and Katya Jones pairing up in 2020. However, what John shared next in his interview is the most hard hitting comment revealing that he told bosses ‘“I really think I should dance with a straight man’, just to temper it a little bit and make it a bit more digestible for people who perhaps aren’t willing to digest that kind of thing.’

This comment reflects so much of what so many people have to do on a daily basis, hide their true authentic self to make it palatable for others. As a society and individuals we have to work harder to ensure that everyone feels safe and able to be their true selves all of the time. If you want to address this in your workplace there is a simple starting point. Find out whoever runs your staff engagement survey and ask them if you have a question like:

I can be myself at this organisation without worrying about how I will be accepted.

Then if they add it, or if there already is one like it, encourage an interrogation of the responses from people from different identities. Questions like this are a great place to start if you are trying to determine how inclusive an environment you have and then read the open comments from those people who replied negatively, it will give you insight on what needs to change.

Finally, I’d like to say that allyship really does make a difference. If you are unsure about how many interventions can have an impact just read these two comments from John:

relating to the comments the pairing have received online “the hate really has been lost in a tidal wave of kindness and support for us both”

and speaking about their couple’s choice dance in the semi-finals “Little kids who watch the show, to have same-sex role models will give them a little bit of hope for the future and it won’t make them grow up with the same shame that I grew up with.”

#ImNotTired

Loaded language: racism

This may be a controversial starting point but I fear that the words racism and racist are unhelpfully overpowered. As I have been following the racism scandal engulfing cricket, I have been intrigued by the reactions of those named within the revelations. Of those individuals, Michael Vaughan’s stance really stands out. Azeem Rafiq alleged that during a game in 2009 between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire Michael Vaughan, referring to the Asian players, said “there are too many of you lot; we need to do something about it”.

Azeem Rafiq bowling for Yorkshire CC (Image: Sky Sports)

This allegation among many others came to light as Rafiq’s case against Yorkshire CC hit the headlines. Vaughan’s response was to immediately go on the front foot and deny ever making these comments through his newspaper column and across multiple social media feeds. Subsequently, two other players (Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan) corroborated Rafiq’s account and yet Vaughan doubled down and continued to refute the suggestion he ever made the comment. The former England captain has subsequently been stood down by the BBC for the upcoming Ashes series.

This response of denial is symptomatic of two wider societal challenges. Firstly, that the words racist / racism are so emotionally charged that the words immediately bring to mind images such as that of the Ku Klux Klan. The second, is that the words are misaligned to identity rather than a description of an action. It is possible to be anti-racist and at the same time commit a racist act. I have touched on this in previous blogs but this case also provides a poignant example. Around the same time he was being subjected to racism at Yorkshire Rafiq posted anti-Semitic tweets in a fiery online exchange. Rafiq apologised for his comments, deleting the tweets to not cause any further offence and stated:

“At no point will I ever try and defend the indefensible. For those I have hurt I am sincerely sorry. I will continue to front up and own any more mistakes I have made.”

At the heart of the difference between Rafiq’s apology, Vaughan’s denial and Yorkshire CCs belligerence is another bit of loaded language: white fragility. I may touch on this in more depth another time but for a White individual or an organisation dominated by white faces accusations of racism sting. The challenge is that this tension creates a paralysis around the positive action we need to address race equity across society. Until we reach a point where we can be comfortable about being called out for being racist (it’s a description of our actions not an identity) or where we can accept that beloved institutions may be systemically racist (it’s the systems, processes and actions of the organisation and/or its people – again not an identity), issues of racism will continue to fester. It is saddening but not unsurprising to see other cases of discrimination popping up in other parts of English Cricket with Essex CC the latest county to be in the spotlight.

The solution? It’s simple and requires just three things: humility, contrition and commitment to do better.

  • Humility – swallow your pride, put your ego to one side, hear the other person’s reflections and accept that you have done something that has caused hurt
  • Contrition – sincerely apologise for the hurt you have caused and speak to the person / persons you have offended about how you can repair the harm. You could do this through a mediated / facilitated conversation (Restorative Justice)
  • Commitment to do better – dedicate time to become anti-racist. It will take time, focus and conscious practice but if you are an effective anti-racist ally you are being part of the solution. A good starting point is ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’ by Ibram X Kendi

My final nudge this month is for those of you who haven’t listened to Rafiq’s account. I really encourage you to watch below. What is particularly striking is how the club, rather than taking ownership of the problem, attempted to shift the blame from being an organisational issue into an individual one.

Raheem Aziq’s testimony in the Houses of Parliament

The blog will be back slightly earlier next month with my post going live on Friday 17th December…

History, herstory and ourstory

Happy birthday blog and to celebrate I am going to have a look at what I have learnt this Black History Month. Firstly, though I am delighted to see that this October it feels like a lot of progress has been made since last year. Yes there were still organisations scrabbling around in mid to late September trying to get People of Colour to deliver talks to their teams at the last minute – for free (seriously that’s not cool). That said there are many more narratives and some organisations have significantly improved their coverage. Sky have a dedicated Black History Month movie channel, BBC Sport have pulled together a collection of Black history sports narratives and English Heritage have curated a range of stories of Black historical figures.

This time last year I read David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History. As someone who studied history up to degree level I was struck by how much Black history I was unaware of. It also made me think that Black history can often be reduced to a focus on the civil rights movement, migration, settlement and slavery. I feel that this is both reductive and unhelpful and so in this week’s blog I am going to shine a light on two different Black figures I particularly admire and, in relation to the ‘ourstory’ reference in the blog title, challenge the notion that the transatlantic slave trade is Black history. More on that later.

My parents arrived in the UK in the 1960s as part of the Windrush generation. My brothers grew up in 1970s Britain. From a racial discrimination perspective they all had it much tougher than I did. But there was a beacon of positivity for Black Caribbeans during that time. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the ‘Calypso cricket’ of the West Indies Team gave the Windrush generation and their offspring many reasons to cheer. Of that team of icons one of them will always be a massive hero of mine the swashbuckling batsman Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. I loved watching him bat and in a world of hostility and few heroes and role models he made me proud to be Black and proud of my West Indian heritage. In 2002, Viv Richards was named as one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the 20th Century alongside another Caribbean cricketing legend Sir Garfield Sobers. My favourite anecdote of Richards was during the twilight years of his career at Glamorgan. Facing fact bowler Greg Thomas he played and missed outside off stump. On his follow-through, Thomas allegedly chirped at him “It’s red, it’s round, it weighs five ounces and you’re supposed to hit it.” Viv smashed the next delivery out of the ground and into the River Taff. He then wandered down the pitch and said to Thomas “It’s red, it’s round and it’s in the river – go fetch it.”

Sir Viv Richards in full flow at Trent Bridge (PA Pictures)

My second choice is Mary Seacole. I have chosen Mary because she was born in Jamaica like my parents and like my mother went into a career in nursing. Lesser known and remembered than Florence Nightingale (answers on a postcard as to why that might be the case), Seacole wanted to enlist as a military nurse during the Crimean War but her application was refused. What I love most about her was her determination not to be deterred by that and that she travelled to Crimea anyway and used her own money to set up and run a boarding house and clinic behind enemy lines to care for wounded soldiers. I admire her because through racism she was initially denied the opportunity to make a contribution, ignored those decision makers and did it anyway. In June 2016, a statue of her was unveiled at St Thomas’s Hospital by another wonderful Black icon Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, honouring her as a pioneer in her field.

Ourstory. At the start of Black History Month this tweet by Bilal really made me stop and think.

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It is such a simple statement but the truth that lies behind these words is so powerful. The history of the transatlantic slave trade is all of our history. Yes we might reference it as part of Black History month when discussing figures such as Mary Prince, Olaudah Equiano or Frederick Douglass but in reality there is far more to discuss, debate, unearth and question when framing and focusing the discussion on the beneficiaries rather than the victims of that abhorrent trade. Through my education there was a consistent gap in the history. The period that was omitted started at the end of the English Civil War and stretch until the beginning of World War One. I am pleased that my children are being taught about this period at their schools.

My final reflection this month is that it is important that our schools continue to teach, our museums continue to share and research and our society continues to explore Black history all year round. Let us see October as a time to shine a spotlight on and amplify the findings of an ongoing programme of work.

The next post will go live on 26th November till then #ImNotTired

A novel idea

Next week’s post will mark the one year anniversary of this blog. When I started I hadn’t expected so many stories and issues to reflect on. It’s been a roller coaster year from an inclusion perspective and even though I’ve been posting a blog a week (Friday mornings) there has been more than one occasion where I have had multiple topics to consider. The site hasn’t quite worked out as I had originally intended but I have been buoyed by the comments shared both here and in reply to Twitter and LinkedIn posts.

However, I have been playing around with an idea for a novel for a number of years now and the blog has inspired me to finally put pen to paper and start writing. This does mean I need to find some capacity and to do so I’ll be reducing the frequency of blog posts to once a month (last Friday of the month).

I’ll not give too much away in terms of my novel idea but there is a strong inclusion thread that runs through the narrative. I intend to have a trans heroine and am keen to do some research to develop an authentic character. I would really welcome any suggestions on websites, blogs, books or even individuals to reach out to. My aim is to create a core group of relatable characters that reflect the diversity of today’s society. I’d also be grateful for any tips on literary agents who may be interested in a thriller with a diversity and inclusion lens. Finally, I’d really welcome any reflections on character identities that you feel are currently absent from novels or building on my ‘Am I the villain’ post from a couple of weeks ago any tropes you’d like to see challenged or subverted?

So why this novel? I don’t get to read as much fiction as I would like to. Any reading time I have is generally taken up by articles and books to improve my knowledge and capability for work. However, I am finally getting around to reading Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (I know!) that has been sat on my book shelf gathering dust for far too long. It is a great story in its own right but is also a novel that speaks to me on another level. I am not in any way claiming I will match her genius but I have a plot concept that flips our established understanding of a ‘particular’ narrative. I believe there is a role for stories like that to challenge the status quo and encourage us to look at the world through a different lens.

In the spirit of wanting to also share something useful with you all I’m going to share my top five inclusion books:

  1. Banaji & Greenwald ‘Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People’ This is a helpful introductory text and is the founding book behind unconscious bias testing. It is a really helpful way of challenging the reader to challenge themselves.
  2. Reni Eddo-Lodge ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ As a Black man this was a tough read but brilliant book. In a year when race has featured prominently in the headlines this book hits many nails on the head.
  3. Maitland & Steele ‘INdivisible’ A great read for any of you thinking about building an inclusion plan for your organisation. Really well structured, thoughtful and excellent hints and tips
  4. June Sarpong ‘Diversify’ The only book on the list that made me cry. When I was reading the chapter on Black men it felt like I was reading an autobiography. So much of what Sarpong describes reflected my lived experience but until I read this I hadn’t realised quite how much my racial identity had impacted on me. It was both painful to read but also a relief in some ways to see that I wasn’t alone
  5. Caroline Criado Perez ‘Invisible Women’ This book really asked me a lot of challenging personal questions and was massively eye opening. It helped me understand gender inequality much better.

Please add to the comments your reflections on great books (fiction or non-fiction) that have helped you with your inclusive practice or challenged you to think differently. I really hope you will join next week for the one year blog birthday and a reflection on Black History Month 2022. Until then #ImNotTired

You’re hired!

Many moons ago, I had a lapse in judgement and applied to go on The Apprentice. I think it was for season three or four and part of what inspired me to throw my hat in the ring was seeing Tim Campbell emerge victorious in season one. That choice told me that someone who looked like me could win and outside the world of sport and music that wasn’t a narrative I saw very often. However, (thankfully) my audition was an absolute disaster and I failed to make it through to the later selection rounds. With Campbell returning for the next instalment, I wonder whether that will have any bearing on the process. Do the ‘observers’ for Lord Sugar actually have any bearing on the choices or is it really driven by the producers. If they do, changing the ethno-cultural diversity of that small group could make a difference.

Tim Campbell MBE will be returning to The Apprentice to stand in for Claude Littner

I started this blog with a piece titled ‘Looking Up‘, which spoke about the positive impact of seeing ‘yourself’ in senior roles. To get there we need fair, transparent and unbiased recruitment processes and that is the focus for this week’s blog.

Reach Volunteering is a great organisation that connects skilled individuals with charities looking for volunteers. This week, I was struck by a post by their CEO Janet Thorne that shared their research on trustee appointments. The team have analysed the age, ethnicity & gender of people applying to be trustees through their service between 2017 – 2020. This covered a large sample size, with a total of 8,725 people making 15,398 applications that yielded 3,169 trustee appointments. The findings demonstrate clearly that the issue lies not in the diversity of applicants but in the selection process. Unsurprisingly to me, the report highlights a worrying disparity in outcomes with “older and white applicants more likely to be appointed than younger people and people of colour”.

The research shows that while application rates are growing with 29% aged under 35 and increasing numbers of Asian (12.7%) and Black (6.8%) applicants, success rates are less positive.

  • Applicants aged 55 – 64 are 80% more likely to be appointed than applicants aged 18 – 34
  • White applicants are almost twice as likely to be appointed than applicants of colour
  • White British applicants three times more likely to be appointed than Asian Pakistani

These are statistics that I have seen reflected in senior level paid appointments as well as trustee positions. The challenge is that far too many people mistakenly think attraction is the problem. Their intention to have a more inclusive or diverse recruitment process is simply resolved by advertising in different channels or job boards. The problem isn’t where you are posting the jobs, the problem is much more likely to be everything about your recruitment process. If you are looking for a brilliant guide on recruiting for leadership roles I recommend this great resource produced by Green Park and ACEVO.

When thinking about recruitment more widely my top five things to consider are as follows:

  1. Think about the language you use in your ad and what you ask for in the job specification
    The number of roles that unnecessarily ask for degrees, or knowledge, skills and experience that aren’t really required always staggers me. Think carefully about the role. What are the critical skills and knowledge you need. Could someone actually pick up on the working knowledge through doing the role and are you in truth looking for someone with the right attributes and values to join your team. You might want to consider a strengths based approach to recruitment, especially for entry level roles. There are also tools that can tell you if the language you use has inherent bias or is likely to deter some candidates. As an example, the language used in so many roles has unconscious gender bias.
  2. Involve a diverse range of people in the process
    Affinity bias is a massive problem in recruitment processes. Selecting someone who is a ‘good fit’ is a euphemism for appointing someone who is the same as everyone else on the team. By having a broad range of people on your panel or in your process you can help to mitigate that. A panel full of extroverts will naturally warm toward someone who is ‘bubbly’ or ‘expressive’ and feel cold to someone who may be more understated and reserved but actually give better answers.
  3. Don’t default to interview but if that is your process give your candidates the questions 15 minutes before
    Consider if there are a range of ways to test someone’s suitability for a role. We have become too fixated on CV, Covering letter and interview. There are some people who are very good in those scenarios and others who are not. Ever been managing a process where you have disregarded a candidate that nailed the presentation but struggled with one or two questions? Unless the role involves the candidate being interviewed regularly and high quality performance depends on it, is it really the best test of suitability? If you must interview be willing to give out the questions before the interview so the person has a time to consider what you are looking for and give you a rounded and calm response. You are testing their competence and suitability for a role not just their ability to respond effectively in a pressured environment. Tailor your selection process to best reflect the nature of the day to day job.
  4. Be proactive in offering reasonable adjustments
    Rather than stating on adverts “let us know if you need any adjustments”, list the adjustment you offer up front and then let candidates know if there is something you don’t currently offer to contact you as you want to enable them to perform at their best. As a disabled person there are things that would help me a lot, such as providing questions 15 minutes before you interview me in case I get brain fog from my MS. However, I wouldn’t ask for adjustments to an organisation offering the standard wording. Why? Because we live in an ableist world and I don’t want to come across as ‘needy’ when I am trying to make a ‘good first impression’. Let me know you are genuinely inclusive please don’t put the onus on me.
  5. As a selection panel challenge yourselves throughout the process
    The best panels I have seen have questioned each and every decision they make. When I was trained in strengths based recruitment one of my biggest a-ha moments came in the interview technique. The opening question isn’t scored and is a ‘gift’ of a question, such as tell me about your favourite hobby. The purpose of the question is to get the candidate talking about something they are knowledgeable and passionate about. Whilst, they are speaking as an interviewer you are observing their tone, their body language and how they express themselves. It is a baseline of what they are like when they are speaking with confidence. On subsequent questions you then assess both the score and the delivery based on that benchmark. It was a real eye opener for me to how I am swayed more by certain types of body language, tone and expression. It has helped me bring greater balance to my interviewing approach. When interviewing or making selection decisions I repeatedly challenge myself on both the things that give me confidence in a candidate and those that do not.

In order to address the imbalances we see in recruiting, especially for leadership roles, those of us charged with making those decisions need to challenge ourselves to do better. I’d love to hear your reflections, suggestions and top tips… #ImNotTired

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Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt…

I love this Mark Twain quote. I regularly cite it and often think about it when facilitating sessions or supporting groups to change. Denial can be a significant blocker to progress, especially when facing into negative behaviours or cultures. One of the hardest things to accept is that the culture in your organisation may be a dark, bleak and negative place for some of your colleagues. If this is the case (and it is more than likely that it is) we must accept that uncomfortable truth and ask ourselves what can we do about it?

At the heart of my philosophy and approach to building inclusive cultures are three words. Listen. Hear. Respond.

Listening is an underrated skill. Often when we think we are listening we can actually be waiting for our turn to speak. When we are really listening we are not only tuning into the words but the body language, the tone and the emotion of what is being shared.

The literal definition of a hearing “is an opportunity to state one’s case” for example “I think I had a fair hearing“. This for me is the deep thinking that takes place after we have listened. Based on what we have heard how has that altered or changed our perception of the world? How has it influenced out thinking? Hearing should lead us to recognise and acknowledge the truth of someone else’s lived experience.

So we have listened and we have heard but what do we do with that information, that alternative perspective? I have deliberately chosen the word respond. This is because any action we take should be directly related to what we have heard. It is also critical that when we respond we do so with the groups we are seeking to support rather than do to them. This all seems simple enough but this is where denial threatens to rear it’s ugly head. Before we can even begin to listen, hear and respond we must acknowledge that we have a problem. That is easier said than done, especially when the culture and environment has always been supportive, kind or respectful to you personally. Once we have been able to get over that hurdle we can then commit to doing something about it.

So returning to those three words: listen, hear, respond. The next most important thing is how we think about them. This is not a linear process. The work we need to do is ongoing and therefore it is critical that we think about these three words as a cycle and also broaden our understanding of how we listen.

Listening is not just about dialogue, though this is important. It is also about ‘listening’ to what our data is telling us OR as importantly not telling us. We need to interrogate all of the insight we have available from our engagement survey scores to sickness absence to recruitment to progression. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips the challenge for all of us is asking the right questions of that data. As we progress around the cycle our approach to listening will let us know how effective our response has been in tackling an issue or a problem.

But don’t just take my word for it. This TED in conversation with Rosalind Brewer (Starbucks CEO) discusses how active listening resides at the heart of their diversity and inclusion at work plans.

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Am I the villain?

The new Bond film is out and I have to confess I am looking forward to watching it. However, Bond films, like a number of other things I enjoy such as rap music, leave me conflicted. With the latest film No Time To Die, author Jen Campbell has highlighted the continuing, unhelpful and lazy trend of giving Bond villains disfigurements. This time round we are ‘blessed’ with two characters Blofeld and Safin.

Blofeld & Safin just two of the many Bond villains with facial disfigurement

From an inclusion perspective, the Bond franchise is riddled with talking points from misogyny to racism to a lack of representation. Whilst the Daniel Craig instalments have tried to address a number of issues the villain should be disfigured trope, a bit like Bond himself, just won’t die.

Jen Campbell talks villains & disfigurement

There is a campaign that has been lobbying against this for a number of years called I Am Not Your Villain. The facts are concerning. In previous posts I have talked about the importance of representation but in the case of visible difference the issue is much starker. Rather than individuals not seeing themselves in roles cast as heroes (only 1 in 5 people with a visible difference) or love interest (15%) many more people (39%) have seen someone with a visible difference cast as the villain or “baddie”.

Let’s just have a think about what that consistent repetition is doing to our psyche. We are essentially being programmed to be scared of people with visible differences and that is something we should be guarded against. The research conducted by CHanging Faces indicates that people with visible differences report long-term impacts from not being represented in society and across popular culture.

  • A third report low levels of confidence
  • Three in 10 have struggled with body image and low self-esteem
  • A quarter say it has affected their mental health.

It is here that the conflict kicks in. If I was being true to my conviction I would boycott the Bond film, especially in the cinema, to play my part in impacting on its Box Office take. If large numbers of us did that and were vocal about our reasons why it would hit studios where it hurts and could possibly lead to a change in scripting and characterisation.

But will I do that? My honest answer is probably not. I am a cinephile and seeing movies like this on IMAX is one of my big loves. So my reflection this week is despite positive intentions. Despite wanting to see the world change there are times I am a hypocrite. Whether it is listening to Eminem because I love his beats or watching Bond on the big screen there are times when I feel ashamed of my choices.

I would love to hear your own reflections on this, or other choices you may make, where you feel you are potentially letting the campaign for a more inclusive society down.

Toxic positivity

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Ahhh yes the Lego Movie a brilliant film, a genius concept and the home planet of toxic positivity, more on that shortly…

I am a big fan of comedian Bill Bailey and one of my favourite sketches is this reflection on the British psyche and how we report on our current mood. In the clip below he mocks a frequently used response “not too bad” and riffs on the relentless optimism of our culture – the comment on convertible car ownership is inspired. There is an important point amidst all of the hilarity and this clip came to mind this week in a discussion with colleagues about the perils of Toxic Positivity.

This year Kendra Cherry wrote an article on toxic positivity which she describes it as “the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.” As we hopefully progress beyond the pandemic, there is a real risk that this mindset is encouraged and expected by organisations. Let’s look forward with optimism, the worst is behind us or in the words of D:Ream ‘things can only get better’.

Cherry’s article helpfully articulates the negative impact this can have on individuals:

  • It’s shaming: When someone is suffering, they need to know that their emotions are valid, but that they can find relief and love in their friends and family. Toxic positivity tells people that the emotions they are feeling are unacceptable. 
  • It causes guilt: It sends a message that if you aren’t finding a way to feel positive, even in the face of tragedy, that you are doing something wrong.
  • It avoids authentic human emotion: It functions as an avoidance mechanism allowing people to sidestep emotional situations that might make them feel uncomfortable.
  • It prevents growth: It allows us to avoid feeling things that might be painful, but it also denies us the ability to face challenging feelings that can ultimately lead to growth and deeper insight.

I believe there is a fifth spoke to the toxic positivity wheel that particularly comes out in conversations about inclusion and diversity: ‘denial‘. The lack of empathy that runs through the four elements raised by Cherry is also at the heart of this point. An acceptance that there are issues within an organisation is an admittance that the system is unfair, unjust and / or imbalanced. It takes openness and a willingness to be vulnerable to admit that as an individual you may have contributed to that situation or scenario either directly or indirectly (by not challenging the status quo). The potential reaction is to focus on all the good stuff and dial up the positivity. The result threatens to be a bit like this ear worm.

Challenging this requires honesty with ourselves and with each other. It needs us to be open and supportive. Our emphasis needs to be placed on dialling up our empathy and understanding and toning down impressing on others to be upbeat and positive. Let’s be kind and honest to ourselves while we are at it. If things are tough, if you are feeling tired or burnt out share it rather than opting for a 7/10 or a not too bad. This is not a plea for us all to be moribund or miserable but vulnerability and honesty can help us share the burden. A call for help can allow us to support a colleague in need. We can pull through this together but we don’t need to make a (ridiculously upbeat, inaccurate and overly optimistic) song and dance about it.

To my inspiration for this week’s blog thank you – you know who you are! #ImNotTired

A Tale of Four Cities

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…


This week’s post is not a deep dive into a Dickensian classic but the story that has inspired it feels like a work of fiction. A talented 18 year old races from qualifiers to US Open champion without dropping a set just months after a heart breaking withdrawal from the 4th round at Wimbledon. It is a script that I am sure will at some point be turned into a Netflix movie, but if it wasn’t based on truth, we’d say the whole premise was bordering on ludicrous.

Emma Raducanu, US Open Champion (Image: The London Economic)

However, this isn’t just a story about steely determination, years of dedication, focus, raw talent and self belief. It is also a tale of identity and, ever since that winning ace flashed past Leylah Fernandez on Saturday night, the narrative has been split between a fairy tale victory and British multiculturalism. The catalyst to the debate was probably Emma Raducanu’s meteoric rise to stardom being greeted with adulation and superlatives from ‘unexpected’ quarters. Chief among them all was Nigel “I wouldn’t want to live next door to a Romanian” Farage sending his congratulations to the newly crowned Queen of the US hard court. Many people have leapt onto the offensive to remind the former UKIP leader of his disparaging historical remarks about Romanian migrants and the hypocrisy at his change of heart given that Raducanu has a Romanian father, a Chinese mother, was born in Canada and moved to Bromley at the age of two.

Raducanu’s fluent thank you message in Mandarin

Unsurprisingly, to some she is multilingual and in a brilliant PR move she thanked her Chinese supporters in fluent Mandarin. I am a massive fan of David Baddiel but his tweet in relation to this message surprised me somewhat. While it is certainly not the norm to speak more than language in the UK and as a nation we are lagging behind the rest of world (I am sad to report I’m a negative stat in this regard). We still have four out of ten people in the UK (38%) who can speak more than one language. The challenge is we don’t really celebrate that quality in ‘ordinary people’, some times it can even be viewed as a negative and treated with hostility. So when we get incredibly giddy about it in a high profile individual, especially when it is a language clearly shared with them from birth by a parent, it leaves me a little bemused.

Like many I was up late on Saturday, chewing furiously on my finger nails, as she sealed her victory. In my mind at that point was that fact that in January she was innocently tweeting about whether she would sit her A levels and the next making an unexpected run into week 2 at Wimbledon. Thoughts about her heritage hasdn’t really crossed my mind, so I’ll admit to being a bit caught out by the spark of debate and discussion that started almost instantaneously. Good Morning Britain presenter Adil Ray caused a stir celebrating her heritage as a symbol of modern Britain but also highlighting the issue that for many you are only really adopted as British when you are successful. Like Ray I love the fact that her Twitter bio simply says London, Toronto, Shenyang, Bucharest and agree with the questions that he raises in this article.

As the dust settles, I agree that this is an important discussion for us to have as a nation and the best I have read on the topic is this one by Alexandra Topping in The Guardian on the topic of multiculturalism in the UK. I hope that one day the success of a hugely talented teenage tennis player isn’t over shadowed by a debate on immigration. I couldn’t agree more with Wanda Wyporska’s summation who “as a half-Bajan, quarter-Polish, quarter-English” British woman reflected that while she delighted in celebrating Raducanu’s success and talent, she was wary of holding her up as an example of successful immigrant integration.’

The more that people get used to the idea that Britishness is a very varied thing has to be positive, but my concern is that valuing immigrants and refugees in the UK is sort of predicated on being successful and giving back a contribution rather than just being human. That’s not good for us either.”