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.

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.

Loaded language: Privilege

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?

John Amaechi on BBC Bitesize eloquently explaining the concept of white privilege

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

Status Quo

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.

Status Quo – Rocking All Over The World Photo: Universal Music Group

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:

  1. Entry level recruitment
  2. Progression pathways and development opportunities
  3. 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.

Helen Turnbull delivers a great TEDx Talk on Affinity Bias

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?

The irony is that the evidence tells us that more diverse organisations perform better. I covered the perils of group think in a post a few weeks ago and it is clear that it is in the interest of your organisation to get more diversity of thought throughout your structure. Don’t take my word for it there is a wide range of research that proves this – here’s a link to a video of Professor Katherine Phillips reflecting on over 20 years of research on this subject. (If you are short on time skip to 5mins and watch a couple of mins of the talk that explains how diverse teams perform better but homogenous teams believe that they do).

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