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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

And the winner is…?

From Tom Cruise handing back his Golden Globes to Sam Smith being excluded from the best artist categories at The Brits, it’s been an interesting week in the world of awards. Let’s start on the other side of the pond. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association organises the Golden Globe Awards and has come under fire for questionable financial practices and a lack of diversity. This has been brewing since the LA Times expose in February and has now gone into overdrive with Tom Cruise returning three of his awards and NBC stating they will not broadcast the 2022 ceremony the Globes may well be on their way out. Action has been taken by people with influence and though the financial irregularities and questionable practices are certainly major factors, it is ‘positive’ that the same attention is being placed on the questions of racism and sexism within the organisation. That this move from influential individuals comes now at a time of heightened focus on equity and inclusion in society is poignant. It feels like a major step forward in tackling systemic and institutional issues of inequality

Back to the UK then and interestingly The Brit Awards was being celebrated for its warm embrace of diversity and inclusion, particularly the collaboration between Olly Alexander and Elton John performing the Pet Shop Boys classic “It’s a Sin”.

However, there was a mixed picture on a gender front. It was a big night for female artists with Dua Lipa winning two awards and Little Mix remarkably becoming the first female act to win the Best British Group award. That said the decision to continue to have gendered awards in other categories meant that Sam Smith who is non-binary was excluded from the shortlist for solo artist. This is despite their album Love Goes performing extremely well in the charts and being eligible for Best Album.

‘Music for me has been about unification,’ said Sam Smith in a statement. Photograph: Madison Phipps/Getty Images for MTV

My reflections this week are twofold. There is enormous power in allies and individuals with influence using their position and status on behalf of others. Though I am sure that the reasons behind Cruise and others returning their Golden Globes is likely to be complex the impact that they have had is notable. The second is that we must stand in solidarity across all areas of difference and identity. So it whilst it is important to celebrate and be proud of moments of progress we saw at The Brits we must raise questions about all aspects of inclusion or we run the risk of creating an unhelpful hierarchy of identities. If we continue to push for everyone we’ll all be winners! #ImNotTired

Between the lines…

*****SPOILER ALERT*****

So for those of you who are fans of or are just getting into Line of DUty this week’s post does contain spoilers so if you don’t want to impact your enjoyment of the programme you might want to give this week’s blog a miss.

Well it’s been a decade long build up to what must surely be the finale of Line of Duty. Since it aired on Sunday, watched by a record audience of nearly 13m people, there has been condemnation and outcry at how the series concluded. Underwhelming said some and creator Jed Mercurio has been forced to come out in defence of the ending. My own reflection is that the conclusion was spot on but the reaction to it contains some lessons that relate to inclusion work.

The first key lesson is an understanding of what systemic, institutionalised problems actually are. A perception that a small team of driven individuals can on their own remove these issues from an institution as sizeable as the police force is in my view more laughable than the chosen ending. The issues that were tackled by the show were deep rooted and held in place by those in power. It reminded me of the Frederick Douglass quote “If there is no struggle there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without demand”. It was clear that the handful of upstanding officers in AC-12 were doomed to fail as there were far too many higher ranking individuals keen to maintain the status quo. Despite this some held onto the romantic vision that ‘good’ will always overcome ‘evil’. It takes time, effort and the work of many to change an organisation’s culture

My second observation relates to Detective Superintendent Buckells. A lot of people have felt that him being the 4th man was incredulous because of his ineptitude. However, I am sure many of us can recall someone being promoted despite their incompetence. Within our own organisations do we see favouritism in promotion? Do we see people who resemble those in senior positions being elevated? This isn’t just a story of corruption it’s also a story of homogeneous leadership teams – organisations where it feels safer to promote individuals into senior positions who have similar backgrounds, thoughts and styles to existing staff.

DSI Ian Buckells

My final reflection is about what ‘institutional’ (corruption, racism, homophobia) really means and how the term has been unhelpfully misinterpreted. Line of Duty made a poignant tribute to both Stephen Lawrence and Christopher Adler in series 6 and I feel the link was made intentionally to draw comparisons about the lack of progress in addressing institutional racism in the police force. When the term was coined in the MacPherson report it had a very specific meaning.

“discrimination or unequal treatment on the basis of membership of a particular ethnic group (typically one that is a minority or marginalised), arising from systems, structures, or expectations that have become established within an institution or organisation.”

My feeling is that the ‘institutional’ element of the term has been unhelpfully misinterpreted. For some I sense that they perceive the phrase to mean that everyone / the majority of individuals within an organisation are racist or corrupt or homophobic etc… This causes an allergic reaction to the term and an unwillingness to use it. I think it is important to acknowledge that it’s the system and structures that are the issue in many organisations as well as the people that enable, uphold and maintain them. Their numbers can often be small but they will create the culture and processes to continue the status quo. Institutional and systemic issues preventing equality permeate all aspects of our society. It will take significant effort from the majority of us to try and topple them. There are people in positions of influence and power that will be desperate to maintain them. A few brave and committed souls working in isolation are never likely to succeed as the odds are stacked so heavily against them. So in my humble opinion, Jed Mercurio got the finale of his brilliant series absolutely spot on and if we really want to change things in our society there is a long and difficult road ahead. #ImNotTired are you?

Can I have a ‘T’ please Bob?

I look back on the 80’s with a lot of fondness. In our household growing up we were definitely fans of a gameshow and my childhood years were brimming with (what I hazily remember) as high quality entertainment. My second favourite show was Blockbusters – my first was Bullseye and I spent my formative years thinking that everyone dreamed of owning a speedboat. Back to Blockbusters and I still cannot fathom how two people needing to answer 5 questions was fair when compared to one person needing to answer 4… This week’s blog has a tenuous link to that quiz show and the polite chuckles that seeped out when a contestant seemingly asked for hot beverage (we saved the serious guffaws for when they requested a trip to the loo).

That is as light hearted as this week’s post will get as we turn to much more serious matters. The decision to grant the LGB Alliance charitable status has caused a stir. I feel out of my depth on this debate and hope that others will be able to share their own reflections on the situation. I can only go by what I have seen from organisations I respect like Stonewall.

I am concerned about the lack of understanding and support for the trans community. I feel there is a public debate being played out where people hold strong opinions or perspectives but have only heard one, incredibly biased side of the story. Elliot Page is playing his part but we need more voices, especially from high profile allies. I have been fortunate and blessed to have some open conversations with a small number of trans people and from those discussions have a greater appreciation of how challenging a place the world is for them and how actually small changes by me could make them feel a greater sense of being included.

The outpouring of concern and criticism from the LGBTQ+ community suggests that many see the award of charitable status to the Alliance as a negative and divisive move. The campaign against MP John Nicolson who questioned the decision fuels my concerns. My own inclusion perspective is that as minoritised audiences we have greater strength in numbers. We need to be mutual allies across all identities and I have always seen great strength, solidarity and efficacy within the unified LGBTQ+ community.

So this week is a solidarity post. A reaffirmation of my intention to stand with the trans community to do what I can to challenge hate, provide support and help open the minds of other people to be empathetic and understanding of trans colleagues, friends or family. I know I need to learn more, I am sure I can do more and I am committed to finding out what that could be. #ImNotTired

Groupthink, plans sink…

Wow well that was a week an a half. There is so much I could write about but I have decided to start this week’s post discussing football, or more specifically the failed attempt to form a breakaway European Super League. Everyone, their dog and their dog’s favourite rubber chicken waded into this debate, including the Prime Minister (who personally I feel has bigger things to worry about). For those of you that missed it 12 European Teams, including the self-anointed Premier League ‘Big Six, tried to create a new midweek elite continental competition. No-one was happy about it and it led to protests, crisis meetings, media vilification and after just 48 hours an embarrassing u-turn by the Premier League teams involved.

One of the primary reasons for the failing of this project was the fact that a group of like minded individuals with similar ideas, visions and plans came together to discuss the future. They sought no external input and were arrogant enough to believe that everyone else would just fall into line. The fact that they had not only avoided testing their thinking with supporters but also with their own coaching and playing staff is mind boggling. Sound familiar? So many organisations suffer from this insular challenge without diversity of thought in key decision making roles and a steadfast refusal to listen to other perspectives and viewpoints. So next time you are in a meeting, or being involved in making decisions ask yourself who is impacted by this choice but isn’t in the room? What viewpoints or perspectives are missing from this conversation…

Groupthink is a significant problem for inclusion ambitions. It is also the root cause for many systemic and institutional issues preventing equity or equality. We know there is a challenge with demographic diversity and diversity of thought in major institutions, top companies and key decision making positions across society.

This week we remembered Stephen Lawrence and his family who are still fighting for justice. We thought of George Floyd and his family that will have gained some small comfort from the Chauvin verdict and we wait to see if this landmark judgement has a ripple effect on the US Judicial system. Football feels like a trivial entry point to this week’s post given the gravity of what has happened this week but my main point was first penned by someone else. Reflecting on the European Super League debacle, former West Ham & England footballer Carlton Cole tweeted this:

The fallout from the Super League announcement was a direct challenge against groupthink. There are lots of other areas where groupthink is holding us back from social justice and equity. I couldn’t agree with Carlton more and I long for a time when we can be united in challenging issues of inequality, discrimination and hate with a similar level of vim and vigour… #I’mNotTired

Is there a dark side to firsts?

Sporting firsts are often held up and heralded as major breakthroughs. Last weekend we had a triple helping of that at both the beginning and end of The Masters and sandwiched in the middle of that the Grand National. Lee Elder who was the first Black golfer to compete in The Masters was added to the line up of honorary starters for a tournament steeped in tradition but with a history riddled with inequality. It felt fitting though that the tournament was won by Hideki Matsuyama the first Japanese golfer to triumph on Augusta’s lightning fast greens and undulating fairways. The respectful act of his caddie Shota Hayafuji replacing the flagstick on the 18th, removing his cap and bowing to the course has got people talking all over the world.

In between Hideki’s stunning performance and Lee’s understated appearance came Rachael Blackmore’s historic triumph as the first female jockey to win the Grand National on Minella Times. We also had the Boat Races with Cambridge Men and Women both victorious. But I think it is important in celebrating these moments to also acknowledge how long it has taken for progress to happen. Lee Elder was the first Black player to compete at The Masters in 1975 even though the tournament began in 1934. It wasn’t until 1977 that women were allowed to compete in horse racing and it has taken over 40 years to produce our first female champion of the jump season’s biggest race. The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race started in 1829 (Oxford won that year in case you were wondering) It was almost 100 years before the Women’s race was introduced in 1927 and not till 1935 it became a side by side race (Oxford won the first Women’s side by side race as well). It wasn’t until 2015 that the Women’s race was moved to the Thames to take place on the same day as the Men’s race and a further three years for both crews to get equal billing.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning with Minella Times CREDIT: PA

The purpose of today’s post is not to undermine or pick holes in these achievements. I am a big fan when we break new ground in terms of equality. My question this week is whilst we are celebrating these achievements are we sufficiently impatient in wanting more progress? Are we prepared to not be satisfied with a single triumph and continue to ask more challenging questions? When will we have a Women’s Masters tournament at Augusta? They welcomed their first two female members in 2012 but since then only four more women have been able to join. The coverage of the Boat Races is improving but it still feels more weighted toward the Men’s event. There is also clearly more work to be done in levelling the ‘riding field’ in horse racing, a topic expertly handled on this link exploring comparable performance in flat racing. This article builds on the work of Vanessa Cashmore, a Liverpool University MBA student, who published a study into the performance of female jockeys in comparison with their male counterparts from 2003 – 2016.

So let’s celebrate milestones and breakthroughs. Let’s fling kudos and admiration at those people that beat the odds to achieve career ambitions. But at the same time let’s ask questions about the progress that we are making in terms of equality of opportunity and participation.

Faith healing…

There are not many subjects I look back on from my school days and think – I wished I had paid more attention. However, one topic where I feel that is very pertinent is Religious Education. Spring is a time of year that is jam packed with a range of key religious moments and I feel my knowledge is nowhere near where it needs to be. I strongly believe that cultural intelligence is an important component of the inclusive leaders toolbox. When blended with emotional intelligence it enables you to effectively support and understand your colleagues from a broad range of cultural backgrounds. I will explore cultural intelligence in more depth in a future blog but for today I am focussing on faith and how important it is to build a personal understanding of different faiths, key moments and religious practices.

I had originally intended this as a pre Easter blog but Sewell put pay to that. So this week is a lighter focus on religion and faith and what better way to do this than through a quiz? I have placed hyperlinks to sources for further information, if like me you feel the need to broaden your knowledge.

  1. On which day of the week does Ascension Day always fall and how many days after Easter Sunday does it take place?
  2. Why do people of the Jewish faith light candles on Yom Hashoah?
  3. How long does Ramadan last and how many fundamental principles are there?
  4. In the Hindu faith Shivratri occurs on the 14th day of every lunar month. Maha Shivaratri has the most spiritual significance why is this?
  5. Baisakhi is a festival that marks the Rabi harvest and coincides with the solar equinox usually on the 13th April but what happens every 36 years

In writing this piece I sought to find out more about Baha’i. It is without question the faith I know least about and from my initial reading I think there is a focus on daily prayer and ritual rather that significant focal points. I was struck by the belief that “throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.”

The important thing to highlight is that these dates have special meaning to people holding these faiths. This may mean that there daily routine is impacted as they make adjustments to allow for fasting, prayer or meditation. Awareness of these special moments will enable you to better support colleagues and friends and be mindful of how they may choose mark these days. I know I have to get much better at this – but #ImNotTired.