The Parent Trap

Well like many thousands of other parents up and down the country our household has just managed to navigate the first full week of home school 2.0. First of all, hats off to the teachers at the schools our kids go to as this version, albeit more sapping on bandwidth, is distinctly better for my children than last year when we were all caught rather off guard.

Disney’s The Parent Trap

In many ways this echoes our organisational responses where we have been able to take our learning from 2020 lockdown and introduce / rekindle some of the practices we developed then. I must admit I have never known a working environment more forgiving and understanding of the challenges facing working parents than I have experienced over the past 12 months. I sincerely hope we keep in mind the adjustments we have all made to accommodate toddlers interrupting Zoom calls, the sounds of siblings arguing in the background and colleagues crashing out of virtual meetings whilst a teenager in the background fires up a next generation console.

However, there is a risk and a danger that we over compensate our focus on those individuals who are juggling multiple family balls. There is a wonderful film produced by Accenture titled Inclusion starts with I. Why I love this narrative is that explores both invisible and visible difference and highlights that inclusion extends far beyond protected characteristics. So whilst a video call with me may well give you audio and visual clues that I am juggling home schooling and work. With another colleague you may well not be aware of the mental health impacts lockdown is having on them, or the caring responsibilities (and associated pressures) they have for an elderly relative or vulnerable loved one at home or the financial difficulties that they could be facing.

Inclusion starts with I (Accenture)

There is also a line in the film that wonderfully highlights the potential imbalance we can introduce for those people without kids “it’s the strain of feeling that I am expected to do more, simply because I don’t have children”.

This lockdown is tougher for all of us. We are more tired and jaded than we were last Spring. The weather is bleaker, the mornings darker and the days shorter. Blue Monday is just a (rinse repeat) weekend away. It is a time when our levels of kindness need to be at their greatest but our own cups are running low or in many cases may well be empty. My urge this week is to avoid falling into the ‘Parent Trap’ of solely recognising or acknowledging any ‘obvious’ challenges people are facing. Let us try to be mindful of the wide variety of challenges any of us could be facing and be curious and supportive. Kindness is a simple act that is often underrated. Let’s try to ask at least one other person each day how they are doing and if there is anything we can do to help and support. It may feel like a small thing to do but it could make a big difference…

#ImNotTired are you?

‘Positive change’

This week the honesty of two individuals I greatly admire has been my inspiration. On Monday night I foolishly attempted to dual screen and it didn’t work. I was desperate to watch the Anton Ferdinand documentary but also wanted to see if my beloved West Ham could climb the Premier League table to 5th place. In the end ‘Football, Racism and Me’ won and I watched the Hammers highlights later on.

Last night I listened to Anton again, this time in discussion on TalkSport, and he repeatedly talked about wanting to move on and focus on ‘positive change’. I have an enormous amount of respect for him for his honesty, his humility and his vulnerability. It was brave, it was bold and it was emotional, especially the moment when he discussed watching the documentary with his seven year old son. I have shared my own lived experience in a small group and know how challenging and difficult that is to do, so for Anton to do it on this scale is inspirational. If you missed either I encourage you to watch / listen on catch up.

Anton Ferdinand, who by the way also scored one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen for West Ham vs Fulham

Last week, I shared my own desire to boost my learning around trans awareness which brings us to the other person who has inspired me this week. Elliot Page, the brilliant actor from Inception and Umbrella Academy (yes I am a big fan), announced this week that he is transgender. The reaction to the statement wasn’t all great but the fact that he felt able and willing to share indicates on some level we are moving forward as a society.

The reason I highlight these two individuals is that I feel it is a neat and logical build on last week’s post. There are a number of key enablers for an inclusive society and feeling comfortable to be yourself and share your lived experience are two important factors. However, this must be backed by a commitment from others to listen, learn and support. So this week I am reaching out to ask you to share a key lesson you have learnt from someone else that has made them feel comfortable, welcome and a sense of belonging. A wonderful colleague of mine brought this quote to my attention this week from author and activist Sophie Williams “allyship is a constant process of actions not beliefsā€. We will only achieve our aims when we choose to consistently and positively act in response to those who share their experience or their identity.

In the spirit of sharing here are three things I have learnt from listening to others:

It is all to easy to think about LGBTQ+ as an homogenous group and though there may be shared experience there is also significant difference for each group that those letters symbolise. Appreciate and value that difference and seek to boost your understanding of the wonderful rainbow of difference encapsulated by those five letters and single symbol.

Don’t be tempted to lead, push, steer or guide a disabled person without asking first if they require any assistance. You may feel that you are being helpful but your actions will have the very opposite effect. As an bonus tip make sure if you are speaking to someone with hearing loss or who is deaf and they have a BSL interpreter with them. Speak to the person not their support worker.

This is where you make a comment or say something that makes someone question their own lived experience, memory or perception of something. From a pyschology perspective this act is always damaging. Rather than question someone’s experience listen empathise and seek to understand the world from their perspective.

Please share your own personal reflections in the comments and hopefully we can get a conversation started.

There is so much more to learn and this will take some effort but #ImNotTired

Comfort zone

I have started many a session on inclusion with a picture of the concrete chair by Stefan Zwicky with the title ‘Are you sitting uncomfortably’… I am often told by people who I work with that they lack confidence to work to be more inclusive through fear of getting it wrong. Now I appreciate that there are some behaviours (e.g. #AskDontGrab) and language that must be avoided (we’ll explore these on the blog next week). However, beyond that your confidence will come in time and the majority of people will be grateful you are trying to be more inclusive.

‘Concrete Chair’ by Stefan Zwicky

However, the really important step is being willing to both acknowledge and step outside your comfort zone. If books are your thing, I would highly recommend ‘Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People’ by Banaji & Greenwald as an initial read. An important takeaway lesson is that how we view other people is heavily influenced by our experiences and the information we receive as we grow up. Rather than clumsily trying to explain this here, instead I will embed a short CBeebies film that will do a much better job…

You may be aware that last week, 13th – 19th November was Trans Awareness Week and this culminated on Friday 20th with Trans Awareness Day. As an inclusion professional I am comfortable admitting that this is the area where I feel the least amount of confidence and have the greatest amount of learning to do. My son has a child in his class who is non-binary and I feel that it is great that they feel able to declare and share this with classmates. We have a long way to go as a society and I often fret about the pronouns I use. It will take some adjustment but I am getting there and have now included them in my e-mail signature at work which has sparked a couple of other people to do the same. For me this feels like the start of my journey to become an effective trans ally.

The purpose of this week’s blog is to say it is ok to not feel confident. It is positive to acknowledge the gaps in your awareness, appreciation and understanding. If you are committed to a path of self improvement to become more inclusive in your behaviours and actions then more power to your elbow! However, in doing so it can be all to easy to be hypercritical of yourself and for that reason I encourage you to embrace this poem ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ by Portia Nelson from the wonderfully titled “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery”.

I would love to hear from you on your personal inclusion journeys and any films, clips, poems or books that have inspired your thinking and growth. Together we could build a wonderful library of resources and though it will take some effort #ImNotTired, are you?