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
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.
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
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.
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?
I loved chess when I was younger, drifted away from it until the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit drew me back in. The Queen’s Gambit is an opening where white tries to entice black to accept what appears to be a free pawn. The purpose of the sacrifice is to open up the centre for white to control. As with all chess openings there are a myriad of variations one of which is known as the Queens Gambit declined where black opts to ignore the ‘pawn’ and carry on with their plans and development of pieces…
This week’s blog was going to be a low key affair. I am taking two weeks much needed annual leave and had partially crafted a post ready to upload. Then the Sewell Report dropped midweek, and my jaw hit the floor. It has led me to focus on that but I must confess to not really having the words or craft to pull together something cpnscise and coherent. So if you are looking for an articulate, reflective piece I’d highly recommend this wonderful article by Kalwant Bhopal instead. I can’t match her skill and the past 24 hours have left me numb, filled with despair and despondency. It’s not really what I had planned for my fortnight break but here we are and I needed to say something. In thinking about what I wanted to write I took a break played a game of chess, and it was there that my thoughts turned to the Queen’s Gambit declined…
I feel that the Sewell report is designed to lock me in a box. I feel that my experiences, and those of the millions of Black and Brown British citizens have been gaslit by our own Government. However, according to the report, to say so means that I am living in a bygone age and am suffering from ‘victimhood’. It is a shallow attempt to simultaneously discredit the notion of systemic racism and damn anyone who disagrees.
My thoughts are that fixating on the report is the equivalent of accepting the Queens’ Gambit. It is a pawn I do not want and a conversation I will not have. Rather than attempting to continue the debate I am instead resolved to continue working to address inequality wherever I find it and simply ignore the document. So what therefore is the purpose and point of today’s blog post?
This is really for the ally readers. I have two simple questions for you. Do you agree with the conclusions of the Sewell Report? If not, what action have you taken to reflect that through your circles and spheres of influence? Have you reached out to any Black or Brown colleagues to see how they are feeling and offer your support? The voices I have heard speaking out have been predominantly Black or Brown. From David Lammy to Pete Olusoga to Shereen Daniels and countless others… It would be nice to see a ‘lighter palette’ of those vocalising disagreement and concern.
I wrote in January about my fear that the Government’s strategy was one of division – to pit the black, brown and white working class against each other. I’ll leave you with this eloquent and accurate summation from Rehana Azam General Secretary of the GMB Union that shares that concern. “Only this Government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic people and communities. This feels like a deeply cynical report that not only ignores black and ethnic minority worker’s worries and concerns. But is part of an election strategy to divide working class people and voters. It’s completely irresponsible and immoral”.
As a child of the 1980s I have tried (unsuccessfully) to explain to my children that not so long ago if you wanted to change the TV channel you had to physically get off the sofa, walk over to the telly box and push a button (or carefully turn a dial to a precise position like a dodgy toaster). That we had the grand choice of 4 different channels, children’s TV was limited to specific times of day and if you missed something that was it – no catch up, no rewind and certainly no ability to instantly access every episode ever of your latest favourite show.
The invention of the remote control, hoofer doofer, TV wand or whatever name the might power stick has been given in your household was a revelation. The possessor of this mighty tool would reign supreme on the viewing habits of others. This week I have also realised, like the one ring of Sauron, it has the power to corrupt.
The growth of all of these viewing options has made it far too easy to escape the news and more importantly flick the channel over when something discomforting comes into view. I caught myself in a mindless act of doing just that this week. As the story of the Croydon Council housing scandal was playing out in front of me on a large screen in (not so glorious that day) high definition. I was shocked, horrified and disturbed to the point that I found myself absent mindedly reaching for the remote to turn to something more uplifting. Maybe this was a sign that my resilience was low. The sight of a mother and her two young children firstly having to live in outrageous conditions with black mould on the walls and condensation saturating the floors and then being shunted into a budget hotel with one room, no cooking facilities and no fridge left me numb.
What concerned me more was that my first reaction was to try and find something more uplifting, lighthearted or spirit raising to watch instead. Thankfully, I caught myself in the act, put down the remote and watched the report till the end. But then I flicked off the TV and sat in quiet contemplation what I had seen had made me angry. It also left me frustrated. What could I actually do to help address this type of situation that I know is clearly not a one off.
This inequality is all around us. I need to learn more to be able to do more. Would welcome any reflections from any readers on the blog of what I can do in relation to any of this. My reflection this week is that inequality is all around us and it is easy, especially as our resilience dips to want to pull down the blinkers and gently mutter to ourselves as we stride past “nothing to see here”. I don’t want to become immune to harrowing news or be willing to blank it out. I’ve got a couple of weeks off over Easter – it’s time for a recharge… #ICantBeTired
There has been a lot of commentary and chatter recently about Unconscious Bias Training. Critique of its lack of effectiveness and concern regarding organisations, especially charities, spending significant amounts of cash on these interventions. The problem is the concern is misplaced and criticism misguided. In order to illustrate my point I am going to use coronavirus as an example.
If we imagine a lack of inclusive behaviours as the disease that is maligning our society. Unconscious Bias (UB) training is not a cure. It was never designed to eradicate, resolve or remove non inclusive or discriminatory behaviour. No, UB interventions are a test to identify whether you have the potential to be prejudice. It is also in some ways a pointless test as we will all test positive. It is impossible not to have unconscious bias and that is because of how our brains are wired. If you are interested in reading a bit more about how UB works then I highly recommend Blindspot by Banaji & Greenwald. The book provides a number of links to the free online Harvard Implicit Association Tests. However, the simplest and most accessible exercise to understand your mind requires only a shuffled deck of cards, a friend and a stopwatch.
The role for your partner is to time your speed for this task so you have a comparison afterwards. OK, hold the deck face up and sort the cards as quickly as you can into Hearts & Diamonds / Spades & Clubs. Right now give them a good shuffle and repeat the sorting this time placing the cards in piles of Hearts & Clubs / Spades & Diamonds. Look at the difference between your times, perhaps even repeat the exercise, and have a think about what your results are telling you…
The key point of this weeks’ post is to highlight that rather than picking on a diagnostic tool that is primarily designed to illustrate how bias forms, the bigger question is investment in the more challenging work of tackling cultural norms, building empathy and creating environments, processes and policies that prioritise equity and build higher levels of inclusion and belonging. There is no shortcut to positive inclusive outcomes and investing all of your time effort and energy into UB and expecting it to transform your organisation is the equivalent of having a test for COVID and believing you’ve been vaccinated, twice!
So if you would like to take some implicit tests or embark on some UB training I’d encourage you to do so as it is eye opening. But, what is most important is that you see it as the start of your work rather than an end in itself. Building and honing your inclusion muscles is a constant process. There is no finish line but it can be a wonderful never ending journey of self discovery and learning. You won’t always get things right and this feels like an appropriate moment to remind you of the poem I first shared with you in one of my earlier blog posts ‘Comfort Zone‘. ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ by Portia Nelson from the wonderfully titled “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery” is a useful reminder to be gentle with yourself on the road to being more inclusive. Unconscious Bias training may well be your first step but if you are serious about this, it will definitely not be your last… #ImNotTired
I wasn’t very good at languages at school. I could do the reading and writing bit, when I had time to reflect and think, but the spontaneous conversation (definitely the most important aspect) was quite frankly my worst nightmare. I remember sitting in nervous anticipation of being summoned in for my French GCSE oral exam. My palms were beyond sweaty and anxiety levels at a peak. That said one of the highlights for me of studying French was the introduction to the brilliance of the French farce. Our teacher would often show us French films twice once with subtitles on and a second time without them to help us improve our abilities to interpret. It built a passion for me that continued past my school days and my favourite French comedy is one I discovered at University called Le Dîners de Cons. If you can get hold of a copy I highly recommend it…
Anyway I digress, this week’s blog post is a day early and in recognition of Disability Time to Talk Day (4th Feb). With all of us wearing masks indoors I have missed the ability to connect with others through facial expression when I have made rare forays to the shops. With meetings taking place on Zoom, WebEx or Microsoft Teams the body language signals are missed, especially when we choose to turn off our cameras (often because we are virtual meeting exhausted).
So what does all of this preamble relate to? Misgivings about my ineptitude with foreign languages. Failed attempts to connect with other shoppers. Virtual groundhog day throughout the working week. The sum of my reflections is that while I have recognised that lockdown has been tiring for me – it must be incredibly difficult for my colleagues with hearing loss.
There have been a number of colleagues who have confided in me that they rely on lip reading to ‘hear’. At work it has taken us time to use subtitles on videos as standard. Some friends and colleagues had never disclosed they had hearing loss before but lockdown and mask wearing has immediately posed them challenges. What compounds this issue is when they have had to constantly remind colleagues to keep their cameras on or not cover up their mouths when speaking in work meetings. I cannot explain how draining and demoralising it is to be compelled to repeatedly ask for something simple to enable your engagement and involvement. If you want to empathise though try watching a foreign language film you’ve never seen before without the subtitles on…
So a small ask this week. Speak to your colleagues. If you are the type of person that prefers to turn your camera off for Zoom meetings ask others if they would mind. Take some time, especially today, to reach out and ask others if there are any changes or adjustments you could make to help them feel more included or aid their involvement. Be curious, be open, be kind. Choose empathy over sympathy. Let’s all work together to turn this year’s Time To Talk Day into a positive conversation about how we can work together to support our disabled colleagues.
Here’s a chilling statistic for you. It is normal for 75% of ethnic minorities to experience racism in the workplace. Just let that sink in for a minute. For three quarters of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population discrimination at work is a normal experience. This is one of the outputs of research conducted by Green Park and The Collaboratory and has led to their creation of the UK’s first racial Equality Week due to get started on Monday 1st February.
It comes at a time of hope following the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the US. For those of you who missed it please take six minutes with a cuppa to listen to Amanda Gorman’s poem from last week’s ceremony.
Race Equality Week has a simple message – let’s not go back to normal. This sentiment dovetails beautifully with the thrust of the ‘Hill I Climb’ poem, which also includes the line “we seek harm to none and harmony for all”. Next week across the country senior leaders will meet with staff to build their understanding of the challenges, barriers and issues in a series of ‘safe space’ conversations. These will culminate in a collection of Big Promises made between employers and employees about the changes they will make. I will be watching keenly to see whether these words turn into actions and if your employer is taking part I encourage you to do so as well.
For those of you whose employer may have missed the boat worry not. The intention is for this to become an annual cycle of conversations and commitment so ask your organisation ‘why are we not taking part in this’. It is an especially powerful challenge if it is raised by allies rather than People of Colour.
As someone who has experienced racism from childhood, I can assure you that the many statistics you have read and comments you have heard are not only very likely to be true they are most probably understated. The goal of most campaigners on this agenda is not to tip the balance of the scales but merely to achieve equilibrium.
So if this short post has encouraged you to find out what more you can personally do I suggest a visit to the Race Equality Matters website. I’ll leave you with Amanda’s words:
“But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright… …In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
This week I want to shine a massive spotlight on Samaritans. Brew Monday is an absolute gem of an idea and given the current circumstances, really needed. Turning a fundraising activity to support people in need at exactly the same time as encouraging a behaviour that works in support of your cause is in my eyes pure genius! My donation is on its way. It also made me think about how much more I could do to check in on friends and family and not just because we are in a lockdown but as a standard daily habit.
But first, it’s important for me to look in the mirror. It is far too easy to immediately leap into how do I help others without considering my own needs. Last week I talked about cups running low or empty and the cumulative impact of multiple lockdowns added to heightened work stress is certainly impacting on me. Mental health inexplicably remains a taboo subject and when I reflect on my own thoughts on my mental health it stems from a perception that an admittance that my anxiety is building, my stress is growing and ability to cope diminishing feels like an admittance of failure, a lack of personal strength, wimping out. I have to confess that historically I have placed too little emphasis on my own mental health. Sky News posted this really helpful article earlier this month and it is well worth a read. So if you are now thinking you should complete your own self assessment there are some great tools out there including this one from the NHS – Your Mind Plan.
My wider inclusion question for this week stems from this. I believe we are getting better about being open about mental health challenges we may be facing but there is still a long way to go. In the workplace there remains a reluctance to openly talk about mental health and we are far more likely to rally round and offer support to a colleague with flu, a chronic bad back or a leg break than one with a mental health problem. So what action can we take?
Three things really. The first is to start with yourself. We often place our own self care at the bottom of the pile. There has never been a more important time to rethink that list of priorities and place ourselves first.
The second: personal development. Build your knowledge around what to look for, how to support and critically where to signpost. Supporting someone with a mental health problem may require a skilled practitioner. Sometimes the best thing you can do is encourage someone to seek professional help. For tips on things you can do to support others this website is a great starting point.
And the third thing is what you can ask your employer to do. A couple of years ago I heard Dr Shaun Davis speak about the benefits of the Royal Mail’s Mental Health First Aider programme. Having trained colleagues readily available to support members of staff is a great way of both demonstrating organisational commitment and understanding but is also a brilliant support programme for your staff. You can read a bit more about what they have done here. What if every employer had a Mental Health First Aid programme? What if we thought about Mental Health First Aid in the same way as we currently think about physical First Aid? I will definitely be asking this question in my organisation, will you? #ImNotTired
This week I am going to start with a trip down memory lane. We would start school music lessons with a distribution of instruments. The kids who went first would often go for a xylophone or something else equally exciting, a glockenspiel perhaps. Gradually as the cupboard emptied the best you could hope for was a tambourine but i can certainly say that nobody wanted to be left at the very end. For if you were last or close to last the only instrument left was often a triangle, apable of a single solitary note often drowned out by the excitable kid next to you bashing a drum or set of bongos. If this opening has got you feeling particularly misty eyed and yearning to hear the sound of percussive instruments then I’d suggest having a look at this video of a wooden ball, playing Bach, on a giant xylophone in the German woods…
That opening preamble was a very roundabout way of talking about the magical power of triangles that would go on to feature prominently in my primary school education. From use of triangles to build strong bridges out of straws past Pythagoras’ theorem and onto fascination of the pyramids of Egypt – triangles started popping up everywhere. This continued through my early career. I would learn about the importance of a triangulation of methods when conducting research and barely a moment would pass by before someone would introduce me the latest business model which all seemed to have a fascination with basic shapes: circles, squares and yes plenty of triangles. My favourite of these three sided models is Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle and, with the latest challenges we are all facing in lockdown, I am sure we could all do with a little rescuing right now.
So turning my attention to the world of inclusion. I am sure you will all share my horror at the events that took place at Capitol Hill this week. Though it may feel that we are very distant from that type of riotous supremacist bahaviour I would urge you to recollect what transpired this Spring on the back of the Black Lives Matters protests on the streets of London and outside the Houses of Parliament. It is not fantasy to imagine something similar happening on our shores. And so to my triangle.
It is the start of a New Year and you may well work for an organisation that back in June was swift to post a statement either about anti-racism or potentially more broadly about inclusion. I’d encourage you to ask the question of senior management “how are we getting on?”. What progress have we made in the past six months?”. And most importantly, “how do you know if we are making progress, what measures do we use?”
Too often, I fear that our focus on delivering equity and inclusion is far too easily drawn to looking at demographics. What is the ethnicity of our workforce? What’s the gender balance of senior leadership? How many of our employees declare they have a disability? The problem with this approach is two fold: 1. it ignores the quality of experience by simply counting numbers 2. it counts numbers that take a long time to change and therefore there is no swift of understanding whether or not you are making progress
It is here where an alternative triangulated view comes in handy. What if we all challenged our organisations to look at three metrics:
Yes please continue to measure and monitor the varying identity of our staff we would love to have a vibrant, cosmopolitan mix (Diversity)
While you are at it can you please check the experience of all our staff and measure how far people feel able to be themselves in the workplace (Belonging)
In order to get things really moving can we check the capability and confidence of our most senior leaders. They set the tone for the whole organisation so we would value knowing they had high levels of Emotional and Cultural Intelligence (Leadership)
What if we encouraged all of our organisations to take a broader approach to identifying what progress we are making and the evolving lived experience of all our people. That’s something we could start to improve immediately and would help us understand if we were making the necessary progress towards a more inclusive and diverse workplace…
I’d love to hear about what approaches your companies take to measuring themselves on this and if you don’t know please make it your aim to find out this coming week. If we really want to see change these are the questions we need to ask and the answers we need to know. It should only take a small amount of effort but it could make a big difference. #ImNotTired are you?