A novel idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re hired!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind the (pay) gap…

This week I will make only a passing mention of the uproar surrounding Gavin Williamson and his inexcusable confusion of Maro Itoje and Marcus Rashford. Though I have been amused by the various memes (personal favourite being the Dalek being confused for R2D2) the situation itself is much graver than that. As a Black man who has been ‘mistaken’ for someone else on more than one occasion I find such incidents deeply upsetting and in my view racist.

However, this week I am going to save myself the personal trauma of exploring issues of race and instead focus on gender pay. Followers of he blog will know I am a big fan of sport. I was gripped to the golf every evening over the weekend. The viewing was compelling and reflected a wider growth in interest in women’s sport. The Women’s Football Super League is now on Sky and a record 130,000 spectators flocked to the Inverness Golf Club in Ohio to watch the Solheim Cup. The latter is an event where Europe’s female golfers take on their American counterparts. Though the event is very different from normal golf, with players competing in teams instead of individually, it highlighted the unbelievable gulf in prize money in the individual game.

The victorious European Solheim Cup Team (Image: Golf Digest)

Suzann Pettersen, a former Solheim Cup star, who played 315 events on the LPGA Tour, with 22 wins and who sits in sixth place on the all time money list won less prize money in her entire career than Patrick Cantlay did for winning the Tour Championship that took place the same weekend as the Solheim Cup. Just let that sink in for a moment. A highly decorated and exceptional female golfer won less money across her whole career in the sport than one male golfer did after two impressive performances in the end of season tour championship.

Though sport offers up a really extreme example of the pay gap challenge, we know that the issue runs right through society. The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life, announced last year that Equal Pay Day 2020 (the day in the year when women effectively, on average, stop earning relative to men) was on 20th November. It remains unclear what impact the pandemic has had on the gender pay balance but it is important that we continue to collectively for equal pay in all walks of life.

There are signs of progress. In Ireland the men’s national football team have agreed to reduce their match fee, a reduction matched by the FAI to increase the women’s fee to ensure equal pay. It is a small but positive step and demonstrates what can be done where there is a will and commitment to equality.

This article by Timewise highlights some simple and effective ways of addressing the pay gap. The article focuses on research that identifies four key areas driving the pay gap:
1. There are more men in senior roles than women
2. Caring responsibilities and part-time roles are shared unequally
3. Women choose to work in low-paid roles and sectors
4. Women are paid less than men for the same role

The report also reveals that for three of the four there is a relatively straightforward solution: get better at flexible and part-time working. Perhaps as we move out of the pandemic, embrace hybrid working and continue to experiment with a four day working week: gender pay parity may occur in the not too distant future.

End of year reflections…

As we draw to the end of an incredibly challenging year for all of us I am conscious of the need to not poke too hard this week. For many, today marks the end of a difficult, tough and unrelenting year. I have to admit to crawling to the finish line and am looking forward to the pyschological reset that 2021 will bring…

I look back on 2020 with mixed emotions. I feel that the appetite for more inclusive practice and social justice is probably the highest it has been in my lifetime. I have had more powerful conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion this year than in all the previous years of my career. And yet, there is a equally powerful sense that making this societal shift feels somehow more demanding.

The language of privilege and fragility are important but they can often be ‘weaponised’ and used to stoke resentment and condemnation especially when positioned unhelpfully out of context. There are many individuals who seek to preserve the status quo and also have positions of influence and power. It is really important that we unite next year to continue the work we have started and campaign for a fairer, more equitable society. However, to do so will mean seeking to understand people with opposite opinions to our own. We need to understand their concerns and perspectives if we hope to build their empathy for our aspirations. Equity is not about putting other people down but about lifting everyone up.

The principle of ‘levelling up’ could be so much more than a political buzzword. In the same way as I feel we need to reclaim the word ‘woke’ and own it with pride I wonder if in 2021 we could hijack the ‘levelling up’ agenda? At present there is a distinct lack of clarity about what it really means. Is it economic short hand for ensuring that the gulf between London and the rest of the UK doesn’t widen any further and actually begins to close. Or could it mean the creation of a true level playing field for people across Britain…

In this post I’ll confess that I am ending 2020 feeling a little bit tired but that’s nothing a couple of weeks’ rest won’t fix. Then I’ll be back, with my weight firmly on my front foot, seeking to create a just, fair and equitable society for all.