It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to get it wrong as long as you are willing to try again to get it right. It’s okay to be a beginner.
All too often I see the fear of failure holds so many people and businesses back from creating a diverse and inclusive organisations. And I get it. “What if I say the wrong thing and offend someone?”, “If I include that person am I excluding someone else?”, “I’m a small business, I’m not hiring anyone else so how can I be diverse and inclusive?”, “It’s something we want to look into, but we just don’t have the budget at the moment.”
These are all valid points and ones which I have seen over and over again, so if any of these resonate with you, you are not alone. The topic of diversity and inclusion can feel like uncharted territory with no clear starting point or final destination and with nothing but obstacles and pitfalls along the way. But here’s the thing I have travelled this path with so many organisations and teams and individuals over the years, I’m rather a seasoned traveller my friend so let me be your guide. And trust me when I say it is a beautiful journey and most definitely a destination worth heading to.
First things first we’re going to throw the business case out the window. Looking for the bottom line rationale will never get you where you want to be. There’s more than enough evidence out there for the business case. Proof that diverse and inclusive organisations are more innovative, thriving businesses. Places where employees want to be and customers want to connect with. But people don’t connect with the business case, and D&I is all about people.
So now we’ve let go of the belief that the business case can be our road map, we need another type of navigation system. Our compass for our journey my friend is our WHY. Why do we care about D&I? Start with your personal why. There’s no right or wrong, no winning golden ticket answer. just sit for a minute and think of your ending to this sentence…..
I care about Diversity and Inclusion because………….
What’s your story? You don’t need to share it but you do need to listen to it. Stories bring things to life. As much as we look for the 5 star ratings it’s the comments underneath we turn to. If I hand out a collection tin, you don’t simply hand over your money without asking me what I’m collecting for. The ‘why’ I rate a restaurant or the ‘why’ I’m collecting money are what leads you to take action. My why for D&I is because I believe my daughter should have the same experiences in life as her brothers. My why drives me and grounds me at the same time. Its my true north that keeps me on track.
No man is an island. No business exists in isolation. Even if you’re an entrepreneur doing everything in your business by yourself, you’ll have clients or customers. Even if you’re Micheal Jordan the best player the NBA has ever seen, you need to be a part of a team to win championships. So alongside your personal why, connect with other peoples why. Not everyones, but those in you inner circle of influence. Your colleagues, your team mates, your customers or clients. As humans we are hardwired to connect. Even the introverts amongst us don’t want to feel invisible. We want to share stories, we want to find connections. Listen to the experiences of those you care about. Connect the dots to these stories and you will find the why.
Now chances are you will at some point say the wrong thing and offend someone, at which point you come back to your why. You apologies for the offence, you learn from the experience and you come back to your why. If you have 10 seats around the table and you want to invite someone new to the conversation, then yes one of the original 10 will have to give up their seat. Come back to your why. And remember not letting one type of person take up all the space is not the same as exclusion. And diversity and inclusion is not a hiring exercise, so even if you are a one man or one woman show you can still create a diverse and inclusive business, unless of course you only want to sell to the person in the mirror in which case you keep doing you my friend.
Now I know I told you to throw the business case out the window but I am going to finish by talking numbers. Once you connect D&I to your why, you will start to truly value it. The more you value it, the more you want it. At this point you need to treat it like any other business unit. Not a project you give to HR but a stand alone business unit with the resources and KPIs and bells and whistles and accountability you assigned to every other aspect of your business. And for now if you are at the point of looking into it, you got this far my friend for free, so hats off to you. You have started your journey, you are on the right path and I’m here with you every step of the way.
Anyone with small children will relate to the number of times you have to repeat yourself.
Every time my youngest (who’s 5) goes to the toilet he wants to skip the steps of using paper, flushing and washing his hands. Which are clearly unacceptable shortcuts by anyones standards and so the other four members of our family are constantly reminding him every time he heads to the toilet and again every time he leaves. One day (soon – we hope) it will stick. This routine will become something he does automatically without having to think about it. Although it may take us longer to break our routine of reminding him!
The point is our daily lives are filled with routines that become second nature so we no longer know we’re doing them. I know you cleaned your teeth today but I bet you can’t really remember doing it. Overtime we learn the steps to get a task completed and then we move to autopilot. How many times do we say “it’s easier for me to just do it rather than have to explain it”?
For many of us our routines of getting up, eating breakfast, brushing our teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, and going to work, are not meaningful parts of our day, but it needs to get done so we do it. However rituals are viewed as more meaningful practices. With rituals we often associate symbolism and a real sense of purpose.
It’s not just our homes that are filled with routines and rituals. Our workplaces are too. I’m not talking about the cheesy google hits of 10 daily routines to get you from check out to CEO. I’m talking about the everyday stuff. From the moment we walk into an office and are greeted by a receptionist or navigate the signage to find our way around, we enter a world of rituals and routines. Weekly meetings. Getting timecards stamped. Performance reviews and promotion opportunities. How project teams are formed. How lay offs are handled. The rituals and routines, the daily behaviour and actions of people within an organisation determines what is expected to happen in given situations, and what is valued by management. They lay the foundations of ‘how we do things around here’ in short they are part of the DNA of your businesses culture.
The way the rest of our family react to Harrison’s unique and hopefully short lived toilet routine, sends him the repeated message that his behaviour is not acceptable. The same can be said of how we react to routines in the workplace. In theory therefore it should be easy to call out exclusionary behaviour, right?
The problem is the routines are so embedded we don’t notice them anymore. As a consultant, when I work with organisations I bring a fresh pair of eyes and the question ‘why?’. Take a simple weekly 8.30am all staff Monday morning meeting. Why? It’s great to start the week off with a bucket full of positive energy and motivation but do you have to do it at 8.30am, the time most parents need to drop children off at school? I once worked for a national football association who gave each new board member a gift, why? To show their appreciation and to welcome them to the board. Amongst other items, the gift contained a man’s aftershave, why? Because their was the unconscious assumption that all board members would be men. Not exactly welcoming or an authentic way to show your appreciation for your new female board member.
I appreciate not everyone is able to work with an external consultant so let me lend you my fresh pair of eyes. Below you will find a very simple check list to help you start to see the rituals and routines in your organisation in a new light:
When do you schedule meetings? Is it at a time that everyone can attend?
Who records the minutes of the meeting? Is it the same person every time? why?
If you provide gifts for new employees or clients are these gifts appropriate for everyone or can you have a selection of choices for different people?
If you celebrate public holidays, which ones and why?
Do the images displayed around your workplace or on your website show one type of person?
Do people eat lunch at their desks or do they eat lunch together? why?
Do you have a hard start and end time to the working day or do you offer flexible working hours?
Are people sending emails outside of office hours? Why?
Who takes care of the none work stuff, like remembering it’s someones birthday, sending a get well card….?
Why, who and how do you celebrate achievements and wins?
However you do these things, who does them or even the why you do them will say a lot about your culture. If there’s a woman in your team, chances are they take the meeting minutes and they take care of the none work stuff but chances are women are absent from your organisation images. What kind of work-life balance are your promoting if people eat at their desk and send emails after work hours? These simple routines send the message that there is no ‘off work ‘ time. Structure work days and early morning meetings send the message that work is rigid but we know that life isn’t.
The rituals and routines in our working days evolve over time to the point where we stop noticing them but they are incredibly impactful and they are the lifeblood of our business culture. So please take a moment today and ask yourself ‘Why do we have these rituals and routines?’, ‘What do they say about us as an organisation?’, and ‘Who are they serving?’.
For more actionable tips and resources to help you create a Diverse, Inclusive, Value-packed and Equity driven culture please sign up for my weekly blog and follow me on Instagram for a daily dose of D&I and updates and links to freebies.
I’m so blessed to have three amazing, loud, crazy, thoughtful, caring, smart and funny children. As a parent we all have big dreams for our children. We want them to be healthy, get an education, live life to the full, have adventures and fall in love. As we raise our babies it’s our job to keep them safe, we hold their hands as they tentatively take their first steps, we wipe away their tears and clean up their bloody knees and we teach them right from wrong.
I see a lot of myself and my husband in our three children but I also see unique individual characters. Do I love one more than the others – of course not. Do I think one deserves more than the others – of course not. And yet they are entering a world where the answer is yes! A world that thinks my sons deserve more than my daughter.
At 7 years old my daughter hit her first glass ceiling when she was dropped from the first team of football / soccer because she was the only girl. By the time she enters the work force, even if she’s doing the same job as her brothers with the same skills, qualifications and experience, she will earn less than them. If one of my sons identifies as gender fluid, or agender or bigender chances are they will encounter prejudice and bias in the workplace. If one of my children is gay they are likely to feel that sport is not a safe place for them.
In our home we celebrate difference and champion equity but outside of these walls the world is a different place. None of us are born racist, sexist or homophobic. We learn these behaviours based on our experiences. The systems and structures in our societies have been built by one type of person for one type of person and we need to change this because these systems and structures shape our experiences. We keep expecting the next generation to fix the problem in the system but they are raised by the system. It’s not their problem to fix it’s ours.
I will turn organisations inside out and upside down and rebuild them from the ground up if that’s what it takes to creates businesses where everyone feels safe and valued. Thankfully I don’t always have to go to this extreme!
There are so many simple, actionable steps we can all take to make the spaces we work in equitable. Research shows that when done well, diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to…..
– increased revenue
– reduced costs
– greater innovation
– increased employee engagement
– increased productivity
– reduce loss of talent
In short a Diverse, Inclusive, Value packed and Equitable business is a business that will THRIVE. I do what I do for my children and the next generation but you can chose to do it because it makes great business sense 😉
In a business environment there are two levels of values that effect our lived experience at work. At one level there are the values of the organisation. These are values the organisation chooses to share internally and externally with a spectrum of stakeholders as a way of showing what the organisation is about. These are the values that are formally shared. They may be included in the vision or mission statement of the organisation and are sometimes directly linked to the organisational branding. Then there are the values that define us as individuals. Values at this level underpin and guide our decision making and our behaviours. Our best experiences in a working environment occur when our personal values are aligned with the organisations values.
In order for us to align our personal values with that of our organisations, we first need to identify what these values are and then we need to consciously connect with them. I have been working my entire adult life and only in the last year have I taken the time to consider what my own values are. I mean I knew on a personal level the general values that shape me and how I live my life, but I hadn’t really thought about how they influence the decisions I make .
I’ve built a successful career in academia over the last 20 years. It is a career that pays well and offers job security. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to continue working in academia during the pandemic. Yet as I look forward to the next 20 years of my career, I’m left wanting more. The problem was I couldn’t articulate what that ‘more’ was so how could I go out and find it? Plus I was feeling incredibly conflicted because I was grateful for so many aspects of my career at a time when so many were desperately trying to simply hold on to a job, it felt morally wrong to want more of anything. Then I discovered the Next Level Life Podcast by Business mindset coach Christine Corcoran, specifically an episode about values. Having listened to that episode I took the time to consider my own personal values.
My values are:
freedom – respect – impact – authenticity – trust
This is what I want more of, more freedom, respect, impact, authenticity and trust. Now I have identified these I have to figure out if my current working situation can give me this – are my values aligned with my organisations?
Begin by acknowledging your own values.
Write a list of your values. It doesn’t matter how long the list is and it may take some time to formulate. But don’t over think it at this point. This list is just your starting point. Now look at the list and consider which values feel like a priority right now. Ask yourself if I had to choose between value A and B which would I choose and why? Work though your list until you have a number of values that feels right for you. Five for me feels manageable but this is a personal choice. Your values don’t need to be fixed but they should be stable. It’s okay for some of your values to change as you go through life changing events, such as starting out in your career, starting a family, facing a pandemic. But our core values help us make decisions so even in times of change we need to remain true to who we are and what we believe in.
Ask yourself right now what are the values you need to, or want to prioritise? Will these values help you achieve your goals? Are any of these values constantly being unmet? Are there situations where you feel a value is being compromised or do you feel conflict between the values? How have these values served you in the past? Have you made choices in the past lead by one or more of these values that have left you feeling uneasy? On paper it may look like a great value but if it doesn’t sit well with you then its not an authentic value to you and it will leave you feeling compromised.
Congratulations you have now identified your personal values. Now you have to pay attention to them. When and where do they show up in your life? One of the key places we turn to values is when we make decisions. Now we all make endless decisions everyday. From the small inconsequential decision about what to eat for breakfast, to decisions about what to do with our time and who to spend that time with. Observe with curiosity the decisions you make and assign one or more values to that decision. Try this for a week or two and see which values are driving your decisions and which ones are you negating and ask yourself why.
2. Understand the values of your organisation
Organisational values are the DNA of the organisation. They shape the culture. Far too many organisations fail to articulate clearly what their values are or they have drifted away from them as they have grown. Or worse still they say their values are x, y, and z but in realty what you experience is a, b, and c. Therefore identifying the organisations values is trickier than identifying your own.
Hopefully it’s a clear cut case. You can find a list of values and you experience these in your day to day work life. If not you’re going to have to identify them yourself. Start with your experience. Imagine I’m a friend of a friend and I’m applying to work at your organisation. You’ve very kindly agreed to have a coffee with me prior to my interview and I ask you what it’s like to work there. The values of your organisation will be embedded in this brief overview you share with me:
“we’re a very competitive team, energetic but hard working. Everyone gets a say which is great but it’s a competition, you’ve got to pull your own weight, you’ve got to have something to say, you’ve got to contribute. We get the job done which means doing whatever it takes to make the client happy. If your ambitious and work hard you can go far.”
As with step 1, once you have identified the values, look for them. Do you see them being enacted upon when people make decisions, when new staff are hired, or promotions discussed. Are they reflected in appraisal feedback or in the allocation of perks such as end of year bonuses.
3. Consciously connect with these values
Now you have identified your personal values and those of your organisation you need to check there is an alignment between the two. A misalignment between them will result in conflict and stress. It’s one of the main contributing factors to the square peg round hole scenario, that constant rub that makes you feel you just don’t fit in. A misalignment will make career progression complex, decision making difficult and it will compromise your ability to be authentic. For example if you really value freedom and your organisation has a strict full time, 9:00-17:00 working mentality you may feel restricted. Or if your organisation values creativity and you feel more comfortable working inside the box, you may constantly feel uncomfortable. Whilst these may feel like small compromises, over time they may chip away at your ability to be your authentic self and trust me – that is exhausting.
On the other hand when values align magic happens. Value alignment creates that sweet spot of value recognition which is completely energising for all those involved. When you consciously connect your personal values with your organisations values and you are able to make authentic decisions, those will be decisions that are valued.
Take the time and do the work. Reflect on your own personal values and identify those of your organisation. If your values are aligned work on making a conscious connection between those values and how you work, the decisions you make, the projects you commit to, the clients you engage with. It’s easy to drift from these values but its important to constantly reconnect and acknowledge them. And ask yourself are these values reflected in our culture – are we doing what we say we want to do?
If your values are not aligned, sit with that and ask yourself why. Is there an opportunity to work towards alignment or are you a square peg in a round hole? If its the later, that’s okay. The world needs square pegs, and triangular pegs, and all the other shape pegs. But if you stay in the round hole, the constant rub will wear you down, so you need to find an organisation that values your values.
In the English language ‘Value’ is both a noun and a verb. We use it to denote the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. We use the word value a lot in business. but we tend to put more emphasis on the verb rather than the noun. We use it to estimate the monetary worth of something. When I work with organisations on D&I projects one of the first barriers I face is a lack of buy in from the top because they start by wanting to know the business case for D&I in other words ‘how much is D&I worth to my bottom line’?
There is a wealth of research out there that demonstrates how organisations with gender balanced boards out perform those with homogenous representation around the table. Or how organisations with a diverse and inclusive culture attract the best talent. Or how customers and clients are choosing to engage or not with organisations based on their D&I initiatives. I can show you the research that supports the business case of creating a diverse and inclusive organisation but I’m not going to, because I’m not interested in the monetary worth of D&I, I’m interested in the human value. I’m not a quantitative person, numbers don’t work for me. Numbers won’t change a culture. Numbers take you down the tick box route of counting difference as opposed to understanding it. If you have to count the number of black employees, or women in your organisation your organisation is not diverse. However I am not naive. Alongside my PhD I have an MBA, I understand how business works. I get that the importance of the balance sheet. I’m just saying this is not the starting point. People are the starting point.
In an interview for DIRECTOR last year marketing expert and leader Mary Portas discussed how putting people first is the key to her success in business:
“It’s a better, more profitable business. It’s a more creative place, a more joyful place. We retain staff, employees put forward people to work here. They speak highly of the company. We’re delivering better work. Honestly, it’s affected all levels.”
It’s not an either / or choice. Putting people first isn’t a price you pay for profits. It’s the starting point for business growth. Remember value is used to denote the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. If you don’t think people are useful to you either as employees or customers / clients then feel free to stop reading this blog right now. If you are only interested in the opinions of people who look like you and sound like, then feel free to make all your business decisions in front of the bathroom mirror. But if you’re still with me and you value people, then let’s talk about which people you value.
In 2018 UEFA (the European Union for Football Associations) launched a campaign to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility in European Football. European clubs, national teams and star players backed the campaign which was designed to rid the game of discrimination. The #EqualGame campaign was to all intense and purpose a social media success, spreading UEFA’s vision that everyone should be able to enjoy football regardless of who they are, where they are from or how they play the game.
“The campaign was created under UEFA’s Respect initiative and designed to spread the positive spirit of inclusion, amplify a clear and uplifting message about the benefits that football brings to the community; show how the game can be enriched by greater diversity; and explain the European football family’s role to make the sport open and accessible to all.”
UEFA certainly value the impact of a social media campaign but they do not value diversity and inclusion. A positive spirit and uplifting messages don’t cut it. If UEFA truly believed the game could be enriched by greater diversity all the decision making positions wouldn’t be filled by people who look alike, middle to mature aged white men. If there’s no diversity in the rooms where your decisions are made, there is no diversity in your organisation, full stop.
A year after this campaign was launched we conducted research with elite coaches in football. Coaches who had played at the top of their game winning Olympic and World Championship titles before transitioning into a coaching role. Coaches who lead their national teams to victory. Coaches who also happened to be women. Coaches who told us of their experience of sexual harassment, of racism. Coaches who were told they could never coach an elite men’s team because they had never played men’s football. The same coaches who were then loosing out of top level coaching jobs for women’s teams because male coaches saw these roles as stepping stones to higher profile jobs in men’s football.
Two years after this campaign was launched we conducted research with decision makers in football, board members of national federations. We interviewed men and women from 7 associations in Europe. All white, able bodied, middle to mature aged individuals. We didn’t ask these board members any specific questions about women’s football but our respondents were incapable of separating women from women’s football. The perceived value of women IN football was therefore solely measured by the perceived value of Women’s Football – because heaven forbid women might know anything about finance or marketing or have any knowledge about football in general. This women for women rhetoric is limiting and insulting and absolutely not in line with UEFA’s desire to “show how the game can be enriched by greater diversity”.
You cannot put out statements supporting D&I if you only value one type of person. Football values white able bodied, sis gender men. Football does not value women. At best it is starting to see some value in women’s football but this value is consistently limited to the business case of whether or not football played by women brings in a return on investment. Football does not see women as people who have anything to add to football. One board member we spoke to who was the first women to be appointed to her associations board of directors explained how she had been labelled a ‘dark horse’ during the recruitment process. Despite having an impressive CV and extensive experience in corporate finance, the fact that she was a women made her an unexpected contender judged unlikely to succeed.
Simply putting out statements related to D&I or running D&I campaigns are all too often an act of performative allyship or at worst hypocritical lip service. If you really want to create diverse and inclusive cultures you have to value people. You have to put people first. Personally I feel like we’re at risk of developing D&I fatigue. In an attempt to react to social pressure, organisations are desperately putting together statements of support and appointing heads of diversity, or creating roles for people and culture leaders. Hashtags are trending and people or busy doing. But what if in our rush to do something we end up doing nothing. Nothing more than running a ‘successful’ media campaign.
So before you run your next D&I campaign or release your D&I supportive statement ask yourself this: How much do you value D&I?
If you believe you value D&I. If you are willing to put people first. If those people don’t all look and sound like you, you’re ready to take these three simple steps. Steps that will help you avoid D&I fatigue and move you beyond D&I lip service. Steps that will change your culture for the better.
STEP 1: BE ALL IN
The opposite of inclusion is exclusion. Exclusion is a fire fuelled by the ‘isms’ racism, sexism, ableism, ageism…these fires spread systemically throughout organisations. They therefore require a systemic approach to distinguish them. If you limit your D&I discussions to the HR department only you will never distinguish the fires. If you value people, if you value inclusion you have to go all in. With every decision that is made ask yourself ‘who am I excluding’. Of course you can’t please all of the people all of the time but you also can’t please one type of person all of the time.
STEP 2: BE VISIBLE
How do you show others what you value? If you value people. If you value diversity and inclusion how do you show that? If you pay men and women differently you clearly do not value their contribution equally. If the headshots of your board members or department heads all look the same, you are sending a message that this is the type of person you value in these positions. It’s human nature to want to share our best bits. By all means share the story that you have created a 5 year plan to increase diversity hires but if you are not willing to address the pay gap these new employees will experience while they work for you, you need to hold off on that press release and return to step 1.
STEP 3: BE REFLECTIVE AND ACCOUNTABLE
Check if you’re doing what you say you’re doing. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees because we’re too close to the situation and our best intentions are lost in a fog of our own unconscious bias. Get feedback. Work with external parties, D&I consultants who bring a fresh pair of eyes and see things differently. Who pick up on cultural artefacts, or micro aggressions, unconscious bias, or exclusionary policies. Work with internal stakeholders, reduce silo mentality and engage with reverse mentoring. You may be developing a diverse workforce but how included do they feel? Is there equity in you career development structures? In reverse mentoring a junior team member enters into a ‘professional friendship’ with someone more senior and they exchange skills knowledge and understanding. I am by no means saying that it is the job of individual groups to education those in positions of power and privilege but I am encouraging reflection and growth and open communication.
D&I is not a nice to have anymore, it is a need to have. People centred organisations are the ones who will not only survive but thrive. If you need the business case argument to motivate you to step up and make a change its out there. But will always fall short and barely scratch the surface unless you take a people focused approach. These three steps will keep you on track and will change how you approach and engage with D&I, they will help you put out the fires of exclusion for good.
In order to create diverse and inclusive spaces where people feel valued we need to turn the D&I switch on and shine that light on everything we do. It can’t be an add on. It has to be the centre of. Currently 100% of the organisations I work with are starting from the point of wanting to add on. Whilst adding training sessions and policy changes help to some extent, they are really just a bandaid on top of a deep wound. We’re treating a symptom not the cause. Change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding your culture.
As a qualitative researcher I see the world differently than many of you might. Decades of training and experience mean I can’t turn off the D&I switch. My job is to understand other peoples lived experience, so I am constantly looking for the other perspective. Think of it as a superhero power. I see, hear and feel exclusion everywhere. For example if I’m watching a presentation or webinar or if I’m in a training course I’m not just listening to you I’m analysing everything you’re doing. What images do you have in your powerpoint? Do I see myself and others in your presentation or only you? Do I hear the overuse of the male pronoun because there is the assumption that everything and everyone is male. I have sat through so many presentations on gender equality with slides full of only white able-bodied images of one gender. Or I have sat in rooms full of women talking about rooms full of men. I’m constantly shocked by how exclusionary inclusion work is.
If we want to create inclusive cultures we can’t simply pick one diversity topic, tick that box and ignore the rest. Gender equality doesn’t simply mean adding more white able bodied women to the mix. It requires you to understand sexuality, identity and race and how all these elements intersect. It means you need to look beyond equality and understand equity. Change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding your culture.
The first thing a superhero does is identify the threat, the evil, the danger. Right now the biggest threat to the utopia of an inclusive culture, be that within your organisation or society as a whole, is exclusion. In your attempts to include women, don’t exclude women with disabilities, or women of colour, or members of the LGBTQI+ community. Under the umbrella of #blacklivesmatter we need to shelter men and women and members of the LGBTQI+ community from the continuous downpour of racism and injustice. It is not okay to only include people who have a disability when we are talking about disability and exclude them from everything else.
I know this can feel overwhelming. And I understand that each group has its own needs. So right now I’m simply asking you to turn off the exclusion switch. In my consultancy work with organisations I often use Johnson and Scholes Cultural Web Framework. At the centre of the web lies the core beliefs and values of the organisation, which is surrounded by elements which are ever-developing throughout the life cycle of an organisation: stories, symbols, power structures, organisational structures, control systems, rituals and routines.
For now let’s just focus on symbols.
Think of symbols as the things you can see. Your organisations name and logo for example. The highly successful country music group Lady Antebellum who have topped the US charts numerous times, have recently changed their name to Lady A due to the slavery connotations held by the word ‘antebellum’. The group which was formed in 2006 explained that the bands name was originally inspired after the southern ‘antebellum’ style home where they did one of their early photoshoots and reminded them of their musical influences born in the south. In light of the recent awareness created via the #blacklivesmatter movement, the band have said they have changed their name as part of their efforts to “make the necessary changes to practice antiracism”.
In sport gender nouns are only used for women. There is an underlying assumption that the default position is male unless otherwise stated. The UEFA Euros 2020 compared to the UEFA Women’s Euros 2021. To symbolise equality sport needs to either add the noun ‘men’s’ or remove the noun ‘women’s’. It’s that simple. And of course this tips over to the size of trophies and prize money (cue eye roll because of course men’s are bigger!!!) Sport is a minefield of symbolic inequality. I once spoke to a head coach of a football academy who had to go to a different building on a different site if she wanted the toilet because whoever had overseen the design of the brand new building had failed to include toilets for women!
The binary categorisation of gender is another great example of how we symbolically exclude people. If you only have male and female toilets you are excluding individuals who don’t identify as either. If you symbolically label a space as a Mother and Baby Changing Room, you are excluding fathers who need to change a nappy. And on and on it goes. I’m telling you wants you start looking these symbols are everywhere.
So what can we do to work on the symbolic exclusions that we D&I superheroes now see everywhere? Well we start by working on it. Many of us have to give presentations as part of our jobs or we sit in on presentations and presentations are full of symbols. We recently presented the results of a research project on women in leadership to UEFA and we deliberately only used images in the presentation of white men – no one in the audience noticed! If you don’t see the problem you can’t fix it. So its our job as D&I superheroes to see the problem and help others see it too. Next time you build a presentation or watch someone else’s ask yourself “Who do I see in the presentation?” and if someone is excluded ask yourself or the presenter why – why can’t you see this person in this presentation?
I said at the start of this blog that change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding. I’m not asking you to simply add different images to a presentation. I’m asking you see who is excluded and ask the question why. Once we can build a presentation from a default position of inclusion, once we build new facilities with toilets for everyone, once we shine the light of D&I on everything we do, only then can we start to create diverse spaces where people feel valued and included.
We make sense of the world through stories. We consume stories through 24/7 news outlets. We teach our children right and wrong, what is good and evil through the fairytales we read them before bedtime. We are all characters in the story of our own life but many of us do not feature in the bigger stories because they are all too often filled with only one character.
The stories pouring out of the news outlets and social media platforms this week, the headlines that have eclipsed the global pandemic of Covid-19, are all born from the senseless murder of George Floyd. The 46 year old black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25th 2020, after a white police office Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds whilst he was handcuffed face down in the street, telling them he couldn’t breathe. This is not the first time a black man has died at the hands of the police and this is not an incident solely associated with the police or with America. This is simply another headline in the ongoing story of systemic racism.
We need to stop writing the same headlines to the same stories. We need to learn from these stories.
Research tells us that every story has five elements: the plot (beginning, middle and end); the characters; the setting; the conflict; and resolution. In order for us to find a resolution we need to address the other elements of the story.
For too long the settings of our stories, be that sport, politics, education, business….have lacked diversity. The characters have all been cut from the same cloth and the addition of any new and different characters often contribute to the conflict in the story. When I read a novel, unless I am told otherwise, I picture the character to look like me, my default assumption is that the character will be white. This is then reaffirmed when the book is made into a movie and so I don’t challenge this assumption when I next pick up a book. This is not okay. I was recently listening to a podcast in which the hosts read a story. A new character, a doctor was introduced, and it was quiet a way into the scene in the hospital that the doctor was introduced by name and the co-hosts all acknowledged their own unconscious bias because the doctor was a woman and they had all assumed the character was a man, because doctor equals man. This is not okay.
The most successful and well loved stories have more than one character. Even Tom Hanks in Castaway had Wilson! Whilst Harry Potter is the main protagonist of JK Rowlings much loved books, there would be no story without the antagonist Voldemort and least we forget Harry would have died in book one if it hadn’t been for the intelligence and quick thinking actions of Hermione. But not only does a successful story need more than one character, it needs diversity in its characters.
This week my colleague Dr Leanne Norman from Leeds Beckett University and I delivered a webinar to over 200 people from around the world based on the research we have done with women coaches in football (if you’re interested, the full webinar recording is available on my website). For too long the lead protagonist in football, the only character in football has been the white able bodied man. This is not to say that their story is not valid or valued because it is. But to only tell the story of football through one characters voice, is not okay.
To help disseminate the findings of our research project I created an infographic. I could not find images of women coaches or players to use in my infographic. These characters are literally missing. These women are invisible. This is not okay. After searching the internet and image banks looking for women coaches and players and coming up short, I contacted a graphic designer friend (www.lizzie-moore.com) and asked if she could create some bespoke images for me.
Leanne and I were overwhelmed by the positive response to the webinar which poured out during the webinar chat and on social media platforms, but one of the comments that stood out for me was this one:
Thanks for using coloured figures! I am Indian and this is the first ever football presentation where I actually feel represented and included! Thank you!!
I see a lot of positive stories coming out following the tragic death of George Floyd. Global organisations donating money to fund projects for minorities and releasing headlines in support of anti-racism movements. I love NIKEs ‘For once, Don’t Do It.’ campaign, a call to action to call out racism. But for this to be more than just a twist in the plot, this narrative needs to come out of an organisation whose executive board is not made up of a sea of white faces. Alongside donating money to support projects for minority groups, the same organisations need to develop a clear and accountable recruitment strategy to employ individuals from minority groups within their organisations. As Peter Drucker the famous management consultant once said ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Including a variety of characters in our stories is incredibly important but we can’t just add different characters without changing the story. We don’t just need strategies for inclusion we need to create inclusive cultures.
I come back to my round peg square hole analogy. The pegs being employees and the hole being the organisational culture. Stop trying to add square pegs into your round hole. Change the shape of your hole! Don’t let your response to Mr Floyds death be an opportunity to sprout platitudes. Let it be an opportunity to learn and re-write the story. To change the narrative. To create an inclusive culture not just an inclusive headline. We don’t need a twist in the plot we need a different ending. So my call to action today is this….When you listen to a story do you ask yourself, whose voice is missing? When you’re telling a story through a presentation or inform graphic, ask yourself whose story am I telling?
My dad took me to my first football game, a match between Nottingham Forest and the local rivals Derby. I was 5 years old. From that moment on I fell in love with the game and with sport in general. A few years later I realised that it was only the boys who were playing football at school, whilst the girls played netball. I asked my PE teacher if I could play football and she said “No”.
“WHY”? I asked.
“Because that’s for boys”. She said.
“WHY”? I asked.
“Because boys like football and girls don’t like it”. Came her reply.
“But I like it, so can I play”?
My PE teacher then clearly tried to shut down the conversation by explaining that it was against the school rules. Us Brits are fairly responsive to rules and I was a very law abiding pupil. I had never had a detention, I was never late for school and I always did my homework. I can see why she chose this strategy. But this felt like a rule that needed questioning. Realising I wasn’t making progress, I made an appointment to see the person I assumed made the school rules, the headmaster. This was the mid 80’s and his response was the same – girls don’t like football. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this was my first lesson in qualitative research. There’s more to the data than the words that are spoken.
My PE teacher and my headmaster had said NO I couldn’t play football because I was a girl. But there was more information in their response that I could work with. They weren’t using my sex as a physical barrier for participation. It wasn’t that they felt girls couldn’t physically play football. They believed girls didn’t want to play football. In my mid twenties I really struggled with the economics classes during my MBA, but here at the age of 10 was my first lesson in supply and demand. Let’s just say that thanks to a rather impressive petition, by the time I left my middle school, girls were allowed to play football because shock horror, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to.
My experience of not being able to play football occurred nearly 40 years ago. And things have changed right? My dad took me to watch my first football game when I was 5 years old and by 7 I was told I couldn’t play. I took my daughter to her first training session at 5 and by 7 she realised she didn’t want to play. I never got the chance to be included in football, it took my daughter 2 years to realise she wasn’t included in football.
Sport is, for many of us, our first experience of organisational culture. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Whilst there isn’t a universal definition of organisational culture, and there’s an upcoming blog post on this, a common understanding is that “it’s the way we (organisations) do things.” Sport has a certain way of doing things. It is an institution that has been built by white able bodied men, for white able bodied men. My experience of wanting to play football as a child in the 80’s in England is an example of an inequitable organisational culture. Thankfully many organisations are becoming aware of what this means and they are trying to change their cultures to be diverse and inclusive places. Verna Myers famously said:
“Diversity is being invited to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance”. Verna Myers
I wasn’t even invited to the party, but I daughter is invited. Technically she can join our local football club, she can train and play matches alongside her brothers. From the clubs perspective, the musics playing and she’s on the dance floor – job done. But music makes people move in different ways. You can guarantee that when an Irish jig comes on Micheal Flatley’s legs are going to do things that mine will never do in a million years. If the DJs playing 90s pop I’m in my element but anything from the death metal genre and I’m likely to look like a deer caught in headlights. For me Myers quote compartmentalises diversity and inclusion. There is an implied assumption that we will all dance to the same song.
When my daughter started playing football aged 5 alongside her 6 year old brother, I could see she was the only girl but the children didn’t see that. I remember thinking wow this is great, they don’t see her as different, surely that’s what we’re looking for in an inclusive culture. But this is like saying skin colour doesn’t matter. Which Reni Eddo-Lodge beautifully unpicks in her best selling book ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.’ Differences absolutely matter because they come wrapped up in privilege and power and these are things which most definitely affect our experience.
In the Netherlands, the youngest age category for teams is under 8’s and girls and boys can play together. When she was 7 the club suggested she played for their girls under 12 team, she would have barely reached her teammates waist! Instead we put her forward for the general tryouts and she was selected for the under 8’s first team. This would mean she would get a proper coach, the other teams are trained by volunteer parents.
During the first training sessions with her new team she did a great job, not the star player but her skills, physical strength and speed certainly put her mid to top of the mix. Two weeks later she was dropped from the first team because they had accidentally selected one too many players. The decision to drop her rather than any of her fellow male team mates was made by the male coach whose son was in the same team and a male board member responsible for the junior players who had never seen her play. The ability of the second team was leagues below that of the first team and this would mean she would no longer have a qualified coach. We appealed the decision, we asked the club to explain why she was the player dropped, they couldn’t provide any rationale. We asked if she could still at least train with the first team, they said no. She quickly became frustrated with her experience in the second team, she wanted more, she deserved more but the club wouldn’t give her more. She may have been on the dance floor but the music had stopped playing and she fell out of love with football.
Inviting people to the dance is not enough. We need to understand what that experience feels like. What do we experience when someone takes our hand and leads us to the dance floor? (anyone else singing George Michael’s Careless Whisper right now?) You may assume we feel grateful for suddenly being invited but what if we hate being the centre of attention and would sooner watch from the safety of bar?!?! What if we absolutely love to dance but you’re just playing the wrong song? As JLO explains the DJ’s gotta play your favourite song if you want to keep dancing all night long!
“Organisations need to do more than invite you to dance, they need to invite you to add your song to the playlist” Dr Donna de Haan
My local football club didn’t see my daughter as a talented player, they saw her as a girl playing football. The men that manage the club, that make the decisions in the club have no idea what it feels like to be a girl in football. To be the square peg in the round hole. The men who manage football around the world have no idea what it’s like to be a woman in football. I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a man in football. But here’s the difference – football was built for men. Their experience is all that has shaped it. They are the round peg in the round hole. Until we start to take into account the experiences of the square pegs we will never create inclusive cultures.
So lets re-write the playlist and truly get this party started.
As a qualitative researcher I solve problems by understanding how an individual or a company brings that problem to life. Let me give you an example.
A good friend of mine, Daniel, works for a large HR company. At the start of this year his company was launching a new initiative focussed on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Daniel is a very likeable family guy, I’ve never seen him in a work environment but I’m sure he’s very capable at his job. He’s got a good sense of humour, a team player…he’s not the guy that will make the sexist or racist comment but he’s the guy that may (shyly) laugh along. Daniel reached out to me because he had a problem. As part of the D&I launch his company had asked all employees to complete the following sentence:
“I’m committed to inclusion because………..”
Daniels problem was he didn’t have an answer. Why? Because he wasn’t ‘committed to inclusion’, he simply was included. Through no fault of his own, he is the default square peg in the square hole. I’ve already told you that Daniel has a good sense of humour, so not only did he want me to give him the ending of the sentence, he also wanted it to be funny! I suggested “I’m committed to inclusion because…
as a straight white able bodied guy, I know I don’t have all the answers!
In my experience a lot of organisations take Daniels approach to D&I initiatives – tell me the answer (without understanding the problem). And whilst I am more than capable of doing that, the answer I give you won’t change anything unless it resinates with you, the individual or company. Issues relating to a lack of diversity are simply the symptoms. The problem will always be rooted in the organisational culture.
Not surprisingly Daniel didn’t like my first answer enough to submit it as part of the pre workshop launch of his companies inclusion initiative, although he thought I ticked the funny request. So then I presented him with the business case for inclusion. I explained to Daniel that according to CNN Money, in the U.S. the millennial and Gen Z generations are the most diverse in history: only 56% of the 87 million millennials in the U.S. are white, as compared to 72% of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation. The U.S. population, and therefore the nation’s workforce, is becoming increasingly diverse.
In the 40 years between 1980 and 2020, the white working-age population will have declined from 83% of the nation’s total to 63% while the number of minority workers will have doubled. This means that organisations cannot simply fill up their workforce with ‘Daniels’ forever. The next generation of employees are not as complacent about the subject of D&I. They’re not looking for the smart answer that Daniel wanted to find, they want the authentic answer. According to a survey done by Glassdoor, a diverse workplace is one of the main factors potential employees take into account when considering a job. A diverse workplace was of paramount importance to minority job seekers: 72% of women (v. 62% of men), 89% of African Americans, 80% of Asians, and 70% of Latinos ranked workforce diversity as important in their job search. But this isn’t a them and us argument. According to Glassdoor’s research the next generation of Daniels employees and clients also believe a diverse workplace is important when considering where to work. This means that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is central to attracting talented employees, and to setting your company up for success.
So we tried out the following sentence: I’m committed to inclusion because…
it’s no longer a nice to have add on, creating an inclusive organisational culture is a need to have.
For Daniel this made it to the short list. It was an okay answer for him but still not something that resinated with him. Until he experienced difficulties in attracting talent, this scenario was still too abstract for him. He wasn’t living this version of exclusion. So then I went for the personal approach.
I asked if he thought his daughter should have the same experiences and opportunities in life as his son?“of course” he said.“But you do know if they both started work tomorrow doing the same job for the same company, your daughter will end up being paid less”? Daniel was now engaging with the topic on a personal level. He may not have experienced discrimination himself but now the subject was landing closer to home. This was a version of the problem he could at least imagine living through.
A few days later Daniel proudly sent me an image of himself smiling next to a poster that hung in his companies foray. On the poster was a picture of Daniel and the following quote
“I’m committed to inclusion because I believe my daughter should have the same opportunities as my son.”
Daniel couldn’t work through the problem of inclusion because he hadn’t lived that problem. But that switched when he learnt how close to home the problem really was. Truly understanding a lived experience is the only way we can change our experience of work.
I’m writing this blog in the midst of Covid-19. A time when our freedom feels somewhat limited. In The Netherlands, as I’m sure is happening around the world right now, we receive regular updates from the government informing us about what we can and can’t do, who we can see, how we can interact with them, what behaviour is appropriate….for me this is a new reality. Apart from my parents telling me what to do as a child, I have never felt this level of control before. Of course I am aware that social structures control my behaviour. Whilst I would consider myself to be a strong independent woman, I don’t have a rebellious side. I happily follow the vast majority of rules in my immediate society. I send my children to school, I pay taxes, I pay attention to speed limits… and yet this level of control is a new experience for me.
Pre Covid-19 I took my freedom for granted. I spent the majority of my 20s travelling the world, living out of a backpack. I have had access to education and healthcare. I have played sports, socialised with friends. I married the love of my life and we have three beautiful children. No one told me I couldn’t do any of those things. To me that lack of control is freedom. Hopefully many of you reading this post will have experienced similar levels of freedom, but I know for many, the amount of freedom you have to make choices and live your life has nothing to do with Covid-19 but has everything to do with ignorance and prejudice.
Did you know that May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia or IDAHOBIT for short? I didn’t know this until recently. The goals of IDAHOBIT are to raise awareness of violence, discrimination and repression of LGBT communities and stimulate interest in LGBT rights work worldwide. I’m rubbish at dates, I can barely remember birthdays of the people I love the most! But when I started to look into IDAHOBIT and why they chose this date, the significance left such an impression on me I know I won’t be forgetting May 17th any time soon.
I had no idea that on May 17th 1990 – that’s just 30 years ago – the World Health Organisation decided to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases list. As a qualitative researcher and writer, words mean everything to me, but that statement left me lost for words.
I had no idea that within my lifetime homosexuality had been classified as a disease in the same way Covid-19 is now! And just to clarify, the World Health Organisation defines a disease as ‘a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure of function of all or part of an organism’. Which means that if I had fallen in love with a woman in 1998 rather than a man in 2008, I would have been labelled as having a disease. According to ‘experts’ my body would have been riddled with an illness that would have prevented it from functioning! Can we take a moment to acknowledge how that label would have affected my freedom.
Whilst homosexuality is thankfully no longer classified as a disease, it unfortunately remains, for many, something they want to control, which heartbreakingly affects so many peoples freedom. Freedom to access education, healthcare, sport, workplaces. Freedom to marry and have a family. Freedom to be safe.
Covid-19 has given us new labels, ‘self isolating’ and ‘social distancing’, new restrictions on our physical freedom and a new sense of normal. As I am living through this experience right now, this is what I’m learning. I’m learning that having my freedom restricted sucks. I want to paint my face with blue stripes and run out of my house shouting FREEDOM in a dodgy Scottish accent channelling Mel Gibson at his finest. But I don’t want the freedom to be limited to only men in skirts! I don’t want to emerge from this pandemic to find prejudices still make people feel isolated. I don’t want our places of work to feel like war zones. And I don’t want to have to navigate barriers in society that continue to keep people distanced from one another. I want our new normal to be a place where everyone can experience the freedom to be themselves.
Let’s learn from others lived experiences and work together to make our new normal a place where freedom thrives. So let me start by asking you this simple yet thought provoking question, what does freedom mean to you?