If you always do what you’ve always done….

This time last year I was data collecting for a UEFA funded project looking into the role men can play in facilitating gender equity in football leadership. Having travelled across Europe and conducted numerous interviews with men and women in decision making positions and having spent hours analysing the data, I have the answer. I know why women are invisible in football, I know how to level the playing field, I know how to make football an equitable place to work.

I’ve spent decades telling organisations that there isn’t a magic matrix type pill that we can take to make inequality better but you know what I was wrong! Equality isn’t a mind-blowing puzzle that us mere mortals are incapable of solving. It’s really quite simple, it’s just that we choose to over complicate it. And I for one am done with over complication. I’m impatient and I want to solve this issue so we can move on to the next one, because let’s face it there’s a long line of them.

So here it is my friends….here’s the answer to the million dollar question of how can we make football (but you can insert any other industry / sector into this space in the sentence) equitable…..

We simply have to make equitable choices. Don’t role your eyes at me, I told you it was simple and it is. Whatever decision you make next today ask yourself ‘have I considered all my options?’, ‘is this fare?’ and just for good measure don’t forget to consider ‘when I make this decision am I only thinking about white, straight, able-bodied men?’

So just to summaries, before you make any decision today, be that what you are choosing to wear, what you are ordering for lunch, who you invite to the meeting, who you short list for the next promotion….ask yourself these three questions.

Inequality is the culmination of 100 decisions made over 100s of years. Decisions that in football for example lead to women being banned from even playing the sport, or from spectating the sport. At some point, somewhere, someone, decided that the World Cup for men didn’t need a gendered label but the women’s did (for the mens game we just say the FIFA World Cup but we need to let you know when the women are playing Women’s World Cup, just incase you are expecting the ‘real’ thing!). Someone decided that the league trophy for women should be half the size of the mens. Someone decided that the women who played for their national side didn’t deserve to have their own shirts with their names on. Someone decided that the version of the game played by men was worth investing in. Someone decided that the coach education material should only include male players. Someone decided not to invest in the science behind women’s physiology and sport science research. Someone decided that new board members should receive a gift bag with aftershave because who could imagine a woman board member.

Whilst it isn’t the same someone who made each of these decisions, in each of these cases that someone was a man. And whilst some of these decisions were made 100s of years ago, some were made yesterday.

Men have been making the decisions about football since football was invented. And of course those decisions were made in the best interest of…….men! The result of these 100s of decisions made over 100s of years is that the playing field is unquestionably tipped in the favour of men. So if we want to level the playing field we have to start making a concerted effort to tip it back the other way – we have to start making different decisions.

You see it really isn’t that difficult. Maybe I should go a step further and simply say whatever decision you are about to make don’t! Henry Ford once said “If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got.”

The only man or the invisible man

I believe women and other individuals from minority groups are often forced to play one of two roles, either ‘the only man’ or ‘the invisible man’. I’ve experienced both in my career and I can tell you they are energy draining, soul destroying roles. These roles don’t benefit the actor (the employee) or the show (the business). I appreciate that a performance requires a leading protagonist and a hugely talented supporting cast. I’m aware of the fact that not everyone wants to be a leading lady or take on the role of best actor, but the invisible man is not the same as being in the supporting cast and the only man is certainly not the same as the leading man.

I believe we’ve lost our way with diversity and inclusion. We seem to look at it as a recruitment exercise or a marketing campaign. The result is we may look diverse from the outside but how inclusive does it feel on the inside? Let me share with you my experience of being ‘the only man’ to help explain this a little more.

Twice now I have worked with organisations in The Netherlands who wanted to develop their international educational programs. I came on board to help them develop English curricula and they built teams of International lecturers to deliver the programs. The language of the program was English, which meant meetings and teaching was all conducted in English. Eventually the international staff were replaced with Dutch staff and slowly the culture changed. Rather than speaking English because that was the language of the programme, people would check to see if I was in the room and I became the reason the meeting was conducted in English – oh Donna’s here we have to do the meeting in English. I appreciate they were including me by doing this because by then I was the only none dutch speaking person in the meeting, but by offering to speak English because of me rather than because of programme, I become the why. And the point is I am replaceable but your core reason, the DNA at the heart of the WHY shouldn’t be replacebale.

Being the only man is a huge burden to bare. It’s a weight that many of us don’t want to carry. We are more than the minority category which you assigned to us. It’s great that you’ve hired a person of colour but don’t expect them to teach you how to be an antiracist – unless of course that’s explicitly why you hired them. And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy that women can’t coach men’s teams because they’ve never played men’s sports, but sure go ahead and promote your latest male head coach of you’re women’s national team!

In all my years of research I have yet to have a conversation with any white straight able bodied man who felt they were only given the board position or promotion opportunity because of their gender. WHY? Because why would they? The system has been built for them. Systemic racism and sexism has for decades tipped the balance in favour of white able bodied men. I’m not asserting blame, I am simply pointing out the fact that our experiences are different. And because our experiences are different we need to create different systems.

In my opinion targets and quotas are one way of tipping the balance back towards a more level playing field. Research shows that 30% is the minimal target to prevent the only man role from playing out. So for example if you’re focusing on increasing gender representation in any given space, team, board etc you should aim for a 30:60 representation.

The invisible man is the role played by many of us who find ourselves in organisations that aren’t inclusive. This isn’t limited to those of us from minority groups. I’ve seen many white, straight, able bodied men burn out in organisations that fail to see the human employee. That fail to listen to the voices of their employees. If you’re not hearing the stories of those working for you, you are either not listening or you have created an environment in which people do not feel safe sharing their stories.

As humans we are hardwired to connect with others. Even the introverts amongst us don’t want to feel invisible. We want to feel seen, heard and valued. Where and how in your business do you offer opportunities for people to share their stories and experiences?

Two years ago I lost out on a career changing promotion. At the time it was a devastating blow. I had worked my entire career for that one opportunity. One of the leaders in my organisation spoke to me afterwards and explained that all my hard work and contribution to the team and the organisation had not gone un-noticed ‘I see you’ were her exact words. And in that moment I felt seen. I felt valued. I felt like all the years of hard work had been acknowledged and were worth it. At least now they see me, maybe next time….That moment of connection was followed by deathly silence for two years. Needless to say I no longer feel seen or valued….I’m back playing the role of the invisible man.

This isn’t about ego, this is about recognition. It isn’t about title, it’s about opportunity. It isn’t about hiring diversely it’s about listening to this diverse voices. You won’t create a diverse and inclusive organisation by simply hiring the only man or the invisible man. You will create an inclusive culture were everyone thrives if you:

  1. Connect to your WHY and embed that in your organisational DNA,
  2. Create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and safe to share their stories,
  3. Hire a diverse workforce but don’t hire diversity in and of itself

Routines, Rituals and Real Life

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.

Harrison possibly explaining to Buddy the fundamentals of his toilet routine

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?

Wrong!

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 do what I do because of you

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 😉

The importance of aligning your values

LIVE IT.

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.

LEARN IT.

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?

  1. 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.”

ambition – independence – drive – responsibility – competition

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.

WORK IT.

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.