A none Muslim understanding of Ramadan from a diversity and inclusion perspective

Did you know that followers of Islam constitute the world’s second-largest religious group. An estimated 1.8 billion or more than 24% of the world population identify themselves as Muslims. Personally I don’t follow any religion but as a diversity and inclusion advocate and consultant I believe it’s important to understand how religion is experienced. So I have spent the last month researching Ramadan. As always I have done my due diligence to cross check facts but this is not my lived experience. I am an outsider to this experience so what I am presenting is my understanding of how others experience Ramadan, and based this understanding I have put together practical ways I can support muslim friends and colleagues during this important time.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. The Prophet Mohammed reportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.” Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam’s sacred text, to Mohammed, on a night known as “The Night of Power” (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).

The date on which Ramadan starts changes every year because the Islamic calendar is lunar, meaning each month begins with the new astronomical moon. As lunar months are shorter than solar, the Islamic calendar does not correspond with the Gregorian calendar followed in the West and means Ramadan occurs around 11 days earlier every year. For 2021 it started on the 13th April.

There are Five Pillars of Islam, which form the basis of how Muslims live their lives; Faith, Prayer, Charity, making the Pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, and Fasting. During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline, of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran.

Fasting is an exercise in self-restraint. It’s seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify by kicking impulses like morning coffee, smoking and midday snacking. I assumed fasting was only associated with food and drink but I also read that for observant Muslims a single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette is considered enough to invalidate the fast. I’ve never smoked but I can only imagine how mentally challenging that must be! Some Muslim scholars also say it’s not enough to just avoid food and drinks during the day. Spouses must abstain from sexual intercourse during the day, and Muslims should not engage in cursing, fighting or gossiping. And some may choose to avoid watching television or listening to music in favour of listening to recitations of the Quran. A muslim friend also told me it is prohibited to take medication even if you swallow the pill dry without drinking water and she didn’t realise she couldn’t chew gum until half way through her first Ramadan after converting!

There are special dispensations for those who are ill, pregnant or nursing, menstruating, or traveling, and for young children and the elderly.

During Ramadan Muslims are also encouraged to observe the five daily prayers on time and to use their downtime just before breaking their fast at sunset to recite Quran and intensify remembrance of God. To prepare for the fast, Muslims eat what is commonly called “suhoor,” a pre-dawn meal of power foods to get them through the day. At dawn, the morning prayer is performed. Then for the most part, Muslims go about their daily business, despite not being able to eat or drink anything the whole day. When the evening call to prayer is made the fast is broken with a light meal or snack called an iftar (literally “breakfast”). Many people go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by a special prayer that is only recited during Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as Muslims seek to have their prayers answered during “Laylat al-Qadr” or “the Night of Destiny.” It is on this night, which falls during the last 10 nights of Ramadan, that Muslims believe that God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed and revealed the first versus of the Quran. Some devout Muslims go into reclusion those final days, spending all of their time in the mosque. The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Children often receive new clothes, gifts and cash. Muslims attend early morning Eid prayers the day after Ramadan and families usually spend the day together eating.

Five ways to support Muslim during Ramadan

1. Don’t make assumptions

The Islamic faith is a welcoming religion that accepts people of all races and backgrounds. Do not make assumptions about who in your network may be observing Ramadan. Equally, some Muslims may be exempt from practicing for various reasons, do not assume all Muslim colleagues will be fasting. Observing Ramadan isn’t always noticeable, so make it easy for your team members to let you know that they are doing a fast by being open and approachable.

2. Educate yourself and colleagues about Ramadan

You know I believe every day is a school day and an opportunity to learn something new. Ramadan is a global event and a great opportunity to learn about religion and start conversations. It’s not the responsibility of our Muslim colleagues to educate us none Muslims, as with many diversity and inclusion topics it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves. However, if there is a Muslim within your team or network who is happy to discuss this topic, then the sharing of a personal experience will always have more impact. Be aware however that you should arrange this before Ramadan starts. Of course please feel free to share this blog post or join The Diversity Doctor Community for weekly content on intentional inclusivity.

In the spirit of not letting diversity and inclusion become exclusionary, I would always advise using any one topic as an opportunity to open the floor to others. For example ‘this month Sarah will be sharing her experience of Ramadan, if anyone else would like to share more about their religious experiences please let us know.’

3. Adaptability

If you are a manager, organising an opportunity to discuss potential workplace adjustments and issues that might arise for team members observing Ramadan would be advisable. 
For example, flexitime provision may help employees be more productive during their working hours if they can start earlier / work through lunch to finish earlier as energy levels dip. If your workforce or colleagues are working remotely across the globe, consider the time differences and how daily routines during Ramadan might impact meetings, deadlines, and performance. Organise meetings at appropriate times e.g. not during iftar.

Similarly if you work in education be mindful of your students concentration spams especially if Ramadan falls within an assessment period. Some student athletes or athletes in general may choose to still observe fasting during Ramadan which will obviously effect their training. Again do not make assumptions but talk to your individual student / athlete and let them guide how you can support them.

4. Don’t feel or be awkward

Try not to act anxiously around those observing Ramadan. Colleagues who are fasting will not expect you to do the same; you do not need to be secretive about eating and drinking. However, be mindful and respectful that fasting can be challenging, so constantly asking questions about food or offering food /drink is not helpful.

5. Be supportive and join the celebration

Try to accommodate as best as possible annual leave requests towards the end of Ramadan as acts of worship may intensify and Eid approaches. Having annual leave discussions sooner rather than later will ensure there are less clashes and issues. Finally you don’t need to a Muslim to support the celebration. The same way as you may say Happy Hanukkah to Jewish friends celebrating Hanukkah, it’s nice to wish Muslim friends and collegues a happy and generous Ramadan this year! Ramadan Mubarak means Happy Ramadan or Ramadan Kareem is have a generous Ramadan.

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Do you want to know THE most important aspect of creating a diverse and inclusive culture?

A person of colour and a white person holding hands

Start here and I guarantee you success with your Diversity and Inclusion efforts

In order for us to thrive we first and foremost have to feel safe. Physical safety is a basic human need. As a species we have evolved to associate connection with safety. We are simply not designed to go it alone. We need our tribe. If we get separated from our tribe we feel vulnerable. Exclusion makes us feel unsafe. Fending for ourselves is not our natural default setting – unless you’re Bear Grylls – and even the ultimate survivor has a wife and children to return home to.

Within the context of diversity and inclusion, members of the none majority group; women, the elderly, those with physical or mental disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, individuals from racial or ethnic groups are all at greater physical risk of harm than straight, white able-bodied men. This isn’t to say that white straight able-bodied men are never physically harmed, because of cause they are BUT statistically they are by far the safest group to belong to.

However for the purpose of this blog, I’m not talking about physical safety. I’m talking about another type of safety which I believe is the key to unlocking diverse and inclusive cultures which incidentally are more likely to be physically safe places. The type of safety I’m talking about os PSYCHOLOGICAL SATEFY.

What is Psychological Safety?

According to Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

Let’s think about this for a moment…If we’re fearful of asking for help, seeking feedback, admitting errors or trying something new for fear of the consequences, what are the chances of us being innovative or simply productive? How do we learn if we’re consumed by a fear of failure? How do we challenge each other to push the boundaries if we’re restricted to playing safe?

Within any group setting, but let’s use work as an example, no one wants to look IGNORANT, INCOMPETENT, INTRUSIVE or NEGATIVE and let’s be honest, no one is looking for a team member to bring those qualities. They’re not top of the ideal traits list during any recruitment phase. So if we’re smart, and I know you are because your reading this post, we have trained ourselves not to be any of these things. Psychologists call this ‘impression management‘. Remember we need our tribe to survive so we have adapted the following behaviours:

We don’t want to look IGNORANT so we don’t ask questions.

We don’t want to look INCOMPETENT so we don’t admit to any weaknesses or admit to making mistakes.

We don’t want to look INTRUSIVE so we don’t offer ideas.

We don’t to be seen as NEGATIVE so we don’t critique the status quo.

Think for a moment about your work environment, what is your response to the following questions:

  • Do you think everyone feels comfortable asking questions about topics they do not fully understand in meeting situations, or do you think people try to maintain an image of perfect knowledge about work matters to save face?
  • Do you think that everyone’s voice is heard in meeting situations?
  • Would you say people in your team are comfortable talking about difficult issues, would they feel comfortable suggesting a different way to do things?
  • What happens when people make mistakes? Is their first reaction to distance themselves from the mistake so they are not blamed or are mistakes seen as a learning opportunity?
  • How hierarchical is your business? Does rank and title provide immunity from critical reflection or challenge?
  • Do people ask each other for help when they need it?
  • If disagreements are raised in a meeting situation, is it the issue that’s challenged or the person?

Your answers to these questions will give you some idea as to how psychologically safe your working environment is.

What are the consequences of not creating a psychologically safe team?

It is Physically and Mentally Exhausting. Hiding who we are takes a lot of energy. Basically we remain in some degree of fight or flight mode. I know this sounds dramatic but let me break it down and put it into context. Before I open my mouth to give an answer in a meeting, my mind is processing the possible reactions my response may evoke. I’m listening to the content of the meeting, I’m formulating my own opinion and at the same time running a risk analysis. You know the saying ‘choose your battles’, that’s how many people feel in a work environment. Like they’re entering a battle field and have to armour up to survive. Will I receive too much attention or not enough if I wear this outfit today? If I leave my hair in its natural state will I be judged to be unprofessional? If I introduce myself with my full name will I have to keep reminding people of the correct pronunciation 100 times? For some people my gender identity may not align with my physical appearance, I’m going to have to correct their incorrect use of my pronouns and deal with the uncomfortable situation that follows. I know I’ve only been invited to this meeting as the token minority, should I feel grateful to be here or insulted that I’m here to make up numbers? I know I need to inform my work I’m pregnant but I’m scared I will loose my job as a result.

It severely limits innovation. Everyone’s looking for the new shiny thing. In the last 10 years or so I think innovation seems to appear on more job descriptions and company bylines than anything else. A couple of years ago I applied for a big national prestigious grant and the application required me to build on existing knowledge whilst being unique and innovative, all in less than 500 words! But here’s the thing, innovation doesn’t fall from the sky, it’s built on a foundation of failure. If we’re too scared to fail we can’t possibly innovate.

It can literally have life and death consequences. In Amy Edmondson’s Ted Talk on psychological safety she uses the example of a trainee co-pilot who notices something wrong with the cockpit read outs. The fear of judgement and criticism that may come from the experienced pilot, stops the less experience co-pilot speaking up. Here authority trumps integrity and the result could be catastrophic.

What are the positive benefits of a psychologically safe team?

I’m pretty sure by this point you have started to draw your own conclusions as to why having a psychologically safe team culture is beneficially. But I know a lot of people feel the need to have the ‘business case’ laid out, so here it is my friends. Project Aristotle by Google. Google’s People Analytics found that psychological safety was the most reliable trait shared by high performing teams. For clarity they found five traits that separated high performing teams from the others alongside psychological safety was, structure and clarity, dependability, meaning, and impact. But the most foundational of these traits, the one that without it you could not have a high performing team was psychological safety. Project Aristotle as well as other studies have found that psychological safety is strongly associated with objective (e.g. sales revenue) and subjective indicators of team performance (e.g. ratings of team performance by team members and managers, customer satisfaction with team products). The strongest effect of psychological safety on team performance appears to be through its beneficial effects on team learning with studies reporting psychological safety enabling the faster adoption of new technologies (process innovation), the faster adaptation to new market circumstances and customer requirements, the early identification of potentially catastrophic risks, and the faster development of innovative products.

What has this got to do with Diversity and Inclusion?

Psychological safety ultimately creates a safe space. In order for us to do our jobs efficiently and effectively we deserve the basic human need of a safe environment. Creating a safe environment enables an opportunity for everyone to thrive. Without it no diversity and inclusion training, schemes, initiatives, campaigns, policies etc will ever work. I know you’re thinking I’m being dramatic again so let me give you some context.

Most organisations start their D&I journey with a series of staff training / development sessions / workshops. Most start this series with some form of unconscious bias training. Which is without a doubt a must have in the D&I arsenal. However, how impactful can an unconscious bias training workshop be without psychological safety? What are the chances of me admitting in a group situation that I have recently become aware that my behaviour can at times be racist? What happens if I acknowledge that I have used sexist comments during ‘harmless banter conversations with colleagues’? What will be the reaction from my colleagues if I share my discomfort with conversations associated with the LGBTQI+ community?

Remember psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

A high level of psychological safety with a low level of motivation and accountability results in nothing more than apathy. A safe space requires barriers of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and clear consequences associated with these behaviours. The sweet spot for performance and innovation in a business or team is the combination of high psychological safety and high motivation and accountability.

So before you start trying to recruit more diversity, ask yourself is this a safe space for them. Before you run an unconscious bias training programme, ask yourself is this a safe space to discuss these issues. Before you ask people to follow through with your D&I policies, ask yourself is it safe for them to do so.

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Diversity and Inclusion shouldn’t be a one-trick pony

Why is Diversity and Inclusion becoming so exclusionary?

a group of diverse individuals sat on the floor with laptops talking to each other

‘A one-trick pony’ (idiomatic, by extension) refers to a person or group noteworthy for only a single achievement, skill, or characteristic.

Here’s a thing you probably don’t know about me, horses were my first love.  I begged my parents for riding lessons from the age of three. I have a coaching qualification in equestrianism. I spent my summers at university teaching horse riding at American Summer Camps and my PhD focusses on the lived experience and career history of equestrian athletes, I was fortunate enough to do my data collection with the British Equestrian Team during the Beijing Olympics. I have several published papers and book chapters which focus on the fact that equestrian sport is one of only a few sports to be sex integrated – meaning participants don’t have to compete separately because of gender.

I’m also a fan of idioms and I love to find out what they mean. Hence the inspiration for this blog post. Whilst I believe in the strength of doing one thing and doing it well, in the context of diversity and inclusion work I have a growing concern with the growing popularity of the one-trick pony culture.  Let me explain.

I’m like a magpie when it comes to learning. I click on every shiny link, read every new article, subscribe to every mailing list, listen to every podcast… you get where this is going.  You know my motto ‘every day is a school day’ so although I have nearly 20 years experience working in the field of diversity and inclusion, I know I don’t know everything. But I am growing increasingly frustrated to find that when I’ve clicked the link to a new diversity and inclusion article, what I’m reading is content only relating to race. Or when I see an announcement on LinkedIn for a company’s new head of diversity and inclusion appointment and again every thing points to race. When did diversity and inclusion become so exclusionary?

Whilst watching a LinkedIn educational video recently on the topic of diversity and inclusion I found myself lost down the rabbit hole of comments as people complained that the person delivering the training wasn’t racially diverse enough! This has to stop.

As a qualitative researcher I understand the significance of the lived experience – it’s what I do. I know I cannot walk in someone else’s shows. As a white woman, I will never know what to feels like to be on the receiving end of racism. But diversity and inclusion isn’t just about race. Is a person of colour in a better position to talk about their experience of racial discrimination than me – absolutely. But are they the best person to talk to you about homophobia? If they’re a member of the LGBTQI+ community then sure.

Racial injustice is an incredibly important topic and yes it deserves attention, but this work shouldn’t be a popularity contest.   HeForShe was superseded by MeToo and now BlackLivesMatter.  Diversity and Inclusion work will never be effective if it continues to be a reactionary process. And of course those who identify with a particular group are the voices we need to listen to regarding any issues associated with that group. BUT being a member of a group doesn’t make you a diversity and inclusion expert. And representing one group is not diverse or inclusive.

We can’t turn a black and white picture into a multicoloured masterpiece if we only add a hint of blue. We need to recognise and include all the colours.

Focussing on one cause is an option. Of course there is strength in being a one-trick pony. Of choosing a lane and running the race. There are experts and voices we need to listen to in all the lanes. But diversity and inclusion in itself should not be a one-trick pony. We’re trying to put out individual fires when what we’re dealing with is an out of control rampant bushfire!  And here’s the thing my friend, I promise you where there’s racism, there’s sexism, homophobia, ableism…

If you want to win the race, if you want to create a Diverse, Inclusive, Value packed and Equity Driven (DIVE) Culture, you can’t simply back the one-trick pony.  Start with your WHY for D&I and let that be your sprinkler systems to extinguish all the fires of exclusion. 

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Let’s talk about that Oprah, Meghan and Harry interview

From a Diversity and Inclusion perspective

I’m going to assume you have seen the Oprah, Meghan and Harry interview, if not in it’s entirety, you will have had to have avoided all media outlets not to at least have been exposed to the headlines surrounding this now infamous interview.

You know by now that I love to pick a topical issues and use it as context to talk about different issues relating to diversity and inclusion, and boy oh boy, did this interview give me a whole heap of stuff to talk about! 

Here are my 5 take aways from the interview:

1. I was shocked that everyone else was shocked!

I was shocked at how shocked everyone seemed to be about claims of racism in the Royal Family.  The British Monarchy is approximately 1,200 years old (according to my very in-depth google search!). It’s an institution built on power and privilege. The Queens personal moto is ‘Never complain, never explain’. Do I need to go on?  Racism is absolutely institutionalised and I can assure you it is present in British culture.  My point here is racism is everywhere, to varying degrees, sure, but I cannot think of one institution or culture where there is unequivocally no racism.

2. isn’t it a little hypercritical?

I wanted to point out the hypocrisy that is often present when we discuss topics relating to diversity and inclusion.  By this I mean there is often a tendency to point fingers rather than reflect on our own behaviour. Racism is a huge issue in America and I for one felt uncomfortable listening to American reporters who work for networks who have been called out for racism, reporting on how unacceptable it is to allow such behaviour to go unpunished! So rather than simply point fingers, why don’t we take this opportunity to reflect on our own behaviour.   

3. it’s not an easy word to hear

The terms racist or racism are incredibly loaded words.  Speaking personally as a white woman still educating myself about race and racism, my first reaction when I hear these words is to back away or become defensive.  It’s not a comfortable space.  Which is why I know its a space I need to spend more time in. Because I feel small in this space, I know there’s an opportunity to grow.  I will hold my hands up and say that I now know that my own unconscious bias has resulted in racist behaviour and I am working on becoming an antiracist. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on how this language makes you feel.

4. the need for psychological safety

Here’s the thing about unconscious bias, we may be able to identify them, but we can’t fully address them unless we create psychological safety.  For me to share with you that I am aware I have been racist in my behaviour opens me up to your judgement and criticism. Can you imagine how the media fallout would have continued if the Royal Family had responded by acknowledging their racist behaviour.  There is so much judgement associated with diversity and inclusion topics and I absolutely understand why BUT if we make people feel like they have to armour up when they enter the field of discussion, how are we ever going to break down the barriers of exclusion?  

5. the power of culture

Deal and Kennedy (1982) defined organizational culture as the way things get done around here. The quote at the top of this mail was taken from the Oprah interview and gives us an insight into the culture of the firm (the term reportedly used by King George when he explained that he and the rest of the royals were “not a family, we’re a firm):

“I was trapped but I didn’t know I was trapped. Like the rest of my family are, my father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave and I have huge compassion for that. For the family, they very much have this mentality of: ‘This is just how it is. This is how it’s meant to be. You can’t change it. We’ve all been through it.’ What was different for me was the race element, because now it wasn’t just about her. It was about what she represented”. Prince Harry

Don’t underestimate the power of culture.  If you want to create a diverse and inclusive organisation you cannot simply view D&I as a HR task or something people volunteer to be involved with on top of their day to day jobs.  You need to connect to your WHY for D&I and it has to become your companies DNA.

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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?


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


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?

  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.


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.

Three steps to putting out the fires of EXCLUSION


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.


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.


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.


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.