Connect to your WHY and value D&I

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.

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 😉

Why we need to change the story if we want to resolve the conflict.

LIVE IT.

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.

LEARN IT.

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!!

WORK IT.

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?

Simply asking people to dance is not enough. If you want to create an inclusive culture you need to expand your playlist.

LIVE IT.

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.

LEARN IT.

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.

WORK IT.

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.

By understanding your lived experience, I can help you work out the solution to your problem.

LIVE IT.

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.

LEARN IT.

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. 

WORK IT.

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.

Is it just me or is anyone else desperate to paint their face blue and run through the streets shouting FREEDOM in a dodgy Scottish accent?

LIVE IT.

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.

LEARN IT.

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.

WORK IT.

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?

Hi I’m Donna….

I’m a 40 something year old Brit, married to a Dutch guy who I met on holiday 100 years ago, a real life Love Island success story. We live in Holland with our three children, two boys and a girl, all under the age of 10. Oh and we have a cat called Buddy who I’m allergic to but love nonetheless.

I have a BSc first class honours degree and an MBA. I completed my PhD whilst working full time, moving countries and having three children. I was having rather strong Braxton Hicks during my viva and travelled to another country to attend my graduation ceremony with a 6 week old baby (thank heavens for the large black gown!).

I’ve worked hard to create a successful career in academia. I have a theoretical grounding in both sociology and business and my area of expertise is equality. I believe my daughter should have the same experience in life as her brothers. But I am acutely aware that the systems that surround us all do not facilitate equality. My children will experience schooling systems and sporting spaces and work environments that will not treat them as equals and this is something I want to change.

I facilitate change through working with these systems. Through a simple framework of Live it – Learn it – Work it, I conduct qualitative research to understand our lived experiences of these systems, so we can learn how to evolve and create cultures that work.

I blog because as a qualitative researcher I know that words matter. And because I know not everyone reads the academic journal articles or book chapters I write, so this is another way of sharing my work and hopefully creating impact. I’ll be blogging about anything and everything to do with equality. In October I’m launching my Live it. Learn it. Work it. podcast. So please get in touch if equality is something you’re interested in, if you have stories to share or topics you would like me to include. I’m new to blogging and podcasting so please be gentle with me! I’ll make mistakes and hopefully improve and inevitably f-up along the way but that’s life right, and life is for living, learning and working things out.