We make sense of the world through stories. We consume stories through 24/7 news outlets. We teach our children right and wrong, what is good and evil through the fairytales we read them before bedtime. We are all characters in the story of our own life but many of us do not feature in the bigger stories because they are all too often filled with only one character.
The stories pouring out of the news outlets and social media platforms this week, the headlines that have eclipsed the global pandemic of Covid-19, are all born from the senseless murder of George Floyd. The 46 year old black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25th 2020, after a white police office Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds whilst he was handcuffed face down in the street, telling them he couldn’t breathe. This is not the first time a black man has died at the hands of the police and this is not an incident solely associated with the police or with America. This is simply another headline in the ongoing story of systemic racism.
We need to stop writing the same headlines to the same stories. We need to learn from these stories.
Research tells us that every story has five elements: the plot (beginning, middle and end); the characters; the setting; the conflict; and resolution. In order for us to find a resolution we need to address the other elements of the story.
For too long the settings of our stories, be that sport, politics, education, business….have lacked diversity. The characters have all been cut from the same cloth and the addition of any new and different characters often contribute to the conflict in the story. When I read a novel, unless I am told otherwise, I picture the character to look like me, my default assumption is that the character will be white. This is then reaffirmed when the book is made into a movie and so I don’t challenge this assumption when I next pick up a book. This is not okay. I was recently listening to a podcast in which the hosts read a story. A new character, a doctor was introduced, and it was quiet a way into the scene in the hospital that the doctor was introduced by name and the co-hosts all acknowledged their own unconscious bias because the doctor was a woman and they had all assumed the character was a man, because doctor equals man. This is not okay.
The most successful and well loved stories have more than one character. Even Tom Hanks in Castaway had Wilson! Whilst Harry Potter is the main protagonist of JK Rowlings much loved books, there would be no story without the antagonist Voldemort and least we forget Harry would have died in book one if it hadn’t been for the intelligence and quick thinking actions of Hermione. But not only does a successful story need more than one character, it needs diversity in its characters.
This week my colleague Dr Leanne Norman from Leeds Beckett University and I delivered a webinar to over 200 people from around the world based on the research we have done with women coaches in football (if you’re interested, the full webinar recording is available on my website). For too long the lead protagonist in football, the only character in football has been the white able bodied man. This is not to say that their story is not valid or valued because it is. But to only tell the story of football through one characters voice, is not okay.
To help disseminate the findings of our research project I created an infographic. I could not find images of women coaches or players to use in my infographic. These characters are literally missing. These women are invisible. This is not okay. After searching the internet and image banks looking for women coaches and players and coming up short, I contacted a graphic designer friend (www.lizzie-moore.com) and asked if she could create some bespoke images for me.
Leanne and I were overwhelmed by the positive response to the webinar which poured out during the webinar chat and on social media platforms, but one of the comments that stood out for me was this one:
Thanks for using coloured figures! I am Indian and this is the first ever football presentation where I actually feel represented and included! Thank you!!
I see a lot of positive stories coming out following the tragic death of George Floyd. Global organisations donating money to fund projects for minorities and releasing headlines in support of anti-racism movements. I love NIKEs ‘For once, Don’t Do It.’ campaign, a call to action to call out racism. But for this to be more than just a twist in the plot, this narrative needs to come out of an organisation whose executive board is not made up of a sea of white faces. Alongside donating money to support projects for minority groups, the same organisations need to develop a clear and accountable recruitment strategy to employ individuals from minority groups within their organisations. As Peter Drucker the famous management consultant once said ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Including a variety of characters in our stories is incredibly important but we can’t just add different characters without changing the story. We don’t just need strategies for inclusion we need to create inclusive cultures.
I come back to my round peg square hole analogy. The pegs being employees and the hole being the organisational culture. Stop trying to add square pegs into your round hole. Change the shape of your hole! Don’t let your response to Mr Floyds death be an opportunity to sprout platitudes. Let it be an opportunity to learn and re-write the story. To change the narrative. To create an inclusive culture not just an inclusive headline. We don’t need a twist in the plot we need a different ending. So my call to action today is this….When you listen to a story do you ask yourself, whose voice is missing? When you’re telling a story through a presentation or inform graphic, ask yourself whose story am I telling?