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?

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.