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?’.

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How to turn on your Diversity and Inclusion superhero powers


In order to create diverse and inclusive spaces where people feel valued we need to turn the D&I switch on and shine that light on everything we do. It can’t be an add on. It has to be the centre of. Currently 100% of the organisations I work with are starting from the point of wanting to add on. Whilst adding training sessions and policy changes help to some extent, they are really just a bandaid on top of a deep wound. We’re treating a symptom not the cause. Change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding your culture.

As a qualitative researcher I see the world differently than many of you might. Decades of training and experience mean I can’t turn off the D&I switch. My job is to understand other peoples lived experience, so I am constantly looking for the other perspective. Think of it as a superhero power. I see, hear and feel exclusion everywhere. For example if I’m watching a presentation or webinar or if I’m in a training course I’m not just listening to you I’m analysing everything you’re doing. What images do you have in your powerpoint? Do I see myself and others in your presentation or only you? Do I hear the overuse of the male pronoun because there is the assumption that everything and everyone is male. I have sat through so many presentations on gender equality with slides full of only white able-bodied images of one gender. Or I have sat in rooms full of women talking about rooms full of men. I’m constantly shocked by how exclusionary inclusion work is.

If we want to create inclusive cultures we can’t simply pick one diversity topic, tick that box and ignore the rest. Gender equality doesn’t simply mean adding more white able bodied women to the mix. It requires you to understand sexuality, identity and race and how all these elements intersect. It means you need to look beyond equality and understand equity. Change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding your culture.


The first thing a superhero does is identify the threat, the evil, the danger. Right now the biggest threat to the utopia of an inclusive culture, be that within your organisation or society as a whole, is exclusion. In your attempts to include women, don’t exclude women with disabilities, or women of colour, or members of the LGBTQI+ community. Under the umbrella of #blacklivesmatter we need to shelter men and women and members of the LGBTQI+ community from the continuous downpour of racism and injustice. It is not okay to only include people who have a disability when we are talking about disability and exclude them from everything else.

I know this can feel overwhelming. And I understand that each group has its own needs. So right now I’m simply asking you to turn off the exclusion switch. In my consultancy work with organisations I often use Johnson and Scholes Cultural Web Framework. At the centre of the web lies the core beliefs and values of the organisation, which is surrounded by elements which are ever-developing throughout the life cycle of an organisation: stories, symbols, power structures, organisational structures, control systems, rituals and routines.

For now let’s just focus on symbols.

Think of symbols as the things you can see. Your organisations name and logo for example. The highly successful country music group Lady Antebellum who have topped the US charts numerous times, have recently changed their name to Lady A due to the slavery connotations held by the word ‘antebellum’. The group which was formed in 2006 explained that the bands name was originally inspired after the southern ‘antebellum’ style home where they did one of their early photoshoots and reminded them of their musical influences born in the south. In light of the recent awareness created via the #blacklivesmatter movement, the band have said they have changed their name as part of their efforts to “make the necessary changes to practice antiracism”.

In sport gender nouns are only used for women. There is an underlying assumption that the default position is male unless otherwise stated. The UEFA Euros 2020 compared to the UEFA Women’s Euros 2021. To symbolise equality sport needs to either add the noun ‘men’s’ or remove the noun ‘women’s’. It’s that simple. And of course this tips over to the size of trophies and prize money (cue eye roll because of course men’s are bigger!!!) Sport is a minefield of symbolic inequality. I once spoke to a head coach of a football academy who had to go to a different building on a different site if she wanted the toilet because whoever had overseen the design of the brand new building had failed to include toilets for women!

The binary categorisation of gender is another great example of how we symbolically exclude people. If you only have male and female toilets you are excluding individuals who don’t identify as either. If you symbolically label a space as a Mother and Baby Changing Room, you are excluding fathers who need to change a nappy. And on and on it goes. I’m telling you wants you start looking these symbols are everywhere.


So what can we do to work on the symbolic exclusions that we D&I superheroes now see everywhere? Well we start by working on it. Many of us have to give presentations as part of our jobs or we sit in on presentations and presentations are full of symbols. We recently presented the results of a research project on women in leadership to UEFA and we deliberately only used images in the presentation of white men – no one in the audience noticed! If you don’t see the problem you can’t fix it. So its our job as D&I superheroes to see the problem and help others see it too. Next time you build a presentation or watch someone else’s ask yourself “Who do I see in the presentation?” and if someone is excluded ask yourself or the presenter why – why can’t you see this person in this presentation?

I said at the start of this blog that change won’t come from adding on, it will come from breaking down and rebuilding. I’m not asking you to simply add different images to a presentation. I’m asking you see who is excluded and ask the question why. Once we can build a presentation from a default position of inclusion, once we build new facilities with toilets for everyone, once we shine the light of D&I on everything we do, only then can we start to create diverse spaces where people feel valued and included.

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


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 ( 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?