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?

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.

Three steps to putting out the fires of EXCLUSION

LIVE IT.

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.”

(https://www.director.co.uk/mary-portas-on-alpha-culture-leadership/)

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.

LEARN IT.

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.”

(www.eufa.com/insideuefa/social-responsibility/respect/)

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.

WORK IT.

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.

STEP 1: BE ALL IN

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.

STEP 2: BE VISIBLE

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.

STEP 3: BE REFLECTIVE AND ACCOUNTABLE

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.

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?