COVID-19: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

You could not write a better fiction than the one we’re living now.  A "foreign" virus spreading like wildfire across the globe.  People panicking and running for the hills – but not before plundering the shops clear of loo rolls; opportunists buying up precious stock to sell on e-Bay to the highest bidder; companies having to embrace remote working, whatever their state of preparedness; governments yielding war-time-like power, confining us to house arrest.
So that’s the bad and the ugly.  Where, you say, is the good?

For weeks we’ve been bombarded by social media rants about action, inaction, people’s fears and reactions. I suppose people are still processing what’s happening. What impresses me, however, is how communities are coming together to help. Every neighbourhood has seen a number of community WhatsApp groups spring up with the aim of helping those in self-isolation and worse. Food banks are staying open, offering relief. Messages of hope and a new way of life are flooding our devices. We are finally seeing the human side of the pandemic – and it is remarkable.

In playing our part, we consulted our own experts, trainers and coaches and asked them to share their advice on how not to get disheartened about the inconveniences, the worries about others, the economy and the future. I have captured their thoughts below:

  • Focus on what positive change could come from this time of challenge – as a society realising what matters, being less greedy, re-finding real community.
  • Consider how we are all in this together, whilst some will be more adversely affected in terms of health and finances, nobody is 100% immune.
  • Use the time for activities and to spend time with those we love that is usually hard to do in our busy lives.
  • Massive global traumas have happened before and the world is still turning.
  • My mindfulness practice stops me getting overwhelmed, it calms me (Headspace is now offering free 'Weather the Storm’ meditations).
  • Worrying won't change anything, but it will change how we feel, so let's focus on the positive.  Start a list of all of the pleasant surprises or other benefits that have come from this situation. Increased community spirit, trying sweet potatoes instead of white ones, having time to play board games in the week.
  • Stay connected - in times like these it’s natural to want to cocoon yourself - get out there and talk to people
  • Reframe the situation. It occurred to me during a coaching session that all norms are gone. So, if you have new boundaries, habits or patterns you want to establish, this is the best time to give them a go.
  • Limit your exposure to social media (SM) and news channels. SM is a great way to stay connected but is currently the main source of anxiety!  Restrict yourself to an hour or so per day.
  • People are talking about using this time for self-improvement, to “become the best person they can be”, or to be home-schooling supremo. But if that’s not where your head is right now, that’s absolutely fine too. These are worrying times. So - ignore the “self-actualisers”.  Do what YOU need to do, to feel safe and well.  If that means watching Friends re-runs in your PJs, do it.
  • Maintaining a ‘stiff upper lip’ is all very well, but give yourself space to feel whatever you’re feeling.  Suppressed feelings - fear, sadness, anger - have a habit of popping up and causing havoc when you (and your family) least expect them to.  Let them wash over you, remind yourself that the feelings will pass, then move on.

And finally, one of the coaches offered this quote by Laura Kelly Fanucci:

When this is over, may we never again take for granted

A handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the store

Conversations with the neighbours

A crowded theatre

Friday night out

The taste of communion

A routine check-up

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.

When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be

We were called to be

We hoped to be

And may we stay better for each other because of the worst.

...

So, let us relish the good, know that the bad will pass and stave off the ugly. Stay well, look after yourselves and loved ones and remember what it means to be human.

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Taking In the View from the New Office – AKA Home

By Melissa Jackson

So, it’s official… we are in the grip of a global pandemic that, within the space of a few months, has changed everything we take for granted, including work. The uncertainty and fear seem as contagious as the Corona virus itself, with cities becoming ghost-towns and offices devoid of people. How will we cope?

When my husband relayed to me last week that his company had advised everyone to work from home, I thought it sounded like a sensible precaution, but maybe a bit of an over-reaction.

Then, as the week progressed, and more of our friends were told to stay away from the office, I realised the health experts weren’t scaremongering. Their anxieties were real.

My son’s school was closed for a day for a deep-clean, after a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19. The emerging climate of fear was palpable – no-one was really sure where we were heading. There was a real sense of doom and foreboding.

One of my friends, who runs her own business, was concerned about having to lay-off staff. Another friend, who runs a small high-street café said he’d had just one customer all day and had decided to shut-up shop, fearing that he may never return. We are hearing the word “unprecedented” a lot, which always sends jitters through the financial markets and the economy and our spines.

For most, remote working is something you do once or twice a week as a supposedly liberating (from the shackles of commuting) perk, but it can be, as its name suggests “remote” and isolating if continued long-term. My friend, Mark, who works once a week from the comfort of his south London pad, said he’d go stir crazy if he had to make a habit of it because he’d miss the social interaction with his colleagues – hang on in there Mark because here we are in a temporary (but unknown duration) lockdown, with no choice but to stay at home, possibly juggling child-care and domestic “stuff” while trying to appear professional… without the opportunity to “go out” and grab some head space – AKA “a coffee”. Oh, the luxury!

It’s going to be a challenging experiment in resilience to test the patience of Gordon Ramsay and likely to result in an “unprecedented” amount of self-control around the ones we (usually) love to spend time with.

Already, WhatsApp support groups have sprung-up to help friends/work colleagues keep in touch, feel valued and billow out moral support.

Some are having “virtual coffee breaks” where colleagues who’d normally be in the office, link up via Skype or alternative video conference system, down tools and do what they’d normally do... have a chat and a catch-up.

It’s these small semblances of routine - that we take for granted - that we’ll miss the most, but it is only temporary and in this age of social media, thank God, we can all stay in touch with ease. So, my advice is to keep talking, keep checking-in with one another, be it work colleagues, loved ones or family. We’ll all get through this together and just consider this… in 20 years’ time we’ll have some great “remember when…” stories to share with our grandchildren, just like those toe-curling ones our grandparents shared with us!

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Active Voice: Home Working SOS – Save Our Sanity – We Show You How

As companies are forced to change their working practices to save the human race, drastic measures have meant the office has re-located to the home, which is a testing time as people juggle life, families and the demands of a job all under one roof - or on the flip-side, possible social isolation. We offer you tips on how to survive. Who knows? You might learn to love it.

    1. Put some structure in place. Start the day the same way as you would if you were going into the office: shower, get dressed, eat breakfast etc. to put you in a work mindset.
    2. Choose your work location wisely. Don’t use areas associated with leisure time, like the sofa or your bedroom, or you will not separate the two. Opt for a certain table or chair that’s “your work space” and stick with it.
    3. Plan your top three objectives for the day before you start working, write them down and keep them nearby.
    4. Make it difficult for yourself to be distracted by social media; this will increase your productivity. Some people remove all social network links from their browser to avoid the temptation of checking them.
    5. Work in solid blocks of two hours; you need 30 minutes to get immersed in a task. During this time, cancel notifications from email and messaging apps. and mute your phone.
    6. Use headphones with noise cancellation – especially when other members of the family are     around or sharing the same space. Or if you are sharing workspace with a partner, define the space that you each have to work in.
    7. Fight isolation – check-in with your work colleagues by phone or video link and choose video conferencing for meetings of 30 minutes or longer.
    8. Pause – take five-minute breathers between calls. This will improve your overall focus. Also, ensure you take five-minute breaks every hour and do something other than work… walk around your home or check on your spouse or children or try using a yoga or fitness app.
    9. Get out of the house every day, even if it's just to go and grab lunch or go and eat in a park or go for a run or a drive. Make time to have a complete break from your desk.
    10. Make sure you know when to step away from the (work) computer… it's all too easy for working hours to take over personal time when working from home and before you know it the day is over, which is the fast track to burnout.

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Beyond the Binary

By Christine Locher

Is it time to re-think the labels we use for gender identity? Coaching and leadership expert Christine Locher challenges traditional social stereotypes that she believes are over-generalised and outdated.

“So, have you decided yet?” I get this question a lot. There is nothing to decide. I remember my first gender identity conversation at the age of five in a Catholic Kindergarten in rural Southern Germany. That did not go well.

I got told to not “move like a boy” as I wasn’t one, and got put in my place. On the other side of the room, with the girls. None of this made any sense to me. Neither one nor the other. I was just being me. In a play room that was cut in half with the construction corner for the boys and the dolls’ corner for the girls, there was nowhere for me to go.

I’m over 40 now, and on occasion, this still happens although the play rooms have since got bigger and have tables and chairs. Gender comes in a variety of denominations, and that might make sense to you – or not. The discussion however remains largely binary, and data is usually inaccurate by not offering people safe or meaningful options to properly self-declare. This means, part of the picture is missing.

Two big options are neat, they make the world look more manageable. That is tempting. This also lends itself to pitching one group against the other. As we crave clarity, we resent the “misfits”, people that challenge our neat groupings, we take them personal.

So, let’s loosen up the binary a little bit. Imagine a square where option A (e.g. female) is in the bottom left corner. Option B (e.g. male) is in the top right. So far, so familiar. Now let’s imagine the top left corner represents “both”. And now imagine the bottom right corner to represent “neither”. And now imagine a spot outside that square that represents “something different entirely”.

With all these options: What might that feel like? What would you lose? What would you gain? What would that make possible? What challenges would that create, for the person and for their surroundings? What would a person there need?

You might want to stop and take a moment, walk yourself through these options and connect on an emotional level. Use this like a form of mental yoga, a stretch that might help you get “unstuck” and open up a whole new set of ideas and perspectives, and a deeper empathy with people different from you. As the saying goes, all frameworks are wrong. Some are useful. I’d hope this is one of the useful ones, it is called “Tetralemma”. Actual conversations will then help to bring that to life. In a world that is increasingly polarized, developing this kind of practice is the greatest gift – to yourself and to everyone else.

Christine works in coaching and leadership development and is a writer. She supports individuals and growing businesses to bring values to life, building a culture and on making better decisions. She recently launched the book “Values-based: Career and Life Decisions that make Sense”. Christine is a Fellow of the RSA and the Learning and Performance Institute. She identifies as nonbinary, somewhere between “both” and “neither”.

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Enquiring MBA minds want to know!

I recently spoke to a group of MBA students at Ashridge’s Hult Business School about Diversity and Inclusion.  I was struck by the students’ understanding of issues and endorsement of the premise. Here are some of the insightful questions I was asked about D&I as well as Voice At The Table:

  1. Your work seems quite varied. How do you decide when it’s a diversity-related challenge rather than a broader leadership or staff engagement issue?

The primary focus of my work is on inclusive behaviours. These are the skills and traits that make us appreciate, value and welcome different opinions and views. The common denominator to all these behaviours is highly developed Emotional Intelligence. Improved self-awareness helps us to better regulate our thoughts and behaviours and mitigate some of our biases. Understanding what motivates our thinking and actions helps us to empathise with others, recognise their needs and how they’re feeling.

So, whenever a challenge involves an opportunity to improve EQ, I never turn it down.

  1. How diverse is your own team?

One observant student challenged me on the diversity of my own team. I congratulated him on looking up the team on the website and on raising it. I then explained that, when I set up Voice At The Table, the focus of my work was primarily to support women’s career progression. This, naturally, attracted other like-minded individuals to my business, most of whom were white women with professional backgrounds and relatively established careers. When I recognised this myself, I actively started to look for more diverse team members. As a result, my team is now more diverse, although it’s not fully balanced yet. I recognise that the challenges I face in attracting and retaining a broader variety of colleagues are the same challenges that my clients face. This helps me relate to them. I know that they too are actively trying to address the imbalance. We are all work in progress.

  1. How do you address diversity more globally?

Diversity and Inclusion does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all approach. In addition to cultural differences, some legal systems do not permit us to be as advanced with our thinking as we would like to be. For this reason, I believe it’s important to verbalise a D&I ambition for the whole company, but implement the strategy in a way that is most appropriate for each individual market. It’s not that different from our own jurisdiction: in the UK companies are on different parts of the diversity journey. I simply meet them wherever they are and help them to the next step. Similarly, on a larger scale, we define our overall diversity destination and then take the necessary steps towards that destination that are suitable for the specific market.

  1. What is the most important diversity that a company should try to attract and retain?

If we simplify matters and look at the world as split by men and women, then we’re looking at a 50-50 gender population. One half of that equation is much better represented in businesses than the other. I would (and have) therefore start with gender, bearing in mind (1) that covers a host of other minority streams and (2) efforts to address gender balance will likely also address other diversity imbalances.

  1. Can you have Diversity without Inclusion and vice versa?

The simple answer is yes, you can, but as a business, you’re unlikely to benefit from diversity of thought if you don’t have both.

 

My interaction with these MBA students (who asked many more questions) indicates to me that the seeds we’re all sowing are starting to sprout saplings. Realising that is enormously satisfying.

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Active Voice: Bridging the Generation Gap in the Office

Our current workforce comprises at least three generations of people; how do we best accommodate them? Linked to our virtual seminar event at the end of March, we offer tips on how to bridge the generational divide in the workplace.

Here is a breakdown of the different generations in the workplace and the years of birth that define them:

  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
  • Generation X (1965 – 1979)
  • Generation Y or Millennials (1980 – 1995)
  • Generation Z (1996 – present)
  1. Management is key to reconciling different generations in the workplace. The first rule of successful management is to empower employees to do things their own way and promote a culture of learning. Instead of prescribing, managers should encourage employees to use their creativity and rethink the way they execute tasks to keep improving processes.
  2. Avoid pigeon-holing people and making assumptions like “Boomers are dinosaurs who are stuck in their ways” or “Millennials are lazy and entitled”. Managers and colleagues alike must strive to move beyond labels. We need to get to know our team members as individuals worthy of our respect, without any preconceived notions. Managers must work hard to create an environment in which this can happen.
  3. Understand and deploy motivators for each generation. It’s a great idea to ask each team member directly how they want to be recognised and rewarded, either by an online survey or a paper form.
  4. Individual differences are strengths. Members of each generation have something of unique value to offer. Encourage employees of each generation to not only leverage these skills for the company’s benefit, but to help their team members develop these skills.
  5. Implement cross-generational training to encourage team members to confront the strengths and weaknesses of their own individual approach versus others.
  6. Create mentoring opportunities – experienced workers can pass on useful skills to their younger colleagues; this empowers older workers while also promoting collaboration.

We are running an expert interview on bridging the generational divides in your work place. Please join us.

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Are Women Born Unequal?

By Melissa Jackson

“No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl”, according to Melinda Gates. In the month that we celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought it timely to consider the magnitude of this lamentable predicament.

It’s 20 years since Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda set up their charitable foundation. It was born out of the belief that every life has equal value and works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it has focused on improving people's wellbeing and giving them the chance to escape from hunger and extreme poverty.

Melinda, who ran the organisation by herself for the first six years, has raised awareness of "time poverty" - the idea that hours of unpaid work like household chores rob women of their potential - and is a significant reason why girls in many countries fall behind in their education.

What she and Bill didn’t fully appreciate, in the foundation’s embryonic years, was that to make progress on global health—and everything else they cared about—they needed to focus on addressing gender inequality.

On her global travels, Melinda became aware that women in poorer countries were disadvantaged from a young age; with girls spending less time in school than boys and marrying early (by the age of 18) “trapping them on the wrong side of a power imbalance within their own home”.

Even in developed countries, she found evidence that “men are 70% more likely to be executives than women of the same age. These numbers are even worse for women of colour, who are doubly marginalised by the combined forces of sexism and racism”.

She describes the progress on gender equality as “glacial”. It’s a chilling reminder that her work and that of activists and feminist movements in every country needs greater recognition and support.

Why does gender inequality still exist? In Melinda’s words, “The world has refused to make gender equality a priority. Global leaders simply have not yet made the political and financial commitments necessary to drive real change.”

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), nowhere on earth do women have the same opportunities as men. Its latest Gender Gap Report (2015) suggests it could take as many as 81 years to close the worldwide gender gap.

However, clinging to a small glimmer of hope, the report suggests that four out of the five Scandinavian countries and Ireland have closed more than 80% of it.

Surprisingly, the UK ranks 18th in the WEF analysis, below countries like Rwanda, the Philippines and Namibia. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen are the worst places to be born female, based on markers including educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

It’s 25 years since the UN World Conference on Women, in Beijing, where Hillary Clinton famously declared that, “Human rights are women's rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

Melinda hopes that when the world comes together this year to mark the 25th anniversary of Beijing, it will focus energy and attention on gender equality, “But this time, we need to ensure that that energy and attention is converted into action.”

Click here and here for more information on Beijing+25

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Where on the diversity journey is your organisation?

I’m often asked by companies to help them prioritise what they should do next when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This depends on where they are on their diversity journey. To help identify how far they have come, I have developed a seven-step Diversity Journey Roadmap(S). Here are the first four steps:

  1. Don’t Get It

This step is rare nowadays. It describes organisations that really don’t see the benefit of diversity and inclusion and think there’s nothing wrong with their homogenous approach to business. If you ask me, those who find themselves at this stage have a limited shelf life. The world is changing too much to fully ignore the need for diversity and inclusion.

  1. Window Dressing

Organisations that understand the need to be seen as supportive of diversity and inclusion will find themselves here. This step is evidenced by spending resources on awards and recognition, on benchmarking exercises in order to be seen as committed, for the benefit of clients and employees – current and future. Organisations at this stage don’t believe there’s much to be gained from a diverse and inclusive culture and aren’t interested in investing in a framework that will ultimately lead there.

  1. Let’s Fix It!

At this stage of the roadmap, an organisation has identified a problem: lack of diversity. It doesn’t entirely believe that there’s much to be gained from it but it has recognised that diversity is important to its workforce and clients and genuinely wants to fix the problem. The challenge, however, is that when we view diversity as a problem to be solved, we apply temporary solutions that don’t permeate culture. An example of this might be to ‘project-manage’ the solution by giving responsibility for it to one person (often one of the few senior women, irrespective of how she might feel about it) with an allocated budget, but no real resources or powers to do what’s necessary.

  1. See Diversity as an Opportunity

This is the step at which organisations finally begin to understand that diversity and inclusion is a business prerogative – not a “nice to have” project or an isolated problem. This is when they start approaching it in the same way as they would any business opportunity by embedding it into the entire business – from business strategy, to marketing, to business development, to training, talent management, recruitment and onboarding. It is only when diversity and inclusion permeate every aspect of business – when it begins to form part of the organisational fabric – that it also starts producing the accompanying benefits. These begin with employees feeling that they belong: they are encouraged to voice their different perspectives without fear of creating a bit of friction; they are not afraid to respectfully disagree with other views and ideas and are genuinely engaged and motivated to contribute fully and authentically. At this stage, the full benefits of diversity and inclusion can be harnessed. This is when an organisation becomes enabled to tap into the needs of its stakeholders and create new products, services and processes that respond to those needs. This is when a culture of diversity and inclusion can give an organisation a competitive edge.

At which step is your organisation? Most find themselves between stage two (if they are honest with themselves) and four. Take a look at the full roadmap here.

If you would like to find out what steps to take to move to the next stage, we can help. Email us to speak to us about your diversity and inclusion aspirations.