Let’s hear it for authentic leadership!

Guest blog by Rebecca Salsbury

Like many people, I found myself watching England play Italy in the Euro 2020 final the other week. I love the drama and excitement of live sport, and most of all, I enjoy drawing parallels between team and individual sport and other parts of life, especially leading and managing teams and people.

Throughout the ups and downs of the match, the surreal and emotional minutes after the match ended, and the press conferences in the following days, I was most fascinated by the performance of Gareth Southgate, the England manager. I watched his reaction on the side line and noticed the contrast between his reactions and those of his opposite number, Roberto Mancini. Southgate’s expressions barely changed throughout the whole match – or in the press conference he gave on the Monday.

Is it possible for us to succeed if we don’t ‘fit the company mould.’?

Consider your image of football managers and head coaches – does Gareth Southgate fit the mould, the stereotype?

The answer to this is changing; in 2021, more and more leaders, including in sport, are (finally) recognising that a different form of leadership is not only acceptable, but gets results.  Southgate and his team are themselves an example of this evolving change.
This acceptance is new, however. Consider other examples of football managers over recent years and decades, and the (perhaps exaggerated) stories
of dressings down, so-called ‘hair dryer treatment,’ and public outbursts of emotion on the touchline.

During the Euro Cup Final, Roberto Mancini’s gestures, body language, and facial expressions left no doubt how he felt about what was happening on the pitch!

What sets Gareth Southgate apart then, and why might he be a role model for a new sort of (football) manager?

Several dimensions of emotional intelligence could answer that question; Southgate majors in resilience, goal directedness, reflective learning… but what makes him comfortable breaking the mould in football is his authenticity, and the confidence that comes from being true to himself. He speaks openly and articulately of learning from past mistakes and failures, and the perspective that’s given – in particular, he stresses the importance of ‘lived experiences’ which informs a perspective that one can come through difficult times, and recover from setbacks. Resilience is a critical ingredient for being true to himself.

How to Become an Authentic Leader

Authenticity is threatened by a fear of failure or criticism by others. Southgate’s career is marked by times when he was subjected to severe criticism – he was ‘reviled’ at times, as a player.  Having learned from his own experiences, he reflects as a manager that it’s unrealistic to remove all fear, and a certain amount of fear drives performance, but he helps his team not to be consumed or inhibited by a level of fear which may prevent them from showing what is possible. In press conferences, Southgate’s realism comes across as modesty – for which he’s also been criticised, as if he’s setting the bar too low. Actually, he explains, he is deliberately seeking to reduce pressure on the players, which helps them manage their fear and their performance.

Southgate knows that his authenticity, and his values as a person and as a manager, build the culture in English Football. In his press interviews and in-depth podcast episodes, he speaks at length of the importance of behaving consistently with the expectations he has of the on- and off-field members of the whole team behind England. Journalists are busy trying to describe what’s different and what might be fuelling this new pattern of performance that fans have enjoyed during this Euro campaign.

Paraphrasing football clichés: at the end of the day, it’s who you are that shapes your motivation and performance, and the culture in your workplace. Because of his authenticity, it seems easy to trust that we know what kind of person Gareth Southgate is. I’d say he’s making a new mould for coaching in football and (hopefully) more generally, for leadership.

What parallels can you draw for developing authenticity as an existing or future leader?

Rebecca offers training and development on Inclusive Leadership.  Contact us to find out how you can work with Rebecca to develop your organisation’s leaders to be more authentic and more capable of improving inclusion in their teams.

If you liked this blog, you will also enjoy The Outsider Mindset.

We Need To Talk About Language

Guest Blog by Dr Maame Afua Nikabs

We already have laws to protect us against bias related to gender, race, disability, ethnicity and so on, but what about language? Have you ever thought how language bias impacts our judgements and decisions? Inclusive language is something we should all be talking about if we want to place the accent on greater equality.

 

What is bias?

Bias is the brain’s way of simplifying information, meaning that everyone has bias, either positive or negative. Although bias is not inherently bad, it can easily lead to discrimination against marginalised groups in the workplace and affects how we interact with other people. The Equality Act (2010), provides legal protection against nine projected characteristics: race, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy and maternity, disability and religion or belief.

However, there is no explicit mention of language, even though many people face obstacles in their careers based on aspects of their language, such as their accents.

What is language discrimination?

Language discrimination is discrimination against people based on their linguistic identity or language use. Examples include accent bias, interactional bias, and exclusive language. Research suggests that all people, and therefore also recruiters, have specific social associations with certain accents and voices. This can influence judgements of competence. According to the Accent Bias Britain project, language bias can impede career progression at three stages: pre-interview, interview, and post interview.

Pre-interview

Studies undertaken in the United States (Bertrand & Mullainatha, 2004) and the United Kingdom (Wood et al., 2009) show that language-related bias can even be exercised before a person has had the chance to speak: CVs with names commonly associated with ethnic minority groups receive significantly fewer replies from potential employers than identical CVs with typically white names.

During interview

In an interview situation, unconscious or conscious language discrimination can arise in numerous forms, including accent bias, bias via conversation structure and response, and the use of inclusive language.

What is accent bias?

Accent bias refers to the snap judgements and social stereotypical assumptions we make about people when they speak. Numerous studies have shown that a ‘posh’ or standard (Received Pronunciation) accent is likely to be judged as more intelligent than a working class or global majority (ethnic minority) accent in the UK, even though a person’s accent derives from their social background, not their intelligence.

Bias via conversation structure and response

Another type of language-related bias evident in both interview and workplace interactions is bias via conversation structure and response type. This results in bias against ‘different’ communication styles, evidenced by negative interviewer responses such as lack of nodding, change of topic, interruption etc.

This bias is also displayed in non-verbal cues and inconsistent feedback during interviews such as eye gaze, smiling, backchanneling, facilitative overlap vs. awkward interruption, and casual remarks and cultural references. In the workplace, employees who have different ways of speaking are often ignored when they speak up.

Post-interview

The effects of language bias extend beyond the interview stage. According to a report by the Social Mobility Commission (Ashley et al., 2015), even in cases where these effects are overcome (or absent) in interviews, they may persist in the workplace. Accent bias and interactional bias and can result in:

  • Isolation from colleagues
  • Subtle impediments to career progression
  • Processes of both other- and self-exclusion

Inclusive language

Inclusive language is defined as “language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people”. This covers language used in emails, social media marketing, job ads, websites, and all forms of communication. Language is fluid, and connotations and meanings of words change quickly. It is therefore important to prioritise the application of inclusive language principles and practices rather than learning specific appropriate phrases.

Why inclusive language?

Language is a powerful tool, and a growing body of research highlights how people are affected by labels used towards them. Additionally, inclusive language is believed to be important for business success. It can increase creativity and improve employee performance in the workplace.

Guidelines

Below are some best practices and guidelines for communication:

Race and Ethnicity

The fluid and dynamic nature of language has resulted in varying reference terms associated with race and ethnicity and this makes it often challenging and confusing to use inclusive language. As Hult and Huckin state: “The best rule of thumb is to call people by whatever term they prefer, just as you should pronounce their personal name however they want it pronounced.”  

Beyond individual preference, there are some important general points to remember in terms of race and ethnicity in language. It is always good to avoid the use of race or ethnic slurs or outdated terms. It also best to avoid the use of minority and use international or global majority. Also use names of a country instead of a continent (e.g. Ghana rather than Africa), because being more specific helps to avoid stereotypical bias.

Gender & Sexuality

Many of the above recommendations help with careful language around gender and sexuality as well. In the trans community, for example, people use different terms to describe themselves (e.g. trans, trans woman, or transwoman) which have different connotations. Similarly, some people indicate their preferred pronouns, and these should be noted and used. It can be complex and confusing, but awareness and open discussion is important. Inclusive terms such as ‘assigned sex’, ‘everyone’, ‘colleagues’, ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘workforce’, ‘folks’, ‘team’ are preferable to biological sex, generic pronouns, opposite sex, ‘guys’, ‘lads’, ‘gents’, ‘ladies’.

Disability & Neurodiversity

The APA Manual of Style also recommends using “emotionally neutral expressions” when describing people with disabilities: “a person with AIDS rather than an AIDS victim, a person with emphysema rather than a person suffering from emphysema”.

Therefore, it is more appropriate to use terms such as ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘people diagnosed with schizophrenia’, rather than using essentialising labels such as ‘the disabled’, or ‘schizophrenics’. However; ‘autistic people’ is sometimes preferred in the community over ‘person with autism’. Once again, an open approach to respectfully enquiring about preferred terms can be useful. Other problematic terms are ‘wheelchair bound’, ‘suffering from’ and ‘special needs’.

Religion

It is common practice to use ‘church’ to refer to any place of worship. Use ‘place of worship’ or ‘house of prayer’ if unsure. Here too, it is important to pay attention to labelling/terminology or categorisation. This is because the association of labels with particular meanings can be exclusionary or misclassify people, e.g. assuming Indians are associated with Hinduism.

Accent awareness

The Accent Bias Britain project conducted research into whether training interventions have any effect on reducing differential rating of people based on accent alone. They found that, due to the low levels of awareness of accent as a form of bias, simple awareness-raising significantly reduced recruiters’ reliance on accent for information about competence. They recommend showing recruiters the following brief text before interviewing:

Recent research has shown that, when evaluating job candidates, interviewers in the UK may be influenced by the candidates’ accent. In particular, they tend to rate candidates who speak with a “standard” accent more favourably than candidates who speak with “non-standard” accents. This is an example of “accent bias”. The focus should be on the knowledge and skills of the candidate, not their accent. Please keep this in mind when assessing the suitability of candidates. 

The web resource also offers a free 15-minute interactive tutorial on accent bias for potential recruiters: https://accentbiasbritain.org/training-for-recruiters/

Conclusion

It is important to be mindful of the following: context, the person you are talking with and the setting. Also, don’t be afraid to ask.

“Inclusive language is more than replacing specific words with more acceptable terms: it’s about changing long-held attitudes and habits we don’t think twice about, but that the youngest of children, who are just learning to speak and read, hear over and over”.

References:

Accent Bias Britain: www.accentbiasbritain.org

The Wannabes Who Redefined Feminism for a Generation

By Melissa Jackson

Role models can be the driving force in shaping a young person’s ambition. It’s a quarter of a century since “girl power” entered the lexicon and changed attitudes from “could do” to “absolutely won’t take no for an answer”. July is Make a Difference to Children month and a perfect opportunity to explore the importance of strong role models, especially for young women.

The Spice Girls may not be the obvious choice of role models for young women, but when they burst onto the world stage 25 years ago, with a spade full of outspoken attitude, they brazenly shook up the status quo and encouraged teenagers, tweenagers and everyone either side to tear down the establishment and re-write the rules of possibility.

I remember work colleagues with young daughters saying they’d been transformed; ready and able to stand up for their rights in the playground in a way that they’d never done before. They had synthesised the pop quintet’s red-hot, rebellious energy and executed it to their advantage.

I know that those daughters channelled girl power to inflate their self-belief and pursue successful careers; their Spicemania heroines had made their impact.

This includes 39-year-old Kirsty Osborn, who totally embraced the Spice Girl phenomenon, along with her teenage school friends.

She said, “Before the Spice Girls came along, it was all boy bands and girls went to concerts to see boy bands. The Spice Girls created a pathway for girl bands.

“They made you believe that girls could do anything and that you could be anything and that bands weren’t just for boys.”

She loved the idea that the Spices each gave themselves a distinguishing personality, highlighting their own differences and individual characters. This was approvingly novel and refreshing.

She said, “As young girls, you could identify with them.”

She believes that they played a huge part in challenging the kind of stereotypes that pigeon-holed girls and women into believing they could only be successful in one category.

“I was really sporty and that’s all I thought I was really good at,” she said.

“But then Sporty was athletic AND in a girl band. Baby was shy BUT she was singing in a group. They stopped people labelling you like a jam jar.”

Female role models are the catalyst to motivate ambition. If we can’t look up and see women who have been successful, we are less likely to be successful ourselves. The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is vital to help motivate women to advance in their careers. Seeing is believing.

They also embolden us to take a stand in other areas of our lives, as evidenced by a handful of activists who’ve raised the bar for firing a shot at complacency.

In the 21st century, Soma Sara – the founder of Everyone’s Invited – has been a power broker for a new generation of young women. Again, underscoring the importance of not taking “no” for an answer and having the confidence to stand up and be counted. The organisation is a platform for girls and young women/men to highlight cases of sexual assault. Soma felt that the world needed to wake up to the realities that were being swept under the carpet.

It’s been a liberating and life-changing experience for those damaged by unwanted sexual advances and a chance to be taken seriously, where previously they had not.

In a world where there are more men named John in CEO positions in FSTE100 companies than there are women in top roles, we need all the visible role models we can get.

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has been hailed a true role model for children; nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she started a worldwide movement that kickstarted mass protests about climate change and launched international debate about the issue.

Recently, Dame Sarah Gilbert, who co-designed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, was given a standing ovation on Wimbledon Centre Court. It follows on from her earning a spot on The Times’ “Science Power List” in May 2020 for her pioneering work on the Covid-19 vaccine. What an achievement.

And on another sporting note – and while we’re rebooting after UEFA Euro 2020 – let’s raise the stadium roof for the Afghan born Danish football player Nadia Nadim. The 33-year-old was just 11-years-old when the Taliban murdered her father, prompting her family to flee to Denmark. She’s played for the national team 98 times and scored 200 goals, while studying to be a surgeon. Oh, and just for the record, she speaks 11 languages and is on the Forbes list of Powerful Women.

All I can say is, “Zig-a-zig-ah.”

Active Voice: Six Secrets of Happiness

We’re sharing with you the six secrets of happiness from the author of Dancing by the Light of the Moon, Gyles Brandreth. You may recognise a few and some others might be utterly new – in any case, we hope they contribute to more frequent moments of joy.

  1. Be a Leaf on a Tree.  Be you an individual – but attached to part of a larger whole that’s growing/thriving.    This could be anything from being in  a choir or a reading group or anything where you are part of a community.  
  1. Cultivate a Passion.  Do something you LOVE,  something that sustains you,  but that is not work related !
  1. Break the Mirror.   Stop thinking about yourself,  look UP and OUT.   Those who look to the world beyond themselves tend to have more faith in life.
  1. Live in the Moment.   Focus on what’s happening in the here and now and relish it, focus on your senses
  2. Don’t Resist Change.  We should from time to time rock the boat and embrace change.
  3. ‘Be Happy’:   As the Dalai Lama said: ‘ Choose to be optimistic  – it just feels better.”

Sexism and the Queen Bee Effect

I went for a walk with a friend the other day.  She is an engineer in a construction company and has struggled with her female boss for years.  Prompted by my questions, she relayed the following story:  her female manager – one of the most senior women in the company – has been described by many as a bully.  She finds ways to belittle other women, including my friend, and put down their achievements.  Instead of offering support, her manager has reduced my friend to (private) tears on countless occasions  contributed to a gradual erosion of her professional confidence and, ultimately, driven her to resign.

Before having decided to resign, my friend had addressed the situation with HR and has eventually been moved into a different reporting line, but she continues to hear similar accounts from other women – and the negative impact of the previous working relationship left such a bad taste in her mouth that she wasn’t even able to make a positive fresh start with a new, very supportive female line manager.

This, unfortunately, is not an isolated story.  I hear stories of female bosses who are unpleasant, denigrating and unhelpful.  Women who, instead of propping up and developing their female team members, put them down and block them from progression.  Women who, instead of changing the playing field to help other women succeed, actually block the provision of support, sometimes even denying something as fundamental as a formal women’s network.

So I have to ask the question:  assuming that we all start out as reasonable, likeable people, how does it come to this? Why are there senior women who would rather pull up the ladder behind them, so to speak, than help others achieve similar success?

Why do some women become unsupportive of other women at work?  The answer: decades of sexism in male-dominated work environments. 

Women like this are derogatorily referred to as Queen Bees.  The term describes women who have achieved success in traditionally male-dominated fields and distance themselves from other women in the workplace in order to succeed. These women tend to view or treat female subordinates more critically, and refuse to help other women progress in order to preserve their unique senior position.  These are the women for whom Madeleine Albright so famously predicted that ‘special place in hell’.

 

But we should not blame the women.  We should look at the system that nurtured them. 

Research has already shown that the pressure of behaving in a certain way once the most senior levels of an organisation have been reached, make it difficult for women to support other women.  While men are rewarded for supporting women’s initiatives, senior women are penalised for doing so and are socially discouraged from it.  It is also thought that women who distance themselves from other women are more likely to succeed in a male-dominated environment.  As a result, instead of helping other women, many female leaders do the opposite.  This behaviour has many negative consequences, not only on subordinate’s levels of confidence and morale, but also as role models to other women.  More junior women often cannot relate to this behaviour.  As a result, they cannot see themselves progress in the organisation, which leads to loss of talent in the pipeline.

Three things that organisations should do to wipe out Queen Bee behaviour:

When a company is made aware of Queen Bee behaviour, there are a number of things it can and should do:

  1. Identify the culture that promotes this type of behaviour and address it at the source.

A simple culture diagnostic at the right level of seniority will reveal the underlying sexism that is causing women to adapt more male characteristics.  As companies do not benefit from diversity of thought when female leaders assimilate into a male culture, it should be a priority to address these issues straight away.  A well-conducted diagnostic will not only highlight the cause but will also suggest solutions in how to address and change this cultural problem.

  1. Actively encourage senior female leaders to support other women.

It will be important to have senior female role models who are supportive and nurturing.  These women should get involved in mentoring other women as well as sponsoring staff networks and events.  Note that senior women should not be the only ones doing this; instead, they should be part of a healthy mix of senior leaders speaking with the same voice on this subject.

  1. Address the specific cases with coaching and other relevant interventions.

When a company promotes a person who bullies another, it sends the wrong message to everyone.  There should be measures in place to deal with people who put down others, regardless of whether that person is a man or a woman.  This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and counter-productive to the efforts of most companies.

Every time I hear a story like this, I’m astounded that things like this still take place.  But then I remind myself that sexism has not disappeared from our society yet, and so long as there is sexism in the workplace, we can expect women to develop this Queen Bee syndrome, undermining all other efforts that are being made to support and develop the female pipeline. One step forward, two steps back? I hope not.

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If you would like to discuss how to identify systemic sexism within your leadership pipeline, talk to us about our Inclusion Diagnostic.

How to Bridge our Differences at Work

Guest blog by Joanna Gaudoin

Our upbringings impact us more than we think, ultimately shaping what we consider “normal” and “how things should be done”. However, I often think too much emphasis is put on our differences as humans being down to culture. It can be too often used as an   excuse for not making the effort to work together and embrace our disparities. Differing “culture” can too easily be made a scapegoat.

I do a lot of work with clients on their challenges working with others, whether it is the boss that someone seems to have a continually strained relationship with, other senior people who never support someone’s proposals or the team member who can’t be motivated to pull their weight and fulfil their potential. There are some common themes. Yes, cultural differences can play a role, both in perception and reality but they are neither the whole “cause” nor the whole “answer”. Even if they were, the ways to tackle relationship difficulties wouldn’t really differ.

Being able to navigate “office politics” positively and build productive professional relationships are essential skills, in my view. None of us works in complete isolation (even during a pandemic). We are made to relate and have dependencies and interdependencies with other human beings so it isn’t an issue we should deprioritise – for the sake of our careers, the organisation we work for and our own happiness and wellbeing.

Here are my top five (very simple) tips for improving your relationships. You’d be surprised how rarely they are used but when they are, my clients see a marked improvement in their working life:

  1. Make time for relationships: we are not machines. If you only ever engage with someone when you want something from them or to respond to them about functional tasks, no real relationship will be built. Be human and listen to what people are really saying!
  2. Have in mind that we are all different: the whole premise of the useful and easy to read book Surrounded by Idiots, by Thomas Erikson, is that very few people in the world, if any, will think exactly the same as us about everything and behave the same as us in every situation. Therefore, with most people we will have frequent moments of not understanding. This has implications for how we engage with people and communicate.
  3. Remember we are in different situations; when thinking about how to engage with people, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is imperative. We might want to share every glorious detail with our line manager about the big problem we have resolved. But is it really relevant or a good use of their time? We need to acknowledge what is useful for someone else and our motivations for wanting to do something a certain way.
  4. Consider how you react: It’s very easy to react based on an immediate emotion we feel in the moment. This is rarely a good way to go. If you need to, ask for time to consider what someone has said to you (there’s often pressure in our society to react immediately, which is not always a good thing) and consider your reaction based on the outcome you want to achieve, whether that relates to the situation and/or the relationship.
  5. Have the difficult conversations when you need to! Few would say they enjoy difficult conversations, but if a situation is either going to reappear anyway or cause ongoing resentment that could impact how you engage with someone, it is best to confront the situation. I could write another article on this topic alone! Think about how and when you start a difficult conversation.

How can you employ these tips? I’d suggest you start by considering your key relationships and scoring them so you can see which ones you need to work most on. Think honestly about which relationships you make an excuse for, whether it be differing culture or something else.

Behaviour change doesn’t happen overnight, so I’d suggest working on one or two changes at a time to forge longer-term habits.

If you liked this blog, you might also enjoy Eight Ways to Mitigate Stress and Build Resilience.

The Threat of Righteousness

Let’s talk about the danger of ‘Echo Chambers’ and how to break through them.

Diversity can be a divisive topic.  With claims of ‘Reverse Discrimination’ and statements like ‘All lives matter!”, the conversation can often deteriorate.   The temptation to be dogmatic and fall back the righteousness of our own position can stand in the way of productive dialogue.

So how can we get past the mudslinging and entrenchment (on both sides!) in order to create a movement that hears and acknowledges all voices?

The trouble with Echo Chambers

In his book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed explains the term Echo Chambers not simply as communities subject to ‘confirmation bias’ (i.e. when members hear and see only what they believe – and no other information that could, if heard,  dispel some of the data that accompanies the bias).  Syed explains that, in order for an Echo Chamber to exist, that community’s belief must actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to that same belief.  In other words, Echo Chambers exist when one community distrusts anything that is said that is contrary to its beliefs.  Think of the Brexit topic, for instance.  Regardless of what side of that argument you are, whatever argument or fact the other side might present to you is typically discredited, regardless of how true or factual it may be.  Similarly, think of Trump loyalists and critics.  I honestly cannot think of one thing that one side can say to win over someone from the opposing side.

The issue at the very heart of all of this is trust – or rather, lack of trust.  So long as one side believes that the other side’s motivation is self-serving or wrong, it will ignore or devalue any statement – regardless of how factual it may be.

So how do we overcome it?  The answer is obvious:  we need to build trust between camps.  How do we do that?  There are lots of ways of doing this, but the very simple and impactful one is to acknowledge that each person is entitled to their view – and then listen.

Our very own Communications expert Jayne Constantinis runs workshops on this topic, and has created a very helpful acronym that helps us remember how we can speak with others who espouse very different views from our own.

The acronym is RATIO:

R stands for the Right to an opinion.  This is based on the philosophy that no opinion is wrong.  Every person has reached their opinion by growing through their own life experiences – and given how different life experiences are, it shouldn’t be surprising that people will also have different views.  On this basis, and while we may very much dislike it, we do have to admit that every person is entitled to their view.    This is also consistent with being inclusive – we can’t be inclusive only when it suits us or doesn’t violate our own values.  Inclusion is about respecting everyone – even those who make it difficult for us.

A stands for Ask.  This is the first step in engaging the person in conversation.  We can ask the person about their views.  Ask them to clarify their perspective, put it in context, explain how they formed their opinion.  This is an excellent time to practice what we preach and simply listen.  As we listen, we validate the speaker.  And trust begins to build, because now, we are no longer just dismissing them as wrong or, worse, insignificant.  Quite the contrary; we are interested in how they reached their opinion and we want to hear more.

T stands for Think.  Now we’re processing what they say, clarifying it further and probing.  As we try to understand, we might ask them to compare it to something else or apply their argument to a different set of facts.  This is when we also offer a friendly challenge, that may be rebuked, or provide an opportunity to come to an agreement on a particular point.  More trust develops.

I stands for Inform.  You’re now sharing your thoughts and perspectives, while it’s their turn to grant you the very courtesy you just granted them.  Trust continues to build.

O stands for Offer.  We are now ready to build a bridge.  It can be in the form of ‘agreeing to disagree’ or to offer to send an informative article or link to some more information, or to read up on something they said.

Whatever it is, the Offer paves the way for a path you can now walk together.  And, in doing so, you have created a foundation for collaboration that chips away at the walls of the echo chamber in which both people were sturdily ensconced – until now.

The most difficult part about inclusion is in fact this.  There are many views in life with which I disagree, but I try hard to understand how they people who espouse them may have reached them.  Until more of us can do this, we will not overcome the many challenges that face our society.

To learn more techniques on how to talk to people with whom you disagree – either with Jayne, myself or another of our very expert associates – please get in touch.

Setting the Pace for Great Debate

Last week, we completed a half-marathon walk around London in support of the fight against dementia.  It would be remiss not to thank all of you who, very kindly, sponsored this effort.  You made a tremendous difference with your support, not just to us (by making it difficult for any one of us to rethink our commitment to the walk – not that any one of us was tempted) but to those affected by dementia both now and in the future.  The team and I are most grateful!  For a full account of the walk, read Melissa’s editorial.

What I want to share with you today are some of the insightful conversations that we had during our five hours of walking through the streets of our incredible city.

It won’t surprise you to hear that the conversation meandered (like the River Thames) through some of the topics of our trade, Diversity and Inclusion.  Here are three of them:

Stereotypes and Individuals

Walking with worldly, culturally-diverse women, the conversation at one point turned to cultural stereotypes.  We observed how families often hire au pairs from a specific country based on cultural stereotypes.  I remembered how people expected me to be an excellent ice-skater just because I was born in Russia.  And Inge – being from the Netherlands – fell foul of the expectation that Dutch people are very tall.  This is, of course, because, when applied to individuals, stereotypes tend not to hold up (my ice-skating skills are abysmal, and Inge is not very tall).  Bearing this in mind will help us mitigate some of our biases and avoid questions that shouldn’t be asked (as discussed in the blog “Are you coming back?“) While stereotypes might have their place, it would be a mistake to apply them to individuals.

The Fallacy of Averages

Like stereotypes, we discussed how averages also don’t work well.  Referencing the book Rebel Ideas, we reminded ourselves of the story Matthew Syed told about a time when cockpit dimensions were based on the average measurements of pilots.  As a result, planes designed on this basis suffered frequent accidents.  The reason: cockpits based on averages didn’t fit any one single individual in it.  In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach resulted in a one-size-fits-none situation.  To address this, cockpits were re-designed to allow pilots to adjust seats and angles to suit their requirements – much like we’re accustomed to doing in our cars.

Applying this to business, many of today’s work-related conventions are not suitable for the type of diverse environment that employment has become.  Judging all individuals, for instance, on the basis of leadership criteria that are attributed to a specific type – directive, outgoing, polished – disqualifies many suitable candidates for whom those criteria don’t work. Were we to judge individuals on their ability to lead (as manifested in various ways, including in volunteer and personal responsibilities), we would be able to harness more diversity at leadership level, which is still so desperately lacking in most companies.

Breeding Entitlement

The conversation then moved to “privilege”, i.e. the lack of obstacles experienced by those who embody the type for whom institutions were created.  We talked about how most women still experience the world as a man’s world – case in point, the recent realisation from the health minister Nadine Dorries that the NHS caters to men more than to women.  We also explored how when women apologise or step out of the way when a man walks towards them, this behaviour breeds entitlement.  When someone says “sorry” for no apparent reason, it makes the other person intuitively think “You should be!” and inadvertently increases that sense of entitlement (to an apology) that continues to grow.  In this way, the rift between the “privileged” and the “less privileged” expands and becomes more difficult to bridge.

As we reflected on society’s complexities and ingrained behaviours, we realised how incredibly difficult this challenge is to crack.  We also, thankfully, observed that the world has come a long way, and many of the norms that were in place even 10-15 years ago have dissipated, making way for new practices that allow individuals to be themselves and not be punished for it.

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