Babysteps to equality in royal circles…well almost

by Melissa Jackson

So, we have a new royal baby.

A boy, 7th in line to the throne, means the nation isn’t gripped by the fever accorded to the first-born of Prince William. But the innocent Archie Windsor or “baby Sussex”, as he has been lovingly tagged by the press, has certainly made an impact in royal circles, by bumping a few relatives down the pecking order and “claim to the throne” hierarchy.

There is only one girl above him, four-year-old Princess Charlotte – and this is due to rule changes, which were introduced just four years ago, replacing “male” with “absolute” primogeniture, where gender is irrelevant for inheritance. Progress has been slow in the higher echelons of the establishment.

It’s a world away from Japan, where a new dynastic monarch was recently anointed. Emperor Naruhito has one child – Princess Aiko and for a while this raised the debate over whether to adopt absolute primogeniture. However, the birth of a son to Naruhito’s younger brother in 2006, suspended the discussions.

Unpalatable as this is, I am more vexed that the ceremony itself belched under the weight of conscious bias and sexist dogma. All Imperial women – including his wife and daughter – were banned from his enthronement.

The absence of female royalty at the ceremony casts a critical spotlight on the role of women in Japan’s Imperial family and its traditionally archaic rules. In the 21st century, it seems some conventions have escaped the march of enlightenment.

There is one reassuring irony in all of this – a woman did manage to legitimately attend the ceremony. Among a sea of men in black tailcoats, there was one guest, dressed in a light silk kimono.

As the only female minister in the current government’s cabinet, Satsuki Katayama earned herself a place in the history books to become the first woman in modern times to officially witness the ceremony.

I am thinking of inserting a happy emoji here, but had better not get ahead of myself!

Back home, I was delighted to learn that the UK has its first female Defence Secretary in Penny Mordaunt after Gavin Williamson was sacked.

She is the daughter of a paratrooper, attended a comprehensive school and is a Royal Navy reservist. Perfect credentials. In her role of Minister for Women and Equalities, one she will keep, she has been outspoken on abortion law, privately pushing the prime minister to work to end the ban in Northern Ireland.

She now has to navigate what is still a very male dominated world.

She has spoken previously about the difficulties of being a woman in the armed forces, notably  calling for them to become more accessible by highlighting her own training.

“I felt that the lecture and practical demonstration on how to care for the penis and testicles in the field failed to appreciate that some of us attending had been issued with the incorrect kit,” she said.

Clearly a woman who is destined to make an impact.

Active Voice: 10 ways to make your team meetings more inclusive

Meetings are opportunities to benefit from the team’s cumulative thinking. Yet at most meetings, 70% of the contribution comes from 30% of contributors. To ensure everyone participates equally, create an inclusive team meeting environment that allows everyone to tap into the diversity of thought of their colleagues by following these 10 guidelines:

  1. Set up each agenda item in the form of a question. This engages the mind and improves thinking.
  2. Check titles at the door and allow everyone to speak freely, no matter how junior or new.
  3. Encourage everyone to speak up early by asking a simple/ice breaker question and going around the table for each person to answer in turn.
  4. Agree with each person to listen attentively and to not interrupt other speakers.
  5. Create a judgment-free zone. Everyone is entitled to their view and, while views may vary significantly, there is no right or wrong view.
  6. Encourage discourse. To avoid ‘groupthink’, encourage team members to openly (yet politely) disagree with each other to generate some friction. The more disparate the ideas, the closer you will get to finding those gems.
  7. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Being humble and admitting that one does not have all the answers builds trust and respect.
  8. Encourage a growth mindset. When someone doesn’t know something, they don’t know it – yet!
  9. Fail fast and fail forward. Failing at something is a milestone to learning, not a sackable offence. Acknowledge failures and learn from them as a team.
  10. Adopt a “disrupt” approach. Revisit existing assumptions and conventional approaches. Encourage team members to think creatively – no suggestion is a dumb idea.

For more information on how to run inclusive team meetings, please contact us.

Three inclusive behaviours we can all learn

Have you ever asked yourself why Diversity and Inclusion always appear together? Why isn’t Diversity in itself enough? Surely it should be sufficient to work alongside people of different backgrounds and experiences?

Diversity, unfortunately, is only half the story.

Benefiting from diversity of thought means more than having a diverse group of people. I worked in an office where we counted over 50 different nationalities, but in the workplace, most assimilated into a corporate culture that discouraged us from being ourselves.

That’s why we need Inclusion. An inclusive culture is an environment in which every individual feels welcomed and valued. In this environment the advantages of diversity can be fully harnessed; we can attract and retain future talent and develop a distinguished and sustainable competitive edge.

How do we create an inclusive environment? Here, I often quote Ghandi: Be the change you want to see. Try to role model inclusive behaviours that invite others to open up and be themselves without fear of judgment, retribution or career sacrifices.

There are nine inclusive behaviours that we can adopt. Here are three of them:

  1. Empathy

Empathy is described as the ability to understand another’s feelings. This is a key attribute of inclusion because understanding a person’s motivation allows you to adapt your behaviour and judgment accordingly.

Empathy is about asking yourself “If the roles were reversed, how would I feel? What would I do?” Imagine being the only vegetarian in a group of friends going out to dinner. How would you feel if everyone wanted to go out for steak? Would you feel encouraged to go along? Now think about that colleague of yours who doesn’t consume alcohol when you’re all preparing to go out to the pub. How do they feel? Are they likely to feel invited and included?

Understanding how others feel allows you to step into the shoes of your colleague, your boss or your client to understand the world from their perspective and tailor your responses, demands and services accordingly.

  1. Listening Skills

Listening is different from hearing what’s being said; it’s about listening with purpose to understand what the other person is saying.

How often do we jump in with our thoughts – and sometimes words – while someone is speaking to us? How common is it to interrupt and try to finish the speaker’s sentence? How frequently are we simply waiting our turn to speak instead of actually listening?

Listening without interruptions allows people to grow and develop. It allows the speaker to open up and to start building a trusting bond with the listener. It allows you to better understand the speaker– to show respect and acknowledgment of their perspective.

  1. Bias and Self-Awareness

Bias is our brain’s ability to make split-second decisions about people and matters based on our own filters and experiences. Our brain filters information all the time to help us make decisions. It assumes that all similar situations are the same. We judge based on those initial assumptions. When we’re in the hospital, we think the whole world is sick.

But what if those assumptions are wrong? When we’ve been bitten by a dog, we assume that all dogs will bite us.

What if they get in the way of making good decisions? When we encounter a timid person, we think they’re not cut out for leadership.

To avoid making poor decisions, we need to become aware of our assumptions, prejudices and judgements. We need to check them and test them: are we making a reasoned judgment or is it based on a potentially wrong assumption? That is where self-awareness comes in.

Self-awareness is the ability to have a clear perception of our own personality - our strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.  It also allows us to become aware of our own assumptions and to challenge and test them. Self-awareness allows us to take charge of our emotions and thoughts and change them; it allows us to be more aware of our innate biases, be more inclined to question our actions, our thoughts and our feelings. In other words, the more self-aware we are, the less biased we can become, creating an environment that values our differences.

If you want to create a culture that benefits from the diverse contribution of each individual around you, start by grasping these three inclusive behaviours.

Gender Bias: Alive and Kicking

Yesterday I played tennis with a woman I hadn’t met before. She told me she was a mathematics professor at a local university. When she asked me what I did, and I said, “I work with companies to make them friendlier for women” she said, “Oh boy, do we need your help”. If I had a penny for every time I heard that phrase, I’d be retired somewhere on a beach by now.

Yes, I know, there’s no shortage of women wanting me to go into their companies to make them “see the light” – and yet, as the recent gender pay gap reports confirm – progress on this front is abysmally slow.

Gender parity is a conundrum I agonise over frequently. Why is something that seems so reasonable, even logical, so difficult to crack? I know so many women who are keen for things to change, and so many men who support these aspirations. Yet, for each one person who wants gender parity to become a reality, there are five or 10 others (men and women, I hasten to add) who vehemently disagree with the notion that women don’t already have it all, at least here in the UK and other Western cultures.

Much of the problem is that people continue to be unaware of gender biases around us at work and in our personal lives. Having been immersed in diversity and inclusion work for nearly five years, I see things now that others tend to miss; for example, I was out with friends recently, all married couples, except for one woman who is recently divorced. One husband benevolently suggested that they pick up the divorcee’s part of the bill, since she does not have a “proper”’ job and is ”scraping” to get by with two children. As noble and well-intentioned a gesture as that may have been, the underlying assumption, that a woman needs a man to pay for her, had not escaped me. Most importantly, would he have done the same for a male divorcee? I dare say not.

What is the point of all this ranting? It’s simply that society is blind to the fact that we have two different standards we happily apply to men and women (by men and women!). So, it’s not surprising that we can’t crack this dilemma at work. Gender bias is so ingrained in us, and is largely so invisible that it will take years to unpack all its nuances to see it when it stares us right in the face. I believe that pointing it out – while anecdotally mildly entertaining – is not going to change behaviours and perceptions overall. We need to start bucking the trend of societal roles and expectations of men and women. Let’s make it acceptable for men and women equally to work flexibly and to share child-caring responsibilities at home. Let’s make it attractive for women to invest and care about their wealth and financial well-being. Let’s make it second nature for boys to wear pink and girls to wear blue – or any other colour of the rainbow. Let’s make it as normal for men to bond over wine and conversation as it is for them to attend football games together and get drunk in the pub afterwards. And let’s make companies less of a stronghold of the extroverted, smooth-talking, confident leader and more of a platform for collaboration, inspiration, emotional intelligence and innovation. While we may not be able to root out our deeply ingrained gender biases, we may be able to wipe them out through changes in behaviour norms.

Active Voice: 10 ways to navigate office politics positively

The term “office politics” is often equated with negative behaviour like “backstabbing”, spreading malicious rumours, and “sucking up” to the right people. Love it or loathe it, “office politics” is a fact of life in any organisation. Practising “positive” politics enables you to further yours and your team's interests fairly and appropriately, while achieving greater productivity and building more trust; being alert to ”negative” politics helps you to avoid becoming a victim while others take advantage.

We introduce 10 key points to consider in relation to “office politics” to help you navigate it positively; opting out of it will only hinder your career progression.

  1. There is no escaping the fact that politics exists wherever there are people, due to differing values, motivations and contexts.
  2. Frequently junior staff don’t yet realise that politics exist.
  3. Negative office politics can have profound negative consequences for both organisations and individuals.
  4. Office politics can be positive, leading to greater organisational cohesion, speedier decision making, increased trust and action.
  5. It is often seen as the informal way missions are accomplished and decisions are made.
  6. It’s really about why you think someone is doing something, rather than simply what they are doing ie. the context.
  7. Beliefs shape behaviour which influences other people’s behaviour, which reinforces beliefs.
  8. Context is everything, we may think we are apolitical but that’s because we know our motives.
  9. Everyone is a political “animal” of sorts; this is a simplistic way of thinking about it – fox, owl, mule and sheep.
  10. Four key skill areas provide a focus for developing increased political intelligence: communication, networking, influencing and - anything else that falls outside of these categories - something termed “factor X”.

Noted: “Acing it” to Bridge the gender gap

by Melissa Jackson

After recently returning from a spring break in Seville, where temperatures were about 10C higher than the UK, I’m now ready for warmer days to beat a path to our more northerly latitude.

We were an all-ladies group on a whistle-stop weekender, determined to soak up all that this culturally-rich city had to offer.

Our hotel was a (succulent pitted olive) stone’s throw from the main attractions; my room-mate was my friend, Bridget, who championed the art of power-napping throughout the day, only to fall into deep and protracted slumbers when her head rested on the soft, fluffy pillow at night.

Former lawyer and mother-of-three, Bridget, in synchronicity with her name, is passionate about a certain card game and has set-up an adult “teaching facility” in her home. It is my firm belief that she is attempting to convert the whole of north London (and beyond) to the mind-grindingly challenging game of Bridge.

On Sunday morning she announced that her deep and Sangria-induced dreams had been rudely broken by a sudden fear that she had not sufficiently planned next week’s lessons for her battle-hungry students. Had the stress chipped away at her passion, I wondered? Not at all, as by now (around 9am) everything was under control.

I am informed that the majority of Bridget’s pupils are women, although a few husbands, not wishing to miss a trick (sorry!) are starting to try their hand (apologies again!) at learning a new skill.

Globally, more women than men play Bridge, so why I, wanted to know, is there a gender-divide when it comes to top-level players?

Men dominate at the highest level; according to the World Bridge Federation’s (WBF) ranking, only two of the world’s top 22 players are women.

However, we may be missing a key piece of the puzzle: how many women actually play high-level Bridge in the first place? Many talented female Bridge players appear to shy away from entering its orbit. Could it be that women just aren’t encouraged to play at the top-tier?

Experienced Bridge player Miriam Harris-Botzum asserts that, “There are some women who are capable of being top experts, but those few currently don’t make it to the top. Some because of non-Bridge concerns; however, those who do devote their full energy to Bridge aren’t given the support and encouragement and opportunities that advancing male players attract and aren’t afforded opportunities to break into the all-male teams.

“It becomes a vicious cycle, because good women players are generally shunted into women’s Bridge, instead of the open games, but having separate women’s Bridge promotes the view that women are inferior players.”

The differences between male and female brains as they relate to Bridge have been extensively debated and it’s known that men and women approach the game differently. Men, for example, tend to have stronger left-brain and mathematical skills (on average) than women, which can help their play. It is also suggested that men succeed because they are inherently more aggressive and willing to take risks.

According to prolific Bridge writer Alfred Sheinwold, women are more successful than men at all other levels of Bridge… so wouldn’t it be rewarding to see the tables turned and more women starting to play at high level?

I believe this is Bridget’s long-term goal. She is encouraging women to push themselves, recognise their potential, take risks and play the game on a par with men.

My hope is that in a few years’ time, she and her talented female pupils defy current trends and come up trumps in the world rankings.

Active Voice: Tips to unlock your EQ

Do you want to feel better equipped to converse more effectively with your boss and your work colleagues? Discover how to unlock your inner potential and master the art of emotional intelligence.

Here are six suggestions:

  1. Manage your own emotions; reduce negative thoughts so that they don't overwhelm you and affect your judgement.
  2. Keep your cool under pressure to reduce your stress levels. How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive and being reactive.
  3. Express difficult emotions when necessary; it is important to set our boundaries appropriately, so that people know where we stand, using phrases like: “I feel strongly” or “I feel uncomfortable” or “I feel disappointed”.
  4. Stay proactive, not reactive in the face of a difficult person; before you say something, you might later regret, take a deep breath, count slowly to 10 and use the time to work out a better way to communicate the issue.
  5. Bounce back from adversity; how we think, feel and act in challenging situations can make the difference between hope and despair, optimism and frustration, victory and defeat.
  6. Know your strengths and weaknesses; focusing on your strengths helps you make choices in life, while over-focusing on areas of weakness could prevent you from getting the most out of life.

Noted: Growing and Nurturing Career Confidence

By Melissa Jackson

I recently attended a funeral for the man to whom I am eternally grateful. The man who took a punt on me and launched my BBC career. The man who encouraged women to raise their game in the workplace. The man, who was culturally old school, but professionally enlightened and who consciously or otherwise helped a generation of women to fulfil their potential to break through the broadcasting glass ceiling.

When I was interviewed by Graham, the regional news editor at BBC LookEast, I was – not unexpectedly – apprehensive about how to convince him to sign me up. I was a young journalist with a background exclusively in newspapers and I was hoping to jump two rungs of the career ladder to land a job in regional television.

The interview went well, but I was not prepared to count my media-friendly chickens. After a nail-biting 24-hours, a phone-call from Personnel (it wasn’t called HR in those days!) confirmed my new role as a Regional Broadcast Journalist. I was ecstatic: a BBC job was my life’s ambition, I had a foot in the door of this broadcasting colossus.

It was 1990 and I was one of three new recruits to the newsroom – all of us young women in our 20s. It was unprecedented to appoint a trio of female reporters in one fell swoop. But it was a sign that times were changing and Graham was at the forefront of embracing female talent.

Under his progressive tenure, the first female news producer was appointed at LookEast. Ann was also at the funeral and she reminisced about the challenges she faced, including the occasion, when Graham temporarily vacated the editor’s chair to embark on a special project and Arnold, the regional head, promoted a male producer to fill the gap. Feeling completely undervalued, a furious Ann stormed into Arnold’s office and challenged his decision. She candidly admitted that her determination to take-on the most senior figure in the building was the confidence that emerged from being a woman in her mid-40s, “with nothing to lose”. She believed that if she’d been younger, this might never have happened. She flew the flag for equality that day. Arnold re-assessed his decision, admitted he had made a mistake and created a job-share between both producers.

Confidence in the workplace does not always come easily to women. Voice At The Table recently documented the negative aspects of “imposter syndrome” which manifest themselves as self-doubts that prevent women from fulfilling their potential. We know this is not just a gender issue and that men also experience self-doubts, but evidence suggests they don’t let these doubts hold them back. A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. What defeated them was not their actual ability, but rather the decision not to try.

Ann’s experience at the BBC reinforces conclusions that women’s confidence increases more with age. However, it is depressing to lament the many opportunities lost in early years because of fear and lack of confidence.

If faith in oneself grows alongside maturity, let us embrace this within the workplace, especially targeting women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but more importantly encouraging these women to impart their wisdom to boost the confidence of their younger colleagues and help them to engage in the challenges that will take them to the summit of their careers.