Tackling The Pain of the Diversity & Inclusion Journey

Embarking on the journey towards greater diversity and inclusion can be a stressful experience.  To make this a more pleasant experience, let’s examine 3 potentially-painful trials on the D&I journey:

  1. Opening Pandora’s Box

One of the first things we often do with organisations is conduct our Inclusion Diagnostic – and audit of how inclusive the work culture of the organisation is.

In addition to providing a thorough understanding of people’s perception of inclusion, this exercise also uncovers sentiments that may not have readily shared before.  Colleagues tend to be forthcoming with scenarios and examples that, once voiced, cannot be ignored.

In this way, the exercise of listening is akin to opening Pandora’s Box:  once you’ve provided people the space to open up and agreed to listen, it is not possible to backtrack, even if what comes out is uncomfortable or even painful.

To prepare for the unexpected information and thereby minimise its potential shock, we explain in advance that the aim of the exercise is to find out what portion of the organisation doesn’t feel included and that is often a less pleasant reality to hear.    We also emphasize that this information is not designed to lay blame or judge – it is intended to help identify the type of action that will address the uncovered challenges and lead to greater Inclusion.

In the end, while the findings can make for uncomfortable reading, they allow an organisation to take specific action to address them and, in this way, attract respect and praise from those who shared.

  1. Unpredictable Impact

Many leaders worry that introducing D&I initiatives means promoting less capable individuals.  Although data shows that there is no reason to worry about this, it remains a pain point of the D&I journey for many leaders.  It is the dealing with something new and – in their view – untested in their organisations.

One way to minimise this worry is to do more research to find information that is persuasive and disarming.  That said, in my experience, unless it is data from peers, it is difficult to assure leadership that a similar result will apply to their organisation.

Another way to tackle this point is to consider ‘the lesser evil’.  I often ask the question: what will be the consequence of inaction?  This usually draws out scenarios that no leadership likes to contemplate.  Once the picture of inaction is thoroughly painted, the pain of not knowing whether D&I initiatives will in fact work – against evidence that they do – becomes less prominent.  A bit like those who are afraid to fly still do, knowing that the odds are indeed in their favour.

  1. No Boundaries

When talking about Inclusion, we advocate allowing people to bring their whole selves to work, allowing them to be who they are so they can feel that they belong.

When we talk about this, we often hear the concern that this kind of open-ended permission might invite unwelcomed views from those opposed to liberating voices.  This brings its own challenges for organisations.

One way to address this is the ‘Live and Let Live’ rule.  This rule is an agreement with colleagues that, while encouraged to be themselves, this liberty must not impose on another’s to do the same.  The point at which one’s freedom becomes another’s confinement is when the line is crossed.

Embarking on the Diversity journey can be challenging.  But there are ways to ease that pain – and working with a specialist consultant is one of them. Voice At The Table has expert consultants on hand to help and advise company leaders, with evidence-based case studies to draw upon and proven tools to ease the pain of the journey.

We will be talking about some of those tools and how they can help later in the month. In the meantime, let us know if we can help ease the pain of your D&I journey.

If you liked this post, you may also like Do larger organisation face a tougher D&I challenge?

How to Deal with Relapse in Behaviour Change

This month, we’re unpacking what makes the Diversity and Inclusion journey painful.  There are lots of reasons to disengage with the journey because it is (either perceived as or actually is) quite difficult.    Today I want to look at the complexity of behaviour change.  This, I would agree, is a real challenge.  So how can we make it easier?

To simplify the process of becoming more inclusive, we have broken down Inclusion into 8 Inclusive Behaviours.  This allows us to practice getting better at individual behaviours.  As we gradually improve at each, we grow more and more inclusive and more and more appreciative of diversity.

But as we all know, changing our behaviour is hard work.  How can we make it easier for ourselves?


The six stages of change

In order to explain how we can make the process of change easier, I want to introduce you to the Transtheoretical Model (aka the Stages of Change Model), developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s.  The six stages are set out in the picture below, featured in this article, where you can learn more about TTM.

I want to focus on the Action (Stage Four) and Relapse (Stage Five).

In the Stage of Action, people have recently started changing their behaviours and intend to keep going.  This is the stage where many of clients find themselves.  They understand the need for change and want to embrace it.  They even begin to take Action by noticing their own and other people’s biases, catching themselves and others in making assumptions and rash judgments, and realising that they may have used inappropriate language.

While determined to progress, Stage Five – Relapse – often thwarts efforts to maintain these new habits.  This is when motivation wanes, opportunities to practice become difficult to find and time/work pressure makes it less engaging to stay the course of Action.

Behaviour Change as an Experiment

One way to minimise the potential for Relapse is to create a team environment that encourages experimentation.  In this kind of environment, people feel free to try new things, ask questions if they’re unsure and make mistakes without worrying about unintentionally offending someone or being offended.  This kind of environment is more conducive to learning and is more resistant to Relapse.

Setting Ground Rules

In order to feel ‘safe’ to experiment, it is advisable to set some Ground Rules.   The aim for these rules is to allow people to experiment, make mistakes and nudge each other towards learning – without serious repercussions.  It is also important to set boundaries, given that some people might view these relaxed societal norms as an invitation to cause discourse and intentional affront.  Boundaries help safeguard psychological safety, like ensuring that one person’s freedom does not impose on that of another.

The Ground Rules should address concepts like what information ‘stays in the room’, how to keep an open mind rather than jump to conclusions, how to give people the benefit of the doubt, how to accept that we sometimes don’t know what the right thing is to say or do and how to maintain a level of curiosity for people’s perspectives.

Although setting Ground Rules appears like a complicated process, a session of creative thinking with the team can yield a set of reasonable standards to which most people (preferably everyone) can agree.

So, while behaviour change isn’t easy, we can make it much more achievable than it may currently appear.

To facilitate this state of experimentation, we are launching our D&I Confessions series.  In this column, we will share real examples of common missteps and mistakes that many of us make while practicing our Inclusive Behaviours.  Want to contribute (anonymously)?  Email us!

Do large organisations face a tougher D&I challenge?

By Rebecca Salsbury

rebecca salsbury profile photo

What does it mean to “tackle” Diversity and Inclusion in your organisation or team? And why does it seem so hard sometimes? To name just a few of the tricky areas: overcoming deeply held beliefs and unconscious biases, changing behaviours, facing up to embarrassment, or even shame, when discovering how past actions have impacted others. Organisations of all sizes and shapes face the same challenges.

In my experience, leaders (and employees) in large, established companies believe their challenges are on a different scale. Their size, and the characteristics associated with their size, explain slow progress embracing D&I and making change stick.

Of course there are factors which complicate implementation: large workforces, large management teams, unwieldy decision-making processes, spread across multiple regions or geographies, or policies written at another time and with different goals in mind. Some companies have a legacy of systems which makes data collection and analysis non-trivial. Others have a legacy of cultural norms, expectations, and behaviours which mean getting a ‘toe hold’ in the mountain of change is, indeed, difficult.

I’m generalising, and we all know that this leads to dangerous assumptions! These observations are grounded in my experience, however. Until recently I held a leadership position in the BBC’s technology division. I have personally uttered some of these very factors to explain – or excuse – my own/our department’s progress in relation to tackling diversity in particular. I’ve been both an active and passive contributor to some of the most common mistakes (large) organisations make when they set out to ‘improve diversity.’ Hindsight, and continued learning, mean I can now see different ways through.

As an example: it took me many years to either accept responsibility for being a role model and champion of change, or understand the positive impact that role models can have on changing behaviour. I was an experienced, senior female leader in technology, but at that time, it was important to me to ‘fit in’ and not to be thought of as ‘different.’ I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, or ‘ruffle feathers’ of my peers and managers (almost entirely men). I didn’t want to risk detracting from my professional credentials. Sound familiar? If I was thinking that way, imagine how those attitudes and (very real) fears could impact other decisions and actions I was taking as a leader. Extrapolate this to a department, or division, or whole organisation – and the mountain looms large.

Other false summits appeared on that mountain: unconscious bias training didn’t have the impact I hoped for, well-intended targets were mathematically impossible to achieve, data was misinterpreted or incomplete, and our focus was too much on diversity without improving inclusivity. My D&I education in recent years has shown me that I didn’t fully appreciate the (business) case for change, and hadn’t invested sufficiently in developing the motivations to change – to climb that mountain. All organisations – of any size – can make progress and be successful if they discover real motivators, and are honest about the challenges they’ll face along the way.

P.S. – Read the BBC’s new Diversity & Inclusion plan. I’m rooting from the outside now!

Rebecca Salsbury is one of our D&I consultants, specialising in Inclusive Leadership. She has built and led teams in the media and digital technology sectors.

If you’re ready to take stock of your D&I strategy and the impact it’s having, or restate the business case for your organisation, Voice At The Table can help: please get in touch!

Beware: Girl Power is the new Super Power

By Melissa Jackson

melissa jackson profile photo

The strength of women coming together to challenge ingrained doctrines, behaviours, belief systems, perceptions and judgements has been palpable over recent weeks. It’s been gratifying to see so many young women galvanised to make their voices heard in a bid to bring about change that will make a difference to them, the lives of their mothers and grandmothers and especially those of future generations.

It feels like we are in the middle of the second wave of the “Me Too” movement. Women are vociferously and conspicuously opening a dialogue about how they should and should not be treated. Tragically, it was the murder of Sarah Everard that triggered the tipping point for zero tolerance on sexual harassment and appreciable threats which prevent women feeling safe in public. From this devastating incident, women hope to bring about change. The shock of another woman’s avertible death has resonated with both sexes and generated a debate that has got men and women thinking about boundaries and limits of acceptable behaviour.

Change is contagious. Bring it on… no more Trump-style antics that demean women; just like those who came forward after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’re witnessing a united front in calling out unacceptable behaviour.

An exemplar of this is Soma Sara, the 22-year-old founder of Everyone’s Invited, which has become a platform to expose the undiagnosed “rape culture” that has been swept under the carpet at some of the country’s top public schools and beyond. Still in its inaugural phase, it’s shaken the nation’s conscience. And, for me, it’s struck a chord closer to home.

My 17-year-old son and his peers have made the avowedly painful decision to “unfriend” a fellow teenager, who forms part of their close circle, because of some inappropriate behaviour he’s shown towards their female friends. Emboldened by Everyone’s Invited, the girls felt empowered to “speak out”. It’s been an emotional and tough decision for the boys, but an obligation to show solidarity and support for the girls and to make it clear such practices are intolerable. The girls have been impressed by their bold stand. They now have a powerful group of male allies. Friendships have been tested, but ultimately the moral high ground has won through.

A new study by UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 18-24 said they had been sexually harassed, while 80% of all women said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. To date, there is no specific offence that covers public sexual harassment. The Reclaim These Streets movement was a very public reaction to Sarah Everard’s death and the vigils that were organised, in the aftermath, showed the world that women are not going to be silent in the face of unprovoked and unwanted advances.

The appearance of the Duchess of Cambridge at the Clapham Common vigil, was hugely symbolic. “She remembers what it is like to walk alone as a young woman in London and elsewhere and like so many other women, has been thinking deeply about her experiences walking alone at night,” said a royal source said at the time.

There’s now a growing campaign to make “street harassment” a criminal offence – like it is in France – because, currently, in the UK it goes unpunished. Two young sisters – Gemma and Maya Tutton – who, themselves, have been subjected to unwanted harassment, are supporting changes to the law. They’ve set up an Instagram page – @ourstreetsnow – and have more than 36,000 followers.

We are witnessing a revolution that will, hopefully, make the world a safer place for women and encourage men to become supporters and allies.

If you liked this article, you may also like One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Active Voice: 7 steps to Handling Change Without Pain

Initiating change is not about telling people how to transform, but making them part of the dialogue. Be it boss or employee, somebody has to lead the process and create the alchemy. Once everyone is “on board”, change ceases to be something to be feared and becomes something to welcome.  Here are 7 steps to implementing change:

 1. Have a Plan

Change is essential for businesses to grow, expand, and thrive – Diversity and Inclusion is case in point. Planning for change is a key step. A clear business plan or strategy needs to spell out objectives, purpose and a mission for the ensuing change.  Ideally, a change management plan will also clearly articulate the impact on customers, suppliers, stakeholders, and employees.

2. Own the changes

Take responsibility for any change that takes place in the organisation.  Once your organisation has decided to embark on the change journey, it’s best to take ownership of the process and begin implementation.  It’s helpful to carefully plan how to announce the change to employees and how to begin socialising it across the organisation.

3. Explain to employees what is in it for them

Most resistance vanishes when employees understand the benefits change can bring to them as an individual, a team and a department. Furthermore, they are bound to agree with something which will impact their career in a positive and fulfilling manner.  As Diversity and Inclusion changes tend to be welcomed by employees, use momentum to build buy-in for the more difficult behaviour change.

4. Maintain a trustworthy, employee-oriented, conducive work environment

If you are honest, well-liked and trusted by employees, then the resistance towards change may not happen. This is because teams will be more loyal and know that you are always looking out for their welfare. They will be willing to work with you and help you all the way to make this change work.

5. Articulate Challenges

All changes come with risk of the unknown, uncertainty, and other potential challenges. It is important that companies are upfront about the challenges that may be faced. Even if those challenges have not been fully identified and planned for, it is a good move to try and discuss the potential challenges, the range of those challenges, and what the company is doing or will do to address them.

6. Find Key Influencers

Every organisation has key players who have earned the respect of their co-workers, have longevity (and therefore perspective), and are influential. Getting key players on board and letting them act as a sounding board can help senior leaders better understand how change is being perceived, refer recurring issues, and become advocates for the change. Walking these influence-leaders through the change process and getting them on board can help with communication and confidence during the change period.

7. Listen Carefully

People are going to have a lot of questions, ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is important for managers to openly and actively listen to these concerns, validate them, and address them as clearly and frankly as possible. Even if you are unable to address their concerns, it is important to express that the employee concerns have been heard and will be addressed at a later date.

If you liked this post, you may also like Six Ways to Boost Your Team’s Morale

Do these myths apply to your organisation?

Do you believe that, perhaps your organisation might not need more Diversity or Inclusion?  Maybe it’s already successful and profitable – and it also seems harmonious.  Maybe not everyone in the organisation agrees, but won’t that always be the case?  If the organisation is successful and not showing any outward signs of conflict or dissent, should you embark on a whole lot of initiatives that might affect the success you’ve been enjoying so far?

We believe that Diversity and Inclusion is a business imperative, regardless of how well your organisation is doing today.  The thinking that an organisation doesn’t need to embark on its Diversity journey is predicated on several myths.

Here are two of the more common ones:

Myth #1:  Our business – and that of our customers – is doing great without D&I efforts!

Despite (and perhaps because of) the global pandemic, there are organisations out there that are thriving.  Perhaps yours is one of them.

And yet, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.  Complacency is the enemy of success.

Change is looming – as the pandemic has shown us – and no one organisation can shield itself from it.

Things are already shifting.  Talent pools are shrinking, and at least fifty percent of those entering the workforce don’t want to work for an organisation that doesn’t believe in Diversity.

How will your company fare if it cannot attract the quality people it needs, with the up-to-date skills and awareness of changing technology?

Product solutions and services are also changing.  They are becoming more complex and nuanced, as are the demands of tech-savvy customers.  Are the people designing your products and services tuned into those complexities and nuances?

The message is clear: an organisation that is doing well today and isn’t working on becoming more diverse and inclusive is unlikely to continue to do well in a matter of only a few years.

Myth #2:  If we promote people purely on their ‘Diversity’, we are lowering our bar for promotion.

A recent commentary on LinkedIn about this very myth, fuelled by a letter published in the the FT, shows that this sentiment continues to thwart efforts in progressing Diversity.  The FT discussion centred around the opposing pressures of appointing Board Members to improve Board Diversity and ensuring those appointed are suitably qualified.

This kind of thinking is usually based on the erroneous belief that the organisation is a true meritocracy and that  in a true meritocracy, those who are qualified naturally progress to the top.  Consequently, those who are not promoted – including people different from those already at the top – must not be good enough.

Of course, we know that’s not the case.  True meritocracy is the myth.

We know that people are very often promoted because they fit a certain type that we hold in high regard.  For instance, we  (men and women) often mistake confidence for competence, promoting those who appear confident as if they are competent, and holding back those who appear less confident because they also appear to us less competent.

There is no evidence to support that women or people of ethnic minorities (or any other person who differs in identity and experience from the current leadership mould) perform any worse as leaders.  In fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary, including extensive research to show that diverse teams and leaders improve financial performance.

A fear of somehow ‘lowering the bar’ is therefore more likely to be an unsubstantiated worry based on the mistaken assumption that those who are capable would have already been identified.  In a system that is heavily flawed by unconscious bias, that is simply not the case.

To tell the truth, we don’t see many organisations that don’t believe in Diversity as a business imperative.  In most cases, people understand that the business case exists.  That said, not everyone believes it’s the right thing for them right now or that the ‘sacrifice’ of embarking on the D&I journey is warranted.

If you work for an organisation that is still grappling with its commitment to D&I, we can help you move across that threshold.  Let us know if you need our help.

If you liked this article, you might enjoy Take Five: Important Considerations in Preparing the Business case for D&I

Are you an Early Adopter or a Laggard?

When Voice At The Table was first set up, it was with the aim of changing corporate culture by empowering women to be authentic and forthright.  We very quickly discovered that the challenge was not empowering women but creating a work environment that appreciates and welcomes these empowered women.  As a result, much of our work nowadays focuses on culture change.  We work with organisations to develop inclusive teams and  leaders by challenging existing beliefs and – more importantly – behaviours.

One question that pops up regularly is how to persuade sceptics about the virtues and business imperative of the D&I agenda.

The answer to this question is quite simple: don’t!

Let us explain.

How change spreads across our culture

The Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that attempts to explain how and why new ideas and technologies spread and become mainstream, and at what rate this occurs. This theory became widely known after a Communication Studies professor called Everett Rogers published a book with the same name in 1962. Rogers stated that diffusion is the way in which an innovation is communicated over time among the members of a social system. The best-known element of this work is the Innovation-Adaptation Curve (pictured), which illustrates the rate of adoption of a product or idea until it is widely adopted reaches a critical mass that is self-sustaining.

The categories of adopters that Rogers identified are Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.These five categories can be adapted to apply to D&I attitudes and behaviour.

Not everyone will get on board with D&I straight away; 20% will probably never come along and we shouldn’t worry about that, because we simply cannot change everyone. The “Laggards” may never subscribe to the benefits of greater Diversity and Inclusion in our organisations, but as behaviour and culture change progresses through the Curve, the numbers of these so-called sceptics dwindles.

What we should focus on is creating a momentum of behaviour change that carries the “Late Majority” along with the tide, creating a place to work where the majority of its people, systems and policies are aligned with the principles of Diversity and Inclusion. It is this momentum that we need to worry about and continue to measure.  As long as we keep moving through the Innovation-Adoption Curve, we’re making good progress.

The way to create this momentum is to focus initially on those receptive to the ideology of Diversity and Inclusion: the champions, allies and listeners – the D&I Innovators, Early Adopters and the Early Majority.  Those who are struggling to see the need for change are unlikely to be converted.

Diversity and Inclusion is swiftly becoming more mainstream and centre stage, far more than it was only five years ago. It is being talked about in the press, in discussion pieces and in mainstream reporting about senior leaders who are out-of-date with the current zeitgeist and have made complacent sexist or racist comments that have ultimately cost them their jobs.  Consequently, it is becoming more and more difficult for senior leaders to resist the changes that are taking place.  So let’s focus our energy on continuing to build the momentum with those leaders who share our vision of the future of business and let the ‘Laggards’ come to their own conclusions.

Does your organisation hear everyone’s voice?

This month, we have been looking at the Business case for Diversity and Inclusion – how it benefits both a company’s bottom line and the people who work there.  We often talk about the Diversity Journey Roadmap, which stretches from those very few organisations that still don’t see any benefit at all from D&I, to those that are actively building a D&I foundation, or are even in the ultimate position of having established a genuinely inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of it diverse workforce! Voice At The Table exists to help companies move along this continuum to a place of genuine inclusion.

Wherever you think your organisation is on this journey, I hope you consider it to be a good place to work, that you like it there and you respect its values and practices.

I am quite sure, however, that there are ways in which it could improve. For instance, it could be more inclusive for more people –  be a place where everyone’s contribution is welcomed and valued, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or background.

Without a doubt, there is already diversity within your organisation. But not everyone’s voice is heard or listened to.

You can improve your business performance and everyone’s job satisfaction, simply by hearing more from people who aren’t usually heard. When people feel included and valued, their levels of engagement and motivation rise and they more readily bring fresh ideas and innovation which boosts their sense of ownership of the business objectives.

Let’s look at one proven way to ensure all voices are welcomed and valued, particularly in meetings:

We know that 70% of contributions in meetings come from 25% of the participants.  One simple way to make meetings more inclusive is to introduce ‘Rounds’, where the chair asks a question of the group, a volunteer answers first and then everyone answers that same question in sequence around the table, going clockwise (or counter-clockwise) from the person who volunteered.  In this way, everyone’s voice is heard and people know when it’s their turn (and those who are slightly more nervous about the fact they have to speak eventually get used to it after participating in two or three Rounds).

I recommend starting a meeting with a Round to ensure everyone hears their voice out loud early – that makes it more likely that they speak again during the meeting.  Evidence shows that, the longer a person goes without speaking in a meeting, the less likely they are to speak up in that meeting at all, even when they have a contribution to make.

An Opening Round at the start of the meeting can be a point of ‘check-in’, a simple question about what went well for the team last week, or what each person’s super-power is, or what book or TV programme has got them currently gripped.  A friendly, non-threating Round also has the benefit of putting people at ease, opening their minds to improved thinking and contribution.

A recent article in the Financial Times entitled Women in Meetings Should be Heard as Well as Seen stated that “Efforts to diversify leadership teams and workforces are finally bearing fruit. To benefit, however, companies must ensure that people with different perspectives are heeded, respected and retained rather than just present, resented or ignored.”  This applies not only to women but also to every minority group you could name.

So, improving your workplace’s diversity and inclusion can be as simple as tapping into the existing diversity of your current people. To do that, I invite you to listen to everyone and really hear them.

If you liked this post, you may also like What’s the Verdict on Unconscious Bias?