Beware: Girl Power is the new Super Power

By Melissa Jackson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Take Five: Important Considerations in Preparing the Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion

Although most organisations are broadly on board with the D&I agenda, there remains a gap of understanding how D&I will improve an organisation’s business.  If you find yourself employed by a company that is already a great place to work but could be even better, I offer my advice on five things to include in preparing the business case for D&I in your organisation:

  1. List the ways the world is changing that requires more inclusive leadership and a more diverse employee body.

There is no denying it:  the world of business has changed so much, it is beyond recognition even from as little as 10 years ago.  Technology has disrupted entire industries.  The pandemic changed how we all work, once and for all.  Other changes like global migration flows, demographic changes and growth in affluency in remote corners of the world have greatly impacted on missions and visions of companies around the world.

While all these changes may not have a direct impact on your organisation, it is worth acknowledging that no-one lives in a bubble.  We all need to understand the changing context of our work and life and how these changes might affect if not your business, then the business of your partners, suppliers and, yes, customers.

  1. List the specific changes from the list above that will have an impact on your company.

Of the global trends listed in item number 1, what are the ones that will have a direct impact on your business?  What will that impact be and how does that make it more important for your company to prioritise D&I as a business imperative?

  1. Include examples/case studies of similar companies that have embraced D&I and how they benefited from it.

There are many examples of companies around the globe who have reshaped how they do business to take advantage of the changes.  Not only did they rethink their strategies of growth, but they have also made good use of opportunities derived from greater diversity and inclusion.  Examples could include how companies have increased their client segments and markets, how they introduced more effective and relevant processes – and indeed products – and how they changed their brand positioning to align with the priorities of today’s and tomorrow’s world.

  1. Show how colleagues feel about the existing level of D&I in your company.

While it is important to appeal to the business side of D&I, it is equally as important to let people feel the need for it.  One very impactful way of doing this is to share actual  quotes from colleagues about how experiencing microaggressions or biased actions in the workplace made them feel.  Failing that, it is also possible to share the results of engagement surveys, particularly if there are questions about well-being, mood and levels of motivations.

  1. Outline next steps

Having made a strong rational and emotional business case for the need for a more impactful D&I agenda, it is important to offer suggestions of how this might be addressed.  This might include having to get more information (quantitative and/or qualitative) or having a better sense for what the company wants to achieve with greater diversity and inclusion.  Whatever the next steps might be, they should be specific to your own organisation, although it might be useful to solicit ideas from other companies or experts.

Making a strong business case that appeals to the head and the heart is crucial for impactful buy-in from leadership and effective implementation of the D&I strategy.

If you would like help with crafting your specific business case, please get in touch.

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A “Feminist” Father’s Legacy – a Globally Influential Daughter

By Melissa Jackson

What can we learn about the importance of gender equality in the industrialised world from a 23-year-old Oxford graduate who grew up in rural Pakistan? Plenty, it seems. This is a young woman whose life – and near-death – story has created international headlines. She is an ambassador for the education of all women to ensure a fairer society and greater parity between the sexes.

OK, so I’m not talking about just any Oxford graduate. My focus is on the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who recently featured as a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs. She explained that her drive to enable all girls to have access to education, up to – at least – secondary level, started when she was a young girl. She was alerted to gender inequality by witnessing what was happening on her own doorstep and how girls were being denied an education.

She attributes much of her single-minded tenacity to bring about change, to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an enlightened school teacher who was determined to give his young daughter the same opportunities as a boy.

She told Desert Island Discs presenter Lauren Laverne, “I am lucky that I have an amazing feminist father. I say that he was a feminist before he even knew the word feminist. He was not just preaching about the equality of women; he was actually doing it. He ensured that I got my education, that I am treated the same way as my brothers get treated.”

This was not the norm in rural Pakistan, where, traditionally, young girls went to work, while their brothers went to school. Malala’s outrage underpinned her mission to bring about reform, much to the fury of the Taliban, who tried to kill her for daring to challenge their repressive regime.

Malala explained how her father’s attitude grew from his own family experience. He had five sisters and two brothers and he “noticed the discrimination with his own two eyes”. When his parents served food, the boys would get bigger portions than the girls and only the boys went to school.

“So, for my father the question was: why is it that just because he’s a boy, he’s getting all these privileges?” said Malala.

“He decided that when he’d have his own daughters or daughter, he would make sure that they’re not discriminated [against], that she’d get equal amounts of food and chicken and everything that she wants, and that she is sent to school and that she gets her education. For him it was witnessing that gender discrimination with his own eyes that changed him.”

She clearly holds her father in high regard as an exemplar of how parental attitudes are instrumental in shaping children’s expectations and destinies. Treating boys and girls as equals – and avoiding gender stereotypes – at an impressionable age is the key to creating an equal world because if there is no differentiation between what boys and girls can achieve – the perception is that there are no limits along gender lines. It opens up the world to both sexes and enables both to seize the endless possibilities life offers without the barricades of sexist ideals about what constitutes suitable roles and careers for men and women.

Malala now campaigns around the world for better education for girls through the Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to giving every girl an opportunity to achieve their full potential.

An education is a passport to seizing the day. We need businesses to recognise the importance of investing in girls for the long-term goal of encouraging more women to pursue careers on an equal footing with men for the many gains that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings.

Take it from Malala, “With more than 130 million girls out of school today, there is more work to be done. I hope you will join my fight for education and equality. Together, we can create a world where all girls can learn and lead.”

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Active Voice: Five Reasons Why Diversity and Inclusion Make Good (Business) Sense

If you’re looking for a rationale to endorse the advantages of diversity and inclusion for business, look no further. We offer five useful tips on why D&I is an asset to an organisation and the rewards it can bring.

  1. Competitive Advantage. Investing in D&I can be one of your greatest competitive advantages. McKinsey’s report, Diversity Matters, examined data for more than 300 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK, and the US. They found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better financial returns than their non-D&I industry competitors. And, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have improved financial returns.
  2. Innovation. D&I enhances innovation by about 20%, according to research by Deloitte. Employees with diverse backgrounds contribute different ideas and perspectives, which create more disruptive and innovative environments. Because a diverse and inclusive workforce can help ensure that products or services resonate with—and are respectful of—their customers’ cultures, organisations can also more confidently innovate in global markets.
  3. Workforce. By the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials – which means they will occupy the majority of leadership roles over the coming decade. This group has a unique perspective on diversity. While older generations tend to view diversity through the lenses of race, demographics, equality and representation, millennials see diversity as a amalgamation of varying experiences, different backgrounds and individual perspectives. They view the ideal workplace as a supportive environment that gives space to varying perspectives on a given issue. If businesses are looking to hire and retain a millennial workforce, diversity must be a key part of the company culture.
  4. Better decisions. Team members with diverse backgrounds will bring diverse solutions to the table, which leads to a more informed decision-making process and improved results. Harvard Business Review found that diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people. A white paper from online decision-making platform Cloverpop found that when diverse teams made a business decision, they outperformed individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time.
  5. Engagement. When employees in your team feel included, they are likely to be more engaged. Research from Deloitte Australia found that teams that are focused on diversity and inclusion tend to deliver the highest levels of engagement. When employees feel accepted, valued and empowered, they are also happier, more motivated, more productive and easier to retain. As a result, companies with greater diversity tend to have lower turnover rates – meaning reduced recruitment and training costs.

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