Our TABLE Has Five Legs

We’re living in exceptional times. Our world was already changing at a pace that was difficult to maintain, but since the onset of Covid19, traditional thinking and working has been uprooted and deposited as a new challenge. But this also presents us with an opportunity: an opportunity to test our resolve, our systems and processes. It is also a chance to discard convention that is inconsistent with the future direction of society’s travel and calibrate organisational culture with purpose.

Our new destination is to make companies more agile, reactive to societal changes, with a beacon of leadership that proposes a more inclusive future for all stakeholders.

I’m talking about evolving our organisations into TABLE organisations, reshaping relationships with customers, staff and other stakeholders.

A TABLE is one that exhibits the following characteristics: T – THINKING with reflection A – ACTING with purpose B – BEHAVING inclusively L – LOOKING diverse E – EXPRESSING EMOTION

T=Thinking With Reflection

A TABLE organisation is one that allows time for thinking and reflection. It has a culture that welcomes a coaching-style approach to leadership and encourages everyone involved to take individual responsibility for their actions. At the same time, it is led with the benefit of experience and reflection, as well as an appetite for thinking and learning. The Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, has given us an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect and institute impactful changes that address the persisting challenges around racism.

A=Acting with Purpose

In the words of Simon Sinek, a TABLE organisation starts with “why”. The “why” is the purpose.

A purpose that is specific to the particular organisation can act as a litmus test for all organisational activity, constantly asking the question: is this consistent with our purpose or are we straying away from it?

During lockdown, the overriding purpose of most companies has been to ensure both staff and customers are coping well, are connected to each other and are safe. With such a narrow focus and purpose, many leaders were surprised at how quickly they could set up channels of communication, how much empathy colleagues and bosses displayed, how dedicated and motivated everyone was and, in the end, how well everyone coped.

An organisation that unites behind a clear and stated purpose is better equipped to motivate and pull in the same direction. And that became crystal clear during the lockdown.

B=Behaving Inclusively

Most of us think of ourselves as being inclusive. And for the most part we are, so long as it doesn’t require much effort.  We encourage and support, we extend rules and policies and we welcome a few token individuals that make our circle more diverse.

But rarely are these efforts enough.

When I talk about “behaving inclusively”, I mean going the extra mile to understand what we don’t know or see and then another mile to develop new habits that allow us to better understand and cater to people from vastly different backgrounds.

L= Looking Diverse

Diversity is the reward for inclusion. An inclusive culture is able to attract, retain and promote a diverse population.

Diversity increases the level of creativity and innovation, begets new ideas and offers previously unnoticed experiences and opinions. It is the gateway to a more complete set of data.

The more diverse and inclusive an organisation, the more information it has to utilise for the fulfilment of its purpose. Lack of diversity at the top therefore, limits what we can achieve.

E= Expressing Emotion

An organisation that is in touch with its feelings, that is unafraid of expressing decisions and motivations in terms of emotions will be better equipped to attract the talent of tomorrow. Emotional and psychological safety is a large part of today’s and tomorrow’s well-oiled, well-functioning organisation. Creating and demonstrating safe space conversations that allow colleagues to express how they feel are valuable tools for leaders who want to attract bright talent. An organisation that speaks from the heart and the mind will be better equipped to deliver on its purpose for more of its stakeholders.

Does your organisation have 5 legs?

To find out which of the 5 legs of your TABLE organisation are more stable and which require more support, get in touch with me.

I am privileged. Are you?

It’s been a tough year.

We’ve had to confront both an indiscriminate killer in the form of a virus as well as discriminant ones, it seems, in the form of the American police force.

The killing of George Floyd (and many others like him) brought to the fore conversations that I hadn’t heard in a long time.  I was reminded that, just because we don’t see racism – speaking as a white, middle-class woman – it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  The Black Lives Matter movement reminded us to think of those who are less privileged than us.

So I want to say a few words about privilege.

You see, I know about privilege – other people’s privilege.  Men’s privilege over women.  Yes, I have been in several conversations where the man conversing with me and my friend/husband/male colleague only acknowledged the other male in the conversation, not making any eye contact with me.  I’ve also been ogled, propositioned and humiliated by men for being a woman.  I have been passed up for promotions and have been criticised for doing what men do to get ahead because that’s not what women do.  I have frequently experienced the impediment of being of the wrong gender.  Yet none of that prepared me to see myself as privileged over others.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the privilege bestowed on the rich over the poor, the smart over the not so smart, the native speakers over accented narrators.  But during the conversations that started bubbling up as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, I learned that I really didn’t understand privilege at all.  White privilege that is.

It’s true what they say.  Privilege is invisible to those who have it.  You just take everything for granted.  When you’re pretty and everyone smiles at you, you think everyone is nice.  When you’re straight and you unassumingly mention the opposite gender of a person you’re speaking to, you don’t see them squirming inside, trying to hide the fact that their partner is, in fact, of the same sex.  When you’re white in America, you see the police as your protector whereas as a black person, you might turn the corner to get away even though you’ve done nothing wrong. As a white person, you don’t see that.

Malcolm Gladwell made the point in his latest book Talking To Strangers that we all apply a double standard when it comes to understanding what’s happening to us and understanding what’s happening to others.  We think that when someone says something shocking about a black person, they are racist – not like us.  We would never do that.  And yet I know that, if I pushed my non-white friends, I’m sure they would tell me of instances when I said things to them that made them cringe inside.  They spared me the embarrassment; they knew I didn’t mean it.

In a recent roundtable discussion that I moderated, one of the speakers made the point that it is up to each one of us to educate ourselves on what type of behaviour or language might amount to a microaggression.  It should not be up to the person experiencing the blow to educate us.  So I picked up that call to action.

Enough with the blind spots.  Let’s acknowledge the facts: men have it easier in life than women; white people have it easier in life than non-whites; heterosexuals have a smoother ride than LGBTQ+ and so on and so on.  Let’s acknowledge it and agree to educate ourselves.  Let’s stop and think before we speak.  Let’s not begrudge people opportunities where none existed for centuries.

Our eyes may not be opened instantly, but we can try to see what previously escaped us if we keep trying.

Will you try?

For a great explanation of White Privilege, watch John Amaechi’s Bitesize on BBC.

Mind Your Language!

A few years ago, Voice At The Table had a popular workshop, talking to senior leaders about the significance of using the right words. And then its popularity waned. Now, it seems, the notion that words matter is back: businesses everywhere are dropping old-fashioned terminology like “blacklist” and “master and slave” servers.

Last week, Twitter and JP Morgan announced that they are dropping these controversial terms as well as “whitelist” and “man hours” along with other offenders.  Estate agents are also reconsidering the use of the term “master” bedroom.

And what about this “mis-step” by H&M?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words have a massive impact. We often use them without thinking and without intent to offend.  But a simple reflection on some of the words and phrases we regularly use discloses their historical meaning, which is no longer reflective of society:  businessman, chairman, black sheep, guys, lads, psycho, schizo, “call a spade a spade”, “boys will be boys”, blind drunk, deaf to the world and many more.

You’re probably surprised about a number of these (as was I), but there are the very basic terms which ought to be obvious.  For instance, only days ago, I received an email – an FT newsflash – that announced the stepping down of Lloyds Bank’s current chairman – Antonio Horta-Osorio.  His replacement – the next chairMAN – was yet to be named! Does this mean a woman is not a possible contender for the job?

These are shocking mistakes that should not be made these days, especially by organisations that are looking for our trust and loyalty.

Many of us don’t think twice when using these well-trodden words, as they have established meanings that don’t mean to exclude.  In the end, however, communication is less about how you say things and more about how what’s being said is heard.  That’s why the Use of Language is one of our eight Inclusive Behaviours.

When expressing yourself, instead of saying things like a “female engineer” or a “blind man”, say “a woman on our engineering team” or “a man who is blind”.

Avoid the use of jargon – which is easily caught up in non-inclusive history – and above all, avoid labels.  Labels overgeneralise and lump all of us together into one pot, which is most certainly too small to comfortably fit the myriad of shapes, sizes and colours of humanity.  Oh, oops, have I just done what I’m asking others not to do?  Well, I don’t know.

My main point is, we ought to try, and be more conscious of our words.  If we do just that alone, we will be far less likely to mis-step.

Will Covid Wipe Out the Macho Leadership Culture?

By Melissa Jackson

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the Covid pandemic, it’s that some of the best leadership skills – in the face of a crisis – have been demonstrated by women. It feels like the time is right to shed the macho leadership style that has dominated politics and the boardroom and look to a future where empathy and co-operation prevail. [continue reading]

Let’s take the most extreme example of macho leadership – Donald Trump – the man who consistently and bullishly holds such inflated self-belief that he selectively ignores the opinions of others, believing his “superior” judgement is beyond reproach. Predictably, he’s rejected the advice of medical professionals and unsurprisingly, the US currently has the world’s highest death-rate from Covid-19.

Then there’s Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly trivialised Covid-19, describing it as a “little flu” that did not warrant “hysteria” and claimed that his country would be protected from the virus by its climate and youthful population. Brazil is currently second in the league table of global Coronavirus deaths and – in an almost retaliatory act of irony – the virus has infected Bolsonaro.

The countries with some of the lowest Covid mortality figures are led by women, including New Zealand, Norway, Germany and Taiwan. Both New Zealand and Norway’s leaders have exhibited leadership styles that have been described as “empathetic” and “collaborative”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently, the esteemed British musician Brian Eno, said, the countries that have come out of Coronavirus “well”  have “spent more time listening to their scientists than to their ideologues” and that “macho posturing has proved to be worse than useless” in the face of the pandemic.

I hear that over-worked conundrum, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” ringing in my ears.

Joining in the Woman’s Hour debate and commenting on the highly-competent and distinguished female leaders, Chair of Time’s Up UK (see link below) Dame Heather Rabbatts said, “We always used to say you can’t show your feelings as a leader. Here they are showing their feelings; at the same time, being incredibly decisive, basing their judgements on evidence, being collaborative and listening.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a formidable sense of ‘this is what constitutes leadership’.

“It isn’t the shouting; it isn’t the vilification of others or the demonising of others. It is absolutely about this sense of humanity, aligned with clear leadership.”

Dame Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyds of London, told the programme that she was often criticised for not being more autocratic, a behaviour that is allied with a male leadership style.

Dame Heather said the female political leaders have demonstrated collaboration, building alliances, listening and humility.

These are skills that could usefully transfer to the boardroom and the corporate hierarchy.

For years, there have been suggestions that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. But too often, political organisations and companies have focused on persuading women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. However, the female heads of state, operating in a Covid world, are a case study of the leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time they were adopted across the board and the macho tactics eradicated. Let’s seize the moment and see something positive emerge from this crisis to shape the leaders of today and tomorrow.

For more articles related to this, click on the links below.

Leaders  (Guardian)

 

Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn From Women (HBR)

Time’s Up UK

How to enlist men as ‘agents of change’ for gender equality

Emma Watson addressed the United Nations in 2014, urging men to join the feminist movement; Barak Obama supported the cause when he proclaimed he was a feminist. Many companies recognise “men as allies” as a critical component of their diversity and inclusion efforts. And yet, support by men for gender equality is waning. Particularly in companies.

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, “[a]lthough company commitment to gender parity is at an all-time high, companies do not consistently put their commitment into practise and many employees are not on board. ” This is supported by research. A 2014 Pershing Harris poll found that younger men were less open to accepting women leaders than older men and a 2014 Harvard Business School (HBS) survey of MBA graduates showed that three-quarters of millennial women anticipated their career would be at least as important as their partners, while half of the men expected their own careers to take priority. Likewise, less than 50% of the women MBA graduates believed they would handle most of the child care, while two-thirds of their male peers believed their wives would do so.

The privilege of invisibility

Why, I ask myself, does this gap in perceptions exist and how do we bridge it?

One reason is the so-called ‘privilege of invisibility’.  Michael Kimmel – eminent sociologist and high-profile women’s rights campaigner – explains that because people in power set the norm, they fail to see the privilege this bestows on them. An example of this is race. A white woman looking in the mirror sees a woman; a black woman looking in the mirror sees a black woman. Because ‘white’ is set as the norm by white people, white people don’t understand that other people’s skin colour impacts on many aspects of their lives. Their own skin colour is invisible to them. Similarly, because men think of gender as ‘women’, they do not see its relevance to them and don’t engage with gender equality; they see it as a “women’s agenda” – with little benefit to them.

Societal norms and expectations

There are also societal norms at work. Attitudes rooted in the 1970s predispose men to reject characteristics associated with femininity and define success as wealth, power and status. Men are supposed to be strong in a crisis, take risks and be daring and aggressive to others. Think Axe from the TV series Billions.

Although much of the above is still the benchmark for masculinity, we know that men are moving away from the stereotype and want to embrace some typically-feminine freedoms. They want to spend more time with their children, show feelings beyond the limited repertoire of lust and rage and enjoy life outside the office.

However, most boys are penalised for displaying emotions and are considered ‘weak’ if they are seen in any way as ‘feminine’. They are encouraged to be brave, ambitious and powerful and suppress individualistic urges to express oneself. This type of restrictive behaviour has been linked to an increase in suicide rates in men and underachievement at school for boys.

Compare this to the ideal of sharing responsibilities at home and at work, seeing girls and women as equals, allowing oneself to choose between career paths and redefining success for oneself. Wouldn’t that liberate men from the shackles of societal expectations?

So how do we engage men?

In a sense, men are right when they say gender equality is all about women. What I mean is that, while focusing on equalising the playing field for women, we have neglected men’s voices, concerns and horror stories. There has been a lack of interest in listening to men talk about their experiences and to delve deeper into what they truly think, need or want.

My suggestions, therefore, is to start with an open and honest, non-judgmental conversation that is based on a foundation of support for each other. We need to understand how gender stereotypes disadvantage men and give men a platform to be more than what society expects of them. After all, inclusion is about giving every individual space and freedom to be themselves. In that spirit, perhaps engaging men as change agents for women’s equality is as much about engaging women in understanding the restrictions and stereotypes that society places on men.

“Where are all the guys?” Why men avoid entering the gender parity debate.

Guest blog by David Levenson*

This article has been a long time in gestation – novels have been written quicker. But its development, alongside the evolution of my views, has given me the confidence (yes, men need confidence too) to write for Voice At The Table. It is also the story of why the men who should be publicly leading on gender equality mostly stay silent.

The inescapable conclusion is that men are too scared to engage on a subject that is so often regarded by them as a hot potato. Alternatively, we just don’t get it – we don’t see it as a problem, certainly not in a business or work context. It ends up that women’s issues are for women alone to comment on.

However, what is needed here is less gender politics and more honest conversation.

To the women who I hope are reading this, my message is simple – get the men in the room, onto the social media feeds and get them talking. It’s time to engage the guys in the gender parity debate and stop them from finding reasons to opt out.

So, here is the tale of my journey through diversity politics and how it relates to the wider issue of male engagement.

Fifteen months ago, I stumbled upon an article by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox of  the consultancy 20-first in the Harvard Business Review. Her argument that gender equality is more than a “women’s issue” rang a bell for me and made me think about my position and indeed my role in helping to achieve parity for women on pay and in the boardroom.

Moreover, it convinced me that successful gender balancing requires convincing the majority of your employees that it’s a good idea. And that cultural change needs to be led from the top. Now, the majority of CEOs are male, so it follows that the equality agenda needs to be pushed… by men.

Having absorbed the article, I ran my eye down the list of comments on the LinkedIn posting that had accompanied the article.  Dozens of comments, all from women.  So, plaintively, I added a thought of my own – C’mon on guys, where are you?

As it turned out, my plea didn’t disappear into the ether.  Other men started to appear and contribute views in the discussion thread.  For me, this first tiny venture into the discussion was the start of a process which has culminated in this article.

Now, I may not be typical; I spent the best part of twenty-five years as a finance director in social housing during which time I worked for women CEO’s, and with many female executive colleagues and board members. It is fair to say that the experience of diverse groups generally, and women in particular, has been better than in most industries.  However, it is instructive to listen to the words of Terrie Alafet, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing and one of the sector’s most high profile women executives, in 2016:

“We know from our own research that as a sector, housing is actually more diverse than average…But at the top of our organisations, in our boards and senior teams, it’s a different story.”

It requires more from CEO’s than just a commitment to balance their executive teams, as Ms Wittenberg-Cox suggests.  It needs recognition that there is a duality of interest in gender equality.  Men have a stake in the decisions that women make about their roles as partners, parents and providers.  Economies and societies work best where there is openness and accountability for the contributions made by women and men in the workplace.

I like to think, notwithstanding all that the #MeToo movement necessarily represents and has had to undertake during the past year, that we have moved on from the battle of the sexes that characterised 20th century feminism and its machoistic counterpart.  Today’s workplace is less divisive and more co-operative.

But we are not there yet as all the statistics show and there is still a cultural battle, if not all-out war, to be fought and won.  And pivotal to this are the men who continue to occupy most top seats at board tables and in executive teams and who should constantly send out the message that striving for gender equality at the apex of companies, financial institutions, professions and public services is in the interests of all of us.

* David Levenson is an accredited executive coach and career strategy coach.  He founded Coaching Futures in 2016 with the aim of transforming people’s lives, careers and goals.

David is one of the co-creators of Raising Roofs.  He is passionate about the workplace of the future and fascinated by how technology is rapidly changing the way we work.