Let us do the nudging for you!

I was talking to one of our clients recently when the Head of D&I said, “The trouble is, some of our executive leaders don’t really see a problem with diversity.  They think that we have a great, inclusive culture and that the lack of diversity is a result of us working in a white, male-dominated sector.  How do we make them feel the need to be more inclusive?”

 

Does that sound familiar?  It might do, as it isn’t an isolated occurrence.  In my experience, many of the existing leaders – particularly in sectors that are dominated by white men, such as finance, construction and tech – still grapple with the idea that the lack of diversity in their work circles isn’t due to a lack of talented people from different backgrounds and of different identities.  In most cases, the lack of diversity is pure and simple a consequence of incomplete inclusion.  Sure, most companies are inclusive – to those who look like them and behave like them.  But even in cases where inclusion and engagement scores are high, like 80% or even 90%, we’re still talking about 10 to 20 percent of the work force that are not engaged or included.  Isn’t that too high a cost?

 

So how do we make these leaders feel the need for diversity action?

I suggested to my client the use of Inclusion Nudges.

Inclusion Nudges is a concept developed by two senior  D&I experts Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski in 2013. Based on the nudge theory by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Inclusion Nudges are designed to motivate and encourage people to behave in a more inclusive manner without thinking about it.

Inclusion Nudges are necessary because our behaviour is driven primarily by our subconscious mind – our ‘fast brain’.  The part of our brain that reacts quickly based on emotion and learned signals.  It is the part of the brain that helped us survive for thousands of years – and hence, our ‘primitive brain’.  It is an incredibly efficient system that works beautifully to help us cope with the everyday.  That said, this ancient coping mechanism is also riddled with biases – more than 200 of them, and that’s before we add any personal ones that we developed based on our own experiences, preferences and upbringing.

Our thinking brain – the Neocortex (or the ‘slow brain’) doesn’t even realise it when we act in a biased manner.  In fact, most of our behaviour choices and judgments don’t even register there.

So even those of us who have the very best intentions not to be biased and to be more inclusive find it difficult to behave this way, given that most of our behaviour is driven by our subconscious mind.

No wonder, then, that most of us – including many who are senior leaders – don’t recognise the fact that their organisation’s lack of diversity is most likely a consequence of behaviours, and not due to any perceived reason.

This is why Inclusion Nudges are so helpful.

So back to my client… I suggested that they try following action from the book on Inclusion Nudges:  collect quotes from discussions, exit interviews and any other occasions that bring to life people’s experiences at the company – situations when people felt excluded.  Statements such as

When my colleagues go out for a pint after work, I can’t join them because I have to pick up my son.  I feel I’m missing out on bonding opportunities, being left behind.

or

When I try to make my point at a meeting, I’m frequently interrupted. This makes me feel insignificant.

or

 Once a colleague said to me “You’re Asian and you don’t like spicy foods?” I felt bad for not living up to his stereotype.

The quotes can be presented as part of a meeting on D&I or – for greater impact – taped to the walls of a meeting room (when we’re back meeting each other in actual rooms), set out on paper speech bubbles.  Before the meeting starts, the leaders can be invited to walk around and read the quotes, so they can start to feel how some people in the organisation feel.  This is a great way to start the conversation about the need for positive action.

Inclusion Nudges offer great techniques to help develop an inclusive workplace.  If you’re interested to learn more, do get the book (warning, it’s quite thick!).  Or you can reach out to us if you’d like to find out how to use them to address your specific challenge or how to incorporate them into your already-ongoing D&I programme.

I Traded a Holiday to Italy for an Enlightening “Career Move”

By Ayla Tarasofsky

We are proud to introduce our youngest ever columnist for Voice At The Table. Ayla Tarasofsky is definitely a name to watch. She is a formidable and ambitious teenager who is grabbing the digital bull by the horns for a cause that is already changing the world and making education more accessible for all young people. This is Ayla’s personal experience of embracing the digital market.

My name is Ayla, I am 15 years old and I work at Hope3g.com, a start-up educational tech company, as the Youth Director of HR.  It sounds crazy to say, because a few months ago I didn’t even know what HR stood for let alone how to manage my own department. My friend brought me into the office one day to say “Hi” to everybody, but by the end of that day I had already filmed my introduction for the website and cancelled my trip to Italy because I realised how this was really going to change my life and the world of education.

A big fear of mine is getting in front of a camera and speaking, but after many takes and very sweaty palms, I have grown more confident than I had ever expected.  Public speaking is only one of the many things I have learnt since starting as a Director.  Within my first month, I reviewed hundreds of CVs to find potential candidates to interview to join the company.  I also helped make sure that the selection process was inclusive to all races, regions and genders.  Equal Rights is something I really believe in and I wanted to make sure we were as diverse as possible.   Hope3g.com has given me a glimpse into the future and how mine might turn out in the tech world. I have realised the importance of organisation, confidence and independence, which has not only helped me at work, but at school and my day-to-day life.

We all know that digital technology is extremely important, playing a massive role in our lives today.  This is why we want to use technology to bring quality education to more children all over the world, especially areas that can’t afford a good one.  You’d think someone would have already come up with this, but who better to create an app for kids than kids themselves? Technology is our present and future and we believe that the educational system has not caught up with how kids learn best.   We want to use tech to help kids learn in a way that they will really enjoy and really benefit from – meaning not just in a classroom.  Well that is what we are trying to do, awesome right?

My life has changed so much from this experience in the best way possible but hopefully it will change many other children’s lives too, whether it is from working at the start-up business or through the effect Hope3g.com will have on them.

To find out more about Hope3g.com please follow the links: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/53985966

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/when-the-world-went-into-lockdown-12-children-started-hope3gcom-forming-a-board-of-directors-to-save-education-theyre-succeeding-301122693.html

It’s time to confess.

It’s National Inclusion Week so I ask myself, am I really inclusive?

To me, being inclusive means first and foremost to welcome and to value that which is different; to appreciate those who look or sound different as enrichment; to know that a new or different person or experience does not pose a threat to my value system.

So am I inclusive?

It’s hard to be inclusive.  Our natural instincts tell us to stick to what we know.  We love our repeat patterns, our experienced learnings, the familiar.  Our primitive brain (the emotional one) steers us towards the familiar and guards us against the unfamiliar.  It constantly alerts us “Watch out!  They look suspicious! We don’t know their type! They are not like us and therefore unpredictable!” It’s hard for our thinking brain (the neocortex) to override our fearing, second-guessing, reluctant brain.  And most of that prodding happens subconsciously – how are we meant to confront that?

For me, inclusion is not about ignoring the impulsive, instantaneous brain – that’s simply impossible to achieve.  It’s about understanding that we are being guided by the under-informed, hasty part of our brain and knowing how to question its urging.

This, I know we I can do.

In an effort to make it a little easier for myself and for others to be more inclusive, I have broken down inclusion to 8 inclusive behaviours.  Most of these 8 behaviours are self-explanatory and when you see them you’ll say That makes sense. The challenge is to improve in each of these behaviours, to fine-tune its application and to keep doing that for the rest of our lives.

Let me give you a flavour of what I mean by looking at Empathy and Listening – 2 of the 8 inclusive behaviours.

  1. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes, so to speak, to try to understand what they might be experiencing.  What does it feel like to be asked Where are you from? each time you meet a new person just because you look different from most of those around you?  What is it like to constantly hide the fact that your husband or wife is of the same sex as you?  What is it like to be watched by the security guard every time you enter a store because you’re black?

To understand that, we need to develop our empathy ‘muscle’.  We start by second-guessing our natural reactions.  For instance, when you pass someone you’ve met a couple of times in a social setting and they completely ignore you, our immediate thought is they don’t remember you.  But if you give it some thought, you might reach a different conclusion. It could be that they can’t see well without their glasses, or that they’re deep in thought about something and simply didn’t register you.  Imagine yourself in that situation, have you ever been ‘accused’ of not seeing someone who was almost literally in front of you?  What are you like sometimes when you’re walking along?  Do you notice everything and everyone?  If not, why not?  Purposely putting yourself in their shoes makes it easier to see more reasons for their behaviour and easier to understand them. It’s a practiced ritual that, when done in simple everyday encounters eventually extends to situations which are more difficult to understand, like ‘white privilege’.

  1. Listening

Listening in this context means more than just hearing.  Listening is about giving someone the opportunity to present their perspective and acknowledging that perspective as someone else’s rightful view.  In this day and age, we are so ingrained in our opinions about everything.  Instead of listening, we tend to want to persuade and, if that fails, we go on the attack.  Social media is full of voices that attempt to drown out other voices.

To listen in order to be more inclusive means acknowledging the fact that another’s viewpoint might have merit, and acknowledging it to them, even if we disagree.  “I hear what you’re saying and I can see where you’re coming from…” even if it might then be qualified with a “but”.  Practising this with our friends, family members and colleagues who are like us will make it easier to do with people who are unlike us.

The world has moved on.  Like it or not, we can’t stand still.  We need to break down our old patterns of interaction, be it at home or at work.  Becoming more inclusive is about practising to do so with intent in any situation.  We need to train our brains to be more discerning and not just follow ingrained patterns.  We need to bring some of the unconscious thought processes into the conscious so that we can unravel them and reform new, more complex patterns of behaviours and attitudes.

This, to me, is what being inclusive is all about.  With this in mind, I can breathe a sigh of relief and declare that I am more inclusive now than I was even a year ago.

Can you do the same?

To find out more about our 8 Inclusive Behaviours, contact Rina.

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

The story of pink!

What do you associate with the colour pink?

Nowadays, most would consider pink to be a girl’s colour.  We’re told it’s a colour that stands for charm, politeness, sensitivity, tenderness, sweetness, childhood, femininity and romance.

So why would Voice At The Table – a gender parity and balance advocate – choose pink as its dominant colour?  Doesn’t that reinforce the stereotypes attached to women and, as such, go against everything we stand for?

Not as I see it.

I chose pink to defy the stereotype and encourage others to move away from labels.  We help people see beyond convention.  The challenge we offer is for each of us to be confronted with something that seems straight forward and learn to understand the complexity beyond.  Let’s not judge books by their covers.  Let’s read the pages in between and gain a greater understanding of people and perspectives.

Let’s start with the colour pink.

Pink didn’t start out as a colour of girls.  In fact, in the 19th century, pink was a colour associated with boys.  As red was the colour closely-associated with men, pink – a lighter shade of red – was the colour most often chosen for little men, as boys were then regarded.

In June 1918, an American trade publication even wrote:

The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.

Pink also had different connotations in different cultures.  In India, for example, pink was seen as a symbol of a “welcome embrace”, while in Japan it was the colour of masculinity and now, the colour of Spring (when the famous cherry blossoms colour Japan pink throughout).  In Thailand, pink is the colour of Tuesday so anyone born on that day may wear pink on a Tuesday and adopt pink as their colour.  Italy’s sports newsletter La Gazetta della Sport uses pink paper to stand out and awards a pink jersey to the winner of Italy’s biggest bicycle race.

In Catholicism, pink symbolises joy and happiness.

Nowadays, the colour is closely associated with women’s issues and empowerment, as well as the LGBTQ+ movement.  And of course we all would recognise the pink ribbon as the emblem of breast cancer awareness.

I am surprised at how many different meanings the colour pink conjures up, and for all these meanings and reasons, I’m pleased to peg our name to it.

3 Reasons Diversity Initiatives Fail to Shift the Dial on Gender Balance

Advances in achieving gender balance in the corporate space are slow, at best.  Despite the deafening cries for progress towards gender parity, progress is, indeed, evading us.  The latest gender pay gap statistics in the UK prove the point, with the largest pay gap reported in the construction sector at 25%, followed by finance and insurance sector at 22% and education at 20%.   The World Economic Forum predicts it will take the world another 217 years to reach parity, and many other reports show that, while we appear to be inching closer to a more diverse and inclusive world, progress is, well, patchy and sometimes questionable.

I have to ask myself the question why?  After all, in my conversations with clients and other companies, it seems diversity and inclusion is an important part of the business agenda, and gender balance even more so.   Most have already spent copious resources on various initiatives that intend to support and advance women – and, more broadly, diversity – within the organisation.  And yet, few would claim genuine parity at all levels.

If you ask me, part of the problem is the belief that we’re doing all the right things whereas the truth is that most of the current initiatives fail to shift the dial on diversity.

Here are my 3 reasons for it:

All female leadership and other initiatives

The intentions behind programmes that support the advancement of women in the organisation are great, but there are a number of problems with this approach: (i) when programmes cater to women only, the overarching message the company is sending to its women is that there is something wrong with them and that it is trying to ‘fix’ them.  This is particularly true of leadership programmes which intimate that women need more development than men to become leaders; (ii) even successful female-only initiatives tend to backfire because, to the extent they succeed to motivate and engage women, by the time women go back to their unchanged work environment, frustration starts to set in as they continue to perform in an environment that fails to recognise the value of their authentic contribution; and (iii) initiatives that are aimed at a specific segment of the population tend to be divisive and fail to attract the requisite amount of support and inclusion to harness lasting progress.

Appointing a female head to ‘tackle the problem’

In many cases, executive teams are genuine about their desire to advance women.  But they don’t recognise it as a central business priority and look at it as a project to be managed.  Having identified it as an issue, they tend to look for the right person to address it which, in many cases, happens to be the one woman on the executive team.  I have heard this story so many times.

These women, or other senior women in the organisation, are anointed as Head of People, or Gender Diversity Sponsor or similar, and are expected to single-handedly ‘solve the issue’.  If they’re lucky, the board will agree to authorise resources to support the position in the form of additional help and/or budget. Yet in most cases, all the resources are going to be insufficient because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved by one or few individuals, and certainly not this particular ‘problem’ (because it’s not so much a problem but an unexplored opportunity).

Parachuting women into senior roles

In many cases, gender imbalance exists primarily at the very top.  Many companies tackle the issue by bringing in lateral hires as they don’t appear to have their own senior female pipeline to address the disparity.  Sadly, this is one of the worst solutions to this issue.  Having spoken to a number of corporates who have taken such measures it becomes clear very quickly that there is no substitute for ‘growing your own’.  Attracting senior women from elsewhere is, at best, a temporary solution.  These freshly-hired women – like the the women who have been at the company for years – will be exposed to the very same culture that failed to produce the senior pipeline in the first instance.  As a result, the new senior female leaders are likely to become disenchanted with their roles as they come to realise that they are not hired for their expertise and contribution but, instead (to put it bluntly), to tick a box.   Even if they do succeed in making a contribution to the company that is genuinely valued, companies have to carefully guard these women from being hired away by others with a similar agenda.  The reality is that there are not that many senior women out there who seem to satisfy the existing requirements for board or senior level hires (although, of course, many more women can indeed to the job) so, unless companies develop their own female leadership pipeline, they stand to lose those recent hires to others that have a similar approach to gender balance.

These are but a few reasons current initiatives fail to advance gender balance at work, and there are a number of others.  If you would like to explore this topic further, email us for a longer version of this post.

That was the month that was… June 2018

by Rebecca Dalton

The government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review issued its interim report on gender balance with a list of some of the reasons given for not appointing women to FTSE company boards.

Here are some of them:

  • “all the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”
  • “our annual report runs to 165 pages. Most women are too weak to carry it to the boardroom”
  • “we have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”
  • “most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”
  • “this is a dynamic 24/7 company. When the Harvey Nics shoe sale is on, we lose our female workforce for days on end. We can’t risk share prices collapsing just because it’s 30% off on the Jimmy Choo’s.”

* two of these are not real excuses

Meanwhile, improving diversity at airlines was a big theme at the International Air Transport Associations’ annual conference in Sydney. Just the right forum for Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker to treat us to his view that an airline has to be led by a man ‘because it’s a very challenging position.’ Cue a slightly stunned pause and audible gasps. After which his audience at the press conference – and social media worldwide – decided laughter was the best medicine. Allowing Mr Baker to claim it was a joke all along.

Yes, of course it was dear.

Mr Baker has form in this area, once describing female air stewards on other airlines as ‘grandmothers’ and boasting that the average age at Qatar was 26.

Furiously rowing back on his cracking ‘joke’ he issued a statement that ‘Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality and… it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways.’

Hopefully, that position may become available quicker than you think, grandad.