What is your Superpower?

Recently, we’ve been exploring whether those of us who don’t fit the company mould can still succeed by being themselves, including those who lead differently, like Gareth Southgate.

Today, I want to make the case for embracing what makes us different and knowing that – far from being ‘misfits’ – we actually have a ‘superpower’.

I take inspiration from a NY Times article written by one of the many women who found herself to be the ‘only’ woman – in fact the only black woman – in her team at work.   The article talks about the pro’s and con’s of being the only one, and gives us tips on how to make it less lonely.  It reminds us that each of us has something special to contribute and  to regard our team/organisation as lucky to have that contribution.

But I want to take it one step further.  I want to encourage you – if you feel different from the rest for whatever reason – gender, ethnicity, sexuality, height, cultural background, singledom, sense of humour… truly, whatever the reason – to own the characteristic that makes you feel that way and treat it like your superpower.

Think about it: some of the most well-known people – from Grace Jones to Ed Sheeran  to Rebel Wilson to Mr. T – have cultivated their ‘difference’ as a strength.  OK, these people are outliers.  In addition to their ‘difference’, they also have oodles of talent.  But that doesn’t change anything.

Can you think of someone you know who stands out in some way and yet, you hardly notice it because they are comfortable in their skin?  Instead of hiding whatever peculiarity they might have, they feed it with humour, ease and comfort.  Their distinguishing characteristic becomes part and parcel of who they are and lifts them above the rest.  I’ve seen it with people who are overweight, people who are much shorter than average, people who are not academic and heavily-accented people.   When you meet them, you might notice their distinguishing characteristic, but once you’ve had a conversation with them, you don’t see it any more.  They simply become a person who is funny or witty or interesting or popular.  You see them as someone who, instead of wearing their difference as a burden, wears it as a mark of distinction.  What many might consider an unfortunate feature has been turned into a badge of honour.

How does this work?
It’s simple, really.  When we bow to society’s pressure to conform, anything that sets us apart from the ‘norm’ makes us feel excluded.  So we quietly hide it (by wearing heels if we’re short or stooping down if we’re tall), or downplay it (by mumbling through a complicated sentence or omitting references to unfamiliar yet well-known authors) or we exaggerate our behaviour (by boasting about a successful friend or buying excessive rounds of drinks). Of course, people still notice what we’re trying to de-emphasise.

When, however, we bring our ‘oddity’ to the fore and treat it like it’s the most common feature on earth, what people see is our confident personality and us – not the very thing that’s different about us.  They perceive our peculiarity as our superpower – not because it is, but because we treat it like one.

Why is this important?
We live in a society that is rapidly evolving; one that needs the contribution of every individual – no matter how different.  We can contribute greatly to this evolution if we are comfortable with what makes us different.  Only then can we confidently talk about our authentic experiences and bring our whole selves to work.  Only then will our contribution form part of those creative solutions that every organisation desperately needs.  This is where the true benefit of Diversity is.

When I was young, one of my teachers told us that we must learn to love ourselves before anyone else can love us.  That continues to apply today:  if you respect yourself – warts and all – others will respect you in the same way.

And when that happens, the world can be your oyster indeed.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy reading The Threat of Righteousness

Our Top Five New and Recurring Diversity and Inclusion Trends of 2021

2020 was an extraordinary year for Diversity and Inclusion and, thankfully perhaps, it is now over. We now have the advantage of looking back through the year to better understand what lessons we have learned and what will continue to evolve in 2021. Here’s my list of five new and continuing trends for Diversity and Inclusion this year:

  1. Diversity & Inclusion at the top of the corporate agenda

Last year was a wake-up call for many companies as the BLM movement highlighted the deep-rooted, latent biases that prevent Black people from progressing. Once recognised, many companies realised the only way to combat bias is with a more rigorous and responsible approach to Diversity and Inclusion. Some have responded by introducing company-wide initiatives that lay the responsibility of progress at the feet of both the leadership team as well as each individual staff member. Voice At The Table is involved in several such programmes and is delighted to, finally, be part of more impactful change.

  1. The Evolution of Language

Use of language has two sides: one is to ensure that the words we use in our communication do not betray ingrained biases and outdated beliefs; the other is giving people the words they need to express what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bias.

Outdated language: the surge to eradicate words from our vocabulary that betray racism, sexism and other “isms” started last year with the purge of terms like white and black lists, master and slave servers, master bedrooms and so on. Our language has evolved to include antiquated standards without us noticing – until now, it seems.  Many a business has been named and shamed for the use of callous terminology that alienates employees, customers and other stakeholders.

You might recall the H&M incident a couple of years ago.

 

Words to express bias: Until recently, people weren’t sure how to explain why D&I is good for business, how it feels to be on the receiving end of microaggressions and what indirect discrimination looks like. With increasing emphasis on Diversity and Equality-related subjects, stories are emerging that showcase discrimination in a way that others understand. “Systemic racism” and “white privilege” are now recognised terms. Companies and people are woke to terminology that captures and expresses conditions that, not so long ago, while rampant, were not visible to most. This change will afford people opportunities to better explain the latent unfairness they may be experiencing.

  1. Diversity in the Public Eye

Diversity isn’t just important to companies, it has become a topic du jour for society. More and more films, TV programmes, theatre productions, art exhibitions, sports events and written materials occupy themselves with the topic and reflect society in a more authentic and accurate manner. Think of Netflix’s Bridgerton and BBC’s Small Axe. Consider all-female football and rugby teams now being afforded more screen time. Think about art exhibitions celebrating Black female artists and articles dedicated to female artists. While still in its infancy, this is a growing trend.

  1. Working From Home

Both a blessing and a curse, working from home is most certainly here to stay. It has, unfortunately, been as much a villain – particularly for women – as it has been a saviour – giving many of us an opportunity to wrap our careers around the rest of our lives. While the pandemic keeps wreaking havoc, we will continue to make our homes also our offices.  What happens after is still a mystery, but I’d venture a solid guess that we won’t be returning to the office on a full-time basis.

  1. Women are back in focus

The 2020 pandemic hit women hard. They bore the greater burden of the job loss predicament, having to exchange their careers for home-schooling and caring duties. Companies in the UK were also given a reprieve from Gender Gap Reporting in 2020 – a retrograde step for our legislative progress[i].

As a result, the focus on hiring, retaining and supporting women in the work force has returned, particularly in the Tech sector. The good news is that, while we continue to applaud efforts made by companies to level the playing field, many women have taken matters into their own hands by highlighting the issues and fighting to regain lost ground. Like NASDAQ’s CEO Adena Friedman who is pushing for more Diversity in the Boardroom, as reported by the New York Times in December.

Here at Voice At The Table, we will continue to work with you on developing your D&I strategy, helping you assess the levels of Diversity and/or Inclusion in your organisation, and helping you implement impactful culture change initiatives that will ensure that your organisation garners the benefits of diversity both for the business and for each individual.

To find out how we can help you on your Diversity journey, please get in touch with me.

[i] It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that women have also been let down by governments and society when it comes to protecting them from domestic abuse which always rears its ugly head during pandemics.

Guest Blog: Ensuring Gender Equality During the Holidays

By Anna Calvin*

With Christmas fast approaching, people are preparing to take a break from their work to spend time with family. However, gender inequality issues in the workplace are not taking time off. Women are experiencing reductions in salary, while others are losing their jobs. These setbacks, along with micro-aggressions, are preventing gender parity. I offer four tips to help your company bridge the gender inequality gap this holiday season.

  1. Delegate tasks fairly

Apart from a pay gap, women also suffer from a stress gap. According to research, female workers are more likely to struggle with work-related stress than male workers. This is because they are pressured to perform well in light of gender prejudices. This can become more severe during the holiday season as work intensifies. To avoid this, ensure that you’re giving all your employees a reasonable number of tasks, regardless of gender. All it takes is some extra planning. Verizon Connect’s Holly Dempster highlights the importance of planning ahead. Additionally, ensure that there is a plan for emergencies so that women don’t have to bear the brunt of holiday workplace stress. You can lean on technology to help you schedule and delegate tasks more efficiently, but don’t neglect the importance of communicating with your team, either.

2. Reject the notion that shopping for gifts is a woman’s job

To label something as “woman’s work” is to contribute to gender stereotypes. Huffpost’s Sarah Tinsley talks about the gender stereotyping that occurs during the holiday season and how it affects our children. Girls aren’t biologically wired to be more nurturing, and boys aren’t wired to be more practical. So why do we treat them as if they are, in the gifts that we give them?

The same can be said about those in the workplace. Before you tell your female employee to do some company gift shopping, ask yourself: Am I sending her out because she’s good at picking gifts, or because she’s a woman?

3. Advocate for greater male involvement in holiday preparations

There’s no such thing as “women’s work”, so what you can do is have ALL your employees lend a hand preparing for the holidays — from decorating the office to shopping for gifts to baking the office Christmas party snacks – although maybe not this year! By removing the stigma that it’s a woman’s job to shop or carry out domestic chores, you create a more inclusive and gender-equal workspace.

4. Encourage healthy conversations that tackle gender awareness and sensitivity

Finally, encourage your employees to talk about the issue. Don’t let it be swept under the rug because, often, this is why it continues to be in an issue in the first place. The Women in the Workplace report states that while company commitment to gender parity is generally high, this is often not put into practice. This is usually because many employees aren’t on board with it. But by engaging in conversations with all your employees and getting them to say their piece, you’re creating a safer, more open workspace. And, hopefully, one that is gender-equal.

Gender equality should be non-negotiable. To foster a community of diversity and inclusivity, all genders must be accepted and treated fairly. Voice At The Table can help your company build programs and strategies that promote diversity and inclusivity, all for a healthier workplace. Get in touch with us to learn more!

*Anna Calvin is a freelance blogger who advocates for women‘s empowerment and LGBTQ+ rights. She likes tea. A lot of it.

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

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