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language has two sides: one is to ensure that the words we use in our communication do not betray ingrained biases and outdated beliefs; the other is giving people the words they need to express what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bias.

Outdated language: the surge to eradicate words from our vocabulary that betray racism, sexism and other “isms” started last year with the purge of terms like white and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.

Active Voice: 5 Ways to Banish those Winter Blues

While we’re all happy to see the back of 2020, we may be grappling with the annual post-Christmas despondency amid short, winter days and the cloak of Covid continuing to mute our freedoms, lifestyle and habits. But the days are (gradually) lengthening and the vaccine is being rolled out and there are many ways to stay positive. We show you how.

  1. Get Moving: When the Mercury falls to single digits, throwing on your trainers and Lycra and braving the elements can easily play second – or no – fiddle to slumping on the sofa with a hot cup of tea and starting another Netflix series. But experts agree that exercise is a great way to boost your mood. It triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. A lack of exercise increases your risk of anxiety and depression.
  2. Stop over-thinking: People often dwell on problems, going over and over the same negative thoughts without making any progress to resolve them. If you’ve been worrying about a problem for 30 minutes or more without coming up with a plan of action, or you’ve been going over questions with no answers, it’s time to stop. The main objective is to shift your focus from worries to practical problem-solving. Stop and ask yourself what steps you can take to address the problem, break it into realistic components and set about taking the bull by the horns.
  3. Set a new target: Drawing up a new goal helps to focus the mind. It could be something big and demanding, like learning a new language or something small like challenging yourself to read more or switch off your screen an hour before going to bed. If it’s outside your comfort zone, and it’s pushing you forward, it gives you a focus and a sense of control. This, in turn can give you a sense of self-worth.
  4. Reach out to people: The pandemic has made it a lot harder to be with others in person, and winter can make it even less attainable. That’s a big issue for millions of people and the mental health consequences for some will be serious. So, try to maximise social contact opportunities. Isolated people are more likely to focus on themselves and this can make them feel even more alone. Reach out when you can, and if Covid-19 means you can’t do that in person, make that phone call to a friend, or arrange to talk online.
  5. Train yourself to be optimistic: Optimists live longer, have better relationships and better immune systems. Try writing down three things – each day – that you’re grateful about, to force yourself to focus on what’s gone well and why. It’ll fire up the left-hand side of your brain, which is associated with positivity. Emotions are contagious, so try to steer away from negative, glass-half-empty people who are constantly complaining, otherwise you’ll find yourself becoming one of those people too!

And if you want more advice on how to banish the blues, email us to obtain the recording of our recent virtual session on this topic by psychotherapist and coach Phil Cox.

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.

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.

“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.

In Praise of Show-Offs

You may have come across the twitter hashtag #ImmodestWomen and wondered what it’s all about.  It caught my eye because it seems another excellent example of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ behaviour asked of women:  on the one hand, we are expected to be humble, compliant and supportive of others; on the other hand we’re told to promote ourselves – particularly in the context of our careers – showcase our strengths and talk more about our own achievements.

To give you some context, #ImmodestWomen is a hashtag introduced by Dr. Fern Riddell who dared to insist that her hard-earned PhD title form part of her twitter handle. A backlash of comments from men berated her for being immodest, lacking humility, even being vulgar. By simply showcasing her expertise, Dr. Riddell was publicly shamed for not conforming to society’s expectations of women to be modest, well-behaved, not showing off.

How do we strike the balance between society’s – and frankly, our own – expectations of humility with the need to self-promote at work so as not to lose out to those (mostly men) who do it so well?

At Voice At The Table, we have a talk entitled ‘The Art of Female ‘Blagging’ with Integrity.’ Here’s how it works:

My good friend and associate Cara Moore and I recognised a while ago the double-edged sword society had dealt us. To generalise, men seem to be at ease ‘blagging’ their way into promotions and pay rises by exaggerating their achievements and abilities, while (again in general) employing those tactics made women feel uncomfortable.

After much discussion we came up with a way of ‘showing off’ which we think feels more natural to women. In other words, turning blagging into bragging – but doing so based on actual achievements and confidence in our potential. Hopefully it negotiates the fine line between what feels right, and what we as women need to do to be seen and heard.

We came up with our own acronym BLAG which captures the elements that make the term ‘blagging’ more palatable to women:

B stands for Bright: Being visible by speaking up, contributing without hesitation or self-doubt, confidently applying for stretching tasks, and asking for that title, promotion or pay rise. We should aim to be bright like a beacon and be known for our strengths and unique talents.

L stands for Learned: Many of us are experts in our fields, and this is important. Whatever we say or do, we need to be comfortable that we can back it up with substance. For many women, this is the reason the term ‘blagging’ feels unnatural – we think of it as a cover-up for actual knowledge. Not so for most of us, who know much more than we give ourselves credit for. Learned means not only knowing our ‘stuff’ but remembering that we do!

A stands for Audacious: This is where we must ask ourselves to ‘just give it a go.’ Often, before we try something new or more daring, we talk ourselves out of it before we even begin: ‘I’m not good enough. I don’t have the experience. They would never agree to it,’ pipes up our unhelpful inner voice. We have dozens of reasons for not doing something instead of just going for it. So being audacious is about silencing that inner critic and ‘JFDI’*.

G stands for Gutsy: Gutsy is about being brave enough to tie these three elements together and take action to BLAG by being visible, known for our expertise and knowledge, and unafraid to step up.

So, while shouting from the roof tops about how good we are is something we prefer to leave to others, there is no shame in adding those well-earned initials that follow your name. Thank you, Dr. Fern Riddell for standing up for yourself and for BLAGging with integrity.

* For those of you who are wondering, JFDI stands for Just Flippin’ Do 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.

What’s a network to do? Do’s and Don’ts for running a successful in-house network

The rise of the in-house women’s network over the last few years has been remarkable.  I watched them grow from informal gathering of a few colleagues to being influential partners to the organisation.  Having chaired a number of networks myself, I understand their challenges and often work with network committees to help them identify their purpose and set strategy for maximum impact.

Here are a few tips of my own to the running of a successful, influential network:

DO have a strategy

It is difficult to have impact without a clear strategy.  A clear strategy makes it easier to ask for resources and to attract volunteers.  Network leaders should identify the network’s purpose, set goals and determine how they are going to achieve them.

DO represent the grassroots

One of the great benefits of a women’s network is that it is squarely rooted in the junior and mid-levels of seniority within the organisations and understands the challenges of women at those levels (e.g. need for flexible working, appreciation and promotion transparency).  Networks listen and represent those challenges up the chain, providing an essential and often-lacking communications channel between management and team members.

DO provide safe spaces

Networks are great at providing a forum for discussion of stimulating topics that may not get aired, such as what it takes for women to thrive or how to treat others so they feel valued.  One crucial function, therefore, is to hold that space for members so that they can discuss challenges, apprehensions and experiences in a judgment-free, supportive environment.  Whether it’s by hosting lunch-and-learns on specific topics or running facilitated discussions, a safe space in which members can debate and think is worth its weight in gold.

DON’T take on too much

I frequently see networks attempting to deliver the work of another work function, like running soft skills training or helping deliver CSR strategy. While it’s great to cooperate, networks should set boundries between their responsibilities and the responsibilities of support functions.  Networks are run by volunteers whose precious time should be spent delivering on their clearly defined and cautiously guarded remit.

DON’T exclude people

Some women’s networks resist opening their membership to men.  In my experience, this is a mistake.  Men who join gender networks identify with their agenda and want to help.  It would be foolish to turn down members who are supportive and can help raise awareness.  This is also an opportunity to model the behaviours you’d like to see, by treating others the way you’d like to be treated: welcomed, valued and included.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a healthy budget

As women, we tend to shy away from asking for a robust network budget, feeling undeserving or unimportant.  As a result, we often pre-empt the outcome of a budget conversation with our own misgivings.  Yet having a budget that allows networks to achieve their stated goals is crucial and empowering.  Do what it takes by enlisting senior allies, collaborating with other networks and clearly identifying the commercial benefits of the network’s existence.  Above all, don’t underestimate the value of your contribution to the organisation.

If you would like me to help your company’s network, please get in touch.