A blog by Sade Joseph, consultant, and Radojka Miljevic, partner at Campbell Tickell.
If you prefer a narrated version of this blog, scroll down to the bottom
I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars that keep us apart
I wish you could know what it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be freeI wish I knew how it would feel to be free, Nina Simone
You could be forgiven for thinking that our new Groundhog Day is inequality. Each morning we wake up to yet another example of how entrenched and all-pervasive inequality has become. We see how those who sit in positions of power seem to float oblivious above criticism, in a bubble of privilege. It is natural, faced by all this, to succumb to gloom; but we must fight that, and put to work whatever privilege we ourselves may have in doing so. We have become used to social distancing through the pandemic, But philosophically we need to do the very opposite. Now we must seek intimacy and connection, to wear the shoes of the other and to see and hear all of the things that get in the way of feeling free.
In the early UK upsurge of Black Lives Matter, after George Floyd’s murder, there was – and still is – a clamour for change. We felt and voiced it too. But we have wondered since then whether rushing to action, however well intentioned or motivated, is the best decision. Is a just a way of avoiding the discomfort of the mess where we find ourselves? Are we perhaps rushing in to think we are ‘fixing’ things in a way that makes us feel better, but may lead only to superficial change?
This is not to say that we should do nothing – quite the contrary. We should be doing a lot. And learning, reflecting and understanding who ‘we’ are is a vital first step to action. We must take care to steward change well. If we want what we plant to flourish, we need to do the groundwork, so that the green shoots can ‘take’ in a way that feels solid and resilient to shocks.
For those organisations that feel stuck, here are our prescription on some issues you could and should be considering so as to create a culture for positive change.
Take leadership of equality, diversity and inclusion
This means doing the work. What have you done to educate yourselves, what have you read/watched/explored further?
If you are a team, who have you found to help you have a different conversation with yourselves, to challenge your thinking, complacency or inaction?
If you start up conversations with staff from under-represented groups to figure out what to do and yet haven’t taken time to identify what is already known about these subjects, what are they likely to think and feel about you and your commitment?
What strategic status and value has been attached to ED&I considerations?
Address the matter of culture
In the past, we’ve seen too many examples of organisations which think a solitary appointment in a board or a leadership team has somehow ‘sorted’ their approach. Prioritising the need for diverse teams and leadership is welcome, but getting through the door is only half the battle. Access is not inclusion. Appointed members from under-represented groups may continue to feel like outsiders if the organisational culture does not embrace and value them.
Diversity gives individuals from different backgrounds (including religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, race, disability and age) space in the room but leaves limited or no capacity for their thoughts and way of life.
Without inclusion, there is a risk of discrimination, unethical practices and perceived tokenism, even in the most well-intentioned organisations. In addition, the absence of inclusion could hinder business performance and limit opportunities to yield better outcomes. This might include more profit, growth, fulfilling the organisation’s core purpose, gaining a competitive advantage, fostering innovation, increasing staff productivity, job satisfaction and employee retention.
Commit to learning: know what you mean, mean what you do
Some of this learning is about your colleagues, your teams and your employees. Inclusion takes diversity further by establishing a cultural difference. A truly inclusive and positive culture requires a continuous commitment to creating an environment where individuals of all backgrounds have a sense of belonging and are welcomed, recognised, respected and expected.
Individuals should be encouraged to feel safe and comfortable to be their whole authentic selves. They must feel free to express themselves without fear of retribution, humiliation, or jeopardising their position, relationships or reputation.
Invest time in building constructive working stakeholder relationships across the organisation (including senior and junior staff) and getting to know them, their needs and backgrounds.
Accept that your learning is continuous. This is a lifelong process. If you have fear or anxiety or don’t know where to start, talk to your peers and you’ll find that everyone is learning. Inaction and passivity simply allow inequality to prevail.
Develop your leadership
Think about how inspiring leadership is relational. If you think you can lead your organisation without properly understanding how people feel working there – whether they feel the culture is open, transparent, inclusive – then there’s a chance you’re not leading well.
Make sure that there are ways of understanding your culture quantitatively and qualitatively. The fact that so many organisations have been uncovering recently elements of bullying and racism suggests that their leaders haven’t sought the right assurance about their cultures to date.
Don’t just think about people’s accountability to you, but reflect on the power dynamics in organisations and how you can be better accountable to others. Explore and actively listen to how the organisation’s culture and internal processes impact stakeholders’ daily experiences within the organisation while demonstrating compassion. Ensure effective mechanisms for people to speak up. And don’t forget to focus on outcomes for others – are the golden opportunities shared? What is in place to help individuals make the best use of their talents and contribute effectively?
Search for the truth
So in conclusion – the stories that are framed and told about organisations owe much to the identity of their authors. If leaders want their organisational narratives and cultures to be rich, diverse and dynamic, as we’ve underlined in this piece, a first part of the journey must be a search for truth. This means learning how much there is still to do and to learn – and to taking some time to find out ‘what it means to be me’.
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