The best inclusion workshop I’ve ever been to wasn’t an inclusion workshop

It was a play by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.  Or rather, it was a Saturday-night performance of Beckett’s one-person play Not I by two people: Jess Thom, artist, communicator, comedian and neuro-diverse disability activist with Tourette’s syndrome, and Charmaine Wombwell, a British Sign Language (BSL) performer.  And it wasn’t just the performance.  It was the whole evening.  It was a film and a conversation about the play, about disability, about neuro-diversity and about humour too.  And it was Jess herself.

I know just how hard it can be to design and deliver workshops on diversity and inclusion that make a real difference to how people think or act.  I don’t think I’m the only person (consultant, facilitator, coach on diversity and inclusion) who feels like that.  But Jess’s performance made a difference to me.  So for those of you who are designing or delivering inclusion workshops, or are more generally interested in how to create an inclusive culture where you work, here are three things that made Saturday night the best inclusion workshop I’ve been to.

  • One of the things that makes a culture inclusive is respect for difference. Disability and neurodiversity were respected – not just respected, but celebrated – to the max on Saturday night.  It began before we even arrived: when I booked the tickets I noted how the performances were described as ‘relaxed’, which Jess’s website defines as offering ‘a warm welcome to people who find it difficult to follow the usual conventions of theatre behaviour. This can include: people with learning disabilities, movement disorders, autistic spectrum disorder, other neurological conditions, those with young children or babies, and of course, people with Tourettes’.  In fact a relaxed performance seems like good news for everyone: we were all encouraged to move around the studio as much as we wanted, to be noisy and comfortable, at any time.  Other examples of respecting difference: Jess and Charmaine told the audience what was going to happen at the beginning of the performance – how long each section would last, what we’d be doing and when. For some people that kind of information is vital to their ability to participate.  It helped me too.  It allowed me to stop worrying about whether we’d make the train home, and be fully in the room for the duration of the play.  And Charmaine was on the stage with Jess throughout, translating the play and Jess’s performance and conversations with the audience into BSL.  She wasn’t on the margins but core to the performance.

 

  • Another thing that makes for an inclusive culture is a sense of connectedness with other people. There was a big emphasis on making connections and building meaningful relationships on Saturday night.  Some of the things that got me thinking about this: the way in which Jess and her team warmly welcomed us into the theatre with personal greetings and an invitation to sit where we wanted.  The encouragement we were given to get to know audience members sitting next to us.  The diversity, range of expertise and experiences of the people who were shown coming together to create the production, from grime artists to costume makers specialising in the use of lights (who knew?).  Jess’s warmth and humour which made her instantly likeable.  And her openness about living with Tourette’s and her invitation to ask any question we liked.  The feeling that we all belonged, that we were meant to be there together, at least for as long as the performance lasted.

 

 

  • The third thing that helps with inclusion is raising awareness. The evening was hugely informative about Tourettes, which is a neurological condition affecting Jess and more than 300,000 children and people in the UK.  I’d really encourage you to visit Jess’s website to find out more.  It’s not about uncontrolled swearing, which is how I’d misunderstood it.  A key feature of Tourettes is that people make involuntary and uncontrollable sounds (vocal tics) and movements (motor tics) multiple times a day.  Jess’s vocal tics include ‘hedgehog’, ‘biscuit’ and ‘sausages’.  Jess says on her website that ‘It’s possible to suppress tics for a while, but eventually they have to be let out. I often tell children this is a bit like how it feels if you try not to blink’.  As the mother of teenage children I really felt it when Jess described how as a teenager she used to try to hide her tics, and would disappear to the loo every few minutes to let them out.  And it was powerful and moving to hear Jess describe how learning about the social model of disability – which says people are not disabled by their condition but by the failure of the world around to take account of difference – had been a massive liberation, transforming her sense of herself, and her life.

Saturday night reminded me about learning about inclusion through the experience of being included.  It brought home to me – again – that there’s nothing more powerful than connecting with someone’s personal experiences to help raise awareness and understanding.  And it made me wonder how I might incorporate at least some of the guidance for a relaxed performance the next time I facilitate a workshop or a meeting.

For more information visit Jess’s website on https://www.touretteshero.com/: ‘a place to celebrate the humour and creativity of Tourette’s’.

Checklist for successful interventions

If you’re in the process of planning, designing or delivering any kind of intervention on diversity and inclusion in your organisation, then you may find the following useful.  It’s a checklist of ten success factors: the things you need to pay attention to on design and delivery, in order to maximise the likelihood of any intervention making a positive difference.

Fellow consultant Gilly Shapiro and I have developed this list based on our collective experience of working with clients across the sectors on organisational development and change, diversity and inclusion.  We’ve also drawn on insights from others, including two recent resources: Why Diversity Programs Fail And what works better, HBR, July-August 2016; What Works: Gender Equality by Design, Iris Bohnet, 2016.

It’s a simple checklist.  You’ll find it quick to read and – we hope – intuitive.  But in our experience of working with and observing organisational approaches on diversity and inclusion, it’s a list that’s definitely easier read than done.

We’d love to know what you think of it.  It is useful to you?  And what have we missed?  You can download a printable pdf of the list here: Checklist for successful interventions

CHECKLIST FOR SUCCESSFUL INTERVENTIONS ON DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

  • Successful interventions have influential sponsorship (most likely senior leaders who are active, visible, and want to see things change)
  • There is an appetite for the intervention (there’s a business case or some other motivation/ diagnostic/ insight which provides evidence of the need for change)
  • The intervention is resourced for success and sustainability (time, budget, people)
  • It’s understood as part of a broader organisational system (interconnections and impact on other organisational practices are explored, the intervention targets system and process change not just individual behaviour)
  • Target populations are involved in designing the intervention (the ‘nothing about me without me’ principle)
  • Managers are engaged in solving the problem (in designing the intervention and in its implementation)
  • The intervention creates alliances between different groups (reducing the power of homogenous networks, encouraging contact between different groups)
  • The intervention is sector and organisation-specific, inspired by but not copied from good practice in other organisations
  • There is accountability and responsibility (both for taking action, and for impact)
  • There is transparency about success and failure, and learning from both

On the challenge of appreciation

2017-redstone-diary-3On 30 December I saw this lovely 2017 Redstone Diary in the window of the Amnesty International bookshop near where we live, on Bristol’s Gloucester Road.  On New Year’s Eve I resolved to be more appreciative, and to keep a daily record of people and things in my life that I’m appreciative of. On Tuesday 3 January I bought the diary.  That evening I recorded that:

  • I’m alive
  • My family and I are safe and warm in our house, and we love each other
  • It was a beautiful winter’s day today

It took about 30 seconds.  The next day, Wednesday 4 January, I forgot to fill in the diary.  This morning, Thursday 5 January, I realised I’d forgotten.  It wasn’t that there was nothing to appreciate yesterday.  I just forgot to.  I talk about appreciation a lot, and about the contribution which appreciating difference makes to diversity and inclusion.  But yesterday’s forgetting reminds me that just like inclusion, appreciation doesn’t just happen.  Simply remembering to appreciate can be the first challenge.

For a reminder of why appreciation at work matters so much, see https://hbr.org/2012/01/why-appreciation-matters-so-mu.html

For some practical advice about keeping a gratitude journal (including how to remember!) see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-jessen/gratitude-journal_b_7745854.html

A new framework and some great collaboration

It was terrific to partner with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Science Council in 2016, to create a new tool on diversity and inclusion for professional engineering institutions and scientific bodies (the professional bodies of the science and engineering worlds).  The process of developing the first ever bespoke Progression Framework on diversity and inclusion for the professional bodies was a truly collaborative – and rewarding – experience, not only between scientists and engineers, but between all of those involved in the Steering Group, and the companies who piloted the Framework in its final stages, and of course collaborators with for business sake too.

‘But what is a progression framework?’, I hear you ask.  Well, this one is a bespoke diversity and inclusion ‘maturity model’, which describes generically what progress on diversity and inclusion looks like for professional bodies at four levels of attainment, from Level 1 to Level 4.  We called the four levels Initiating, Developing, Engaging and Evolving.

It’s also a step-by-step account of what each level of attainment means in practical terms for eight functional areas in the everyday work of these organisations, from leadership and governance to marketing and communications.  In this way the Progression Framework helps people working day-to-day see what they can do to ‘mainstream’ or ‘integrate’ diversity and inclusion into their areas of the business.

You can download an overview of the Progression Framework and examples of each level of attainment for each functional area by clicking on this link.

for business sake’s chief collaborator and 50:50 partner on this work was Dr Gillian Shapiro, whose site you can visit here: Shapiro Consulting ltd.  As ever it was wonderful to work with her.  Helpful advice and new insights were also provided by Tony Belgrave of Positive Deviant and Helen Wollaston, Director of WISE.

Wishing you all a collaborative 2017!

Refugees are our business, too

I had a fascinating time in 2015, working as a consultant on gender equity, diversity and inclusion with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.  My task was to help UNHCR review and refresh its approach on gender equity, diversity and inclusion for the 9500 staff who work to safeguard the rights and well-being of millions of ‘displaced persons’ (refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, stateless and internally displaced people) right across the globe.

For the last several years I’ve been working on diversity and inclusion in the corporate world, in-house or as an external consultant.  Returning to that world at the end of my time with UNHCR I have been struck by three things:

  • I’m often asked ‘what’s new, what’s coming up?’ in workplace diversity and inclusion – and after working in UNHCR I say this is what’s coming up – refugee and migrant inclusion. At the same time that I had all the luck and the opportunity to work in Geneva, one million migrants were struggling to Europe across land and sea, many fleeing war, conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.  290,000 migrants had their applications for asylum in Europe approved in 2015.  Not all refugees will want to work or be capable of doing so, but many will, and will have the skills, experiences, talent and aspiration which European business needs. To help make entry into the labour market a success, business will need to take the learning from established approaches to inclusion on gender, ethnicity, disability etc and apply these to refugee inclusion too.  And starting small, starting now, makes sense, by helping to challenge stereotypes, misinformation and fear that exist, and in practical terms by recruiting refugees into roles that make use of their skills and experience.
  • Second, there’s a strong business case for corporates to do what they can to facilitate refugee inclusion, as well as a moral imperative. It’s partly about businesses making the most of the talent and experience which refugees bring (a study showed 78% of Syrians arriving in Germany in during 2013 to 2014 were middle class and well-educated) and partly about building relationships with refugees as future consumers and customers.  In Refugee Economies Alexander Betts and his colleagues highlight the numerous other ways in which refugees can benefit host economies as ‘producers, consumers, employees, beneficiaries, lenders, borrowers and social entrepreneurs’.
  • Third, I’ve been struck by how little visible engagement there is from business in the refugee crisis, in Europe at least. There are examples of employers doing good work to raise money, build capacity and develop skills (such as the signatories to this UN pledge and those supporting the Tent foundation) .  But overall as journalist Gillian Tett wrote in the Financial Times, early in 2016: ‘the voice of business has been extraordinarily muted, if not absent, from this wider policy debate’.  I understand why.  It may not be the clearest or most pressing or politically most comfortable place for business to be.  But refugee inclusion is not going away, and getting business leaders round the table with the humanitarian sector for a conversation that begins ‘Refugees are our business, too’ feels to me morally and commercially like the right thing to do.  If this is of interest to you too, please do get in touch.

From unconscious bias to conscious inclusion

The concept of ‘unconscious bias’ has captured the interest of employers and breathed new life into action on diversity and inclusion in recent years.  Like many others, we’ve done a lot of work with clients on this issue, supporting employees and their bosses to acknowledge their own stereotypes, and providing them with tools and techniques to address bias in their day-to-day work.

It’s undeniably a step in the right direction, when bias is no longer unconscious.  When it’s conscious, there’s a chance to do something about it. But it’s the doing something about it that organisations and individuals often find difficult.  And I’ve been wondering why.

I’m completely in agreement with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who argues in her recent post that there’s something undeniably negative about unconscious bias.  Maybe that’s part of the reason employees and organisations don’t seem that motivated to do things differently, despite the ‘surge of interest’ in unconscious bias.  They are being asked to ‘manage’ or ‘minimise’ something they now realise they have (individual or institutional bias) but don’t particularly like.  Important as it is, there’s nothing particularly motivating or appealing about that.

As Avivah says, a more motivating approach is to focus people and organisations on ‘positive outcomes’ rather than ‘accusing them of misbehaviour – conscious or unconscious’.  The positive outcome I think we need to focus on is building the skill of how to include – that is, building the desire and the insight and the capacity of employees, managers and leaders to make decisions, do business, to think and act with the conscious intent of including rather than the unconscious effect of excluding.

The question for leaders, managers, HR, employees, for all those involved in changing culture on diversity and inclusion becomes not ‘what biases do I have, that I need to manage?’, but a much more positive and empowered and conscious one – ‘what can I or we do here, in this particular situation, to include?’.

This is the step from unconscious bias, towards conscious inclusion. One of the insights of the work on unconscious bias is to show how discrimination and exclusion are often unintentional, they ‘just happen’.  Unlike exclusion, inclusion isn’t something that just happens, at least not yet.  It requires effort and attention; it requires us to be conscious. Conscious inclusion

What can OD offer D&I?

After spending two days at the ODN Europe conference last week, my answer to that question is – lots!  Admittedly, I went to the event looking for new insights into organisational change from theorists and practitioners at the cutting edge of OD.  And it’s easy to feel evangelical after a stimulating conference with great speakers, interesting participants, convivial networking.  But from the opening address onwards, I was hooked.  With each speaker, workshop, conversation, paper, I heard a bit more about current thinking on how change in organisations happens – or doesn’t.  And with that dawned a new perspective on why progress on diversity and inclusion is so slow.  Let me give you an example.

The first speaker at the conference was Professor Ralph Stacey from the University of Hertfordshire, talking about complexity and change.  The main message that I took from his hour-long talk (given without notes, slides or a microphone) was about the potential of tiny changes in organisations to make a huge difference.  Now there’s nothing massively radical or innovative about that you might think, but in delivering the message he contrasted that approach with one which relies on a top-down, plan-driven prescription for change – a prescription which often enough is shown to be ineffective in practice, but which people continue to act out in the service of the change they are hoping to bring about.  And why don’t such plans work?  Because, he argued, the control and order which having a plan implies is a fiction.  Because at a deep and personal level we all have different plans, spoken or unspoken, and what actually happens happens at the ‘interplay of all our different plans and intentions’; because change at the macro level emerges and is made real at the local level, at the unpredictable, messy, emotional level of identity and human relationships – and conversations.

As Stacey said all this, I couldn’t help thinking about how we in the D&I profession also appear to rely on what feels increasingly like ‘sparse and repetitive thinking’ (his words) about how change happens.  You probably know what I mean – the oft-repeated formula of a compelling business case linked to organisational objectives, senior level commitment, clarity about accountabilities and responsibilities, communication, networks, sponsorship, development programmes etc etc.  The thing is – this top-down thinking and planning may be theoretically right, but in practice it’s not having the effect we’d hoped on diversity and inclusion, any more than it’s working for other kinds of change.  Stacey helped me visualise another approach, which challenges and refreshes the somewhat jaded conversations about diversity in many of our organisations, and encourages a much more energetic, complex, messy, local approach.  I don’t mind admitting, I’m not yet sure what this really looks like in practice – but I’m now on a mission to find out!