On my reading list

It’s been head down these last couple of weeks preparing my final portfolio for the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (www.tavinstitute.org) Practice Certificate on Consulting and Change and also facilitating the first of a series of four discussion forums on organisational resilience with heads of HR and OD from the public and private sectors, on behalf of the Whitehall and Industry Group (www.wig.co.uk).

As a consequence the reading matter is just piling up.  I thought I’d share what’s on my immediate list (the books I’ve started, or just bought and am particularly looking forward to).  I can’t give much insight into the books themselves right now, but if you’ve read them, or have other reading suggestions around diversity, inclusion and organisational change, do let me know.  And tangential is good, at least as far as provoking new thinking goes.

First up, Rising Stars: Developing millennial women as leaders, by Elisabeth Kelan, Associate Professor in the Department of Management at King’s College London and published by Palgrave Macmillan.  I’m interested to read this account of how gender and generation intersect in the workplace through the eyes of millennial women (also known as Generation Y, those born after 1977) and the implications for employers wanting to recruit, hold onto and develop women of this generation.  I’ll particularly be looking out for ‘what’s new here?’ that will help change practice for women and for employers.

Next, Great by Choice, by Jim Collins and Morten T Hansen, published by Random House.  I never read Jim Collins’ Good to Great so I’ve nothing to compare it with, but this book interests me because of its promise to explain how it is that some companies thrive in chaos and complexity, and others don’t.  This in turn touches on a couple of favourite topics of mine – consulting to clients in a turbulent environment, and organisational (and individual) resilience.  I’m doing quite a lot of thinking about resilience at the moment, and diversity, and how these connect, will come back to the subject another time (probably more than once…).

Third, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum, by Katherine Boo, published by Portobello.  I bought this because it was described in the FT as ‘an interview-based narrative in which the interviewer never appears’ and I like reading factual books that tell stories; because it’s twenty years since I went to India, and I want to understand better how things have changed, or not; also because it’s described on the back cover as ‘a beautiful account, told through real-life stories, of the sorrow and joys, anxieties and stamina, in the lives of the precarious and powerful in urban India whom a booming country has failed to absorb and integrate’.  Wow.  Incidentally the FT’s list of Best Books for 2012 itself is superb.  I’ve bought quite a lot of presents for other people from it (and like the Boo book, presents for self too).  Here’s the link: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/88bdb3c0-37cf-11e2-a97e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2EdfAX9HG

Also on my list is Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, by Daniel Goleman, published by Bloomsbury.  A classic, and the bits I’ve read have been very relevant to current discussions around unconscious bias in the workplace.  It’s not as readable as I thought it would be but I’m going to hang on in there and finish it.

Last but definitely not least, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (the beautiful new paperback Penguin English Library edition).  I can’t believe I’ve never read this.  I saw the film with my son a couple of weeks ago, and I loved it.  Now I can’t wait to read the book.

Knowing me, knowing you

A more introspective piece this week, on the role of self-knowledge in leading change on diversity and inclusion, prompted by reading an article on ‘The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD’ by Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge which you can access here.  Mee-Yan is an organisational development (OD) guru and was voted one of HR’s top 25 most influential UK thinkers in 2012.

Her article – now over ten years old – is about the heightened self-awareness or self-knowledge required to be an effective OD consultant.  Getting to the requisite level of self-knowledge – or what she terms ‘instrumentality’ – isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  It means, in Mee-Yan’s own words:

–          ‘Devoting time and energy to learning about who we are, and how issues of family history, gender, race and sexuality affect self-perception.  It means also identifying and exploring the values by which we live our lives, as well as developing our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities’

–          ‘Get to know your fears, blind spots and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in .. the work you do’

–           ‘Dedicating time to the on-going maintenance of both self-knowledge and technical expertise’

Three things struck me about the article:

First, everything that Mee-Yan wrote about the self-knowledge required to be an OD practitioner and consultant I think also applies to diversity and inclusion practitioners and consultants, and indeed to managers and leaders wanting to see change on diversity and inclusion in their organisations.

We can’t hope to inspire change in the attitudes and behaviour of others around difference, or understand the resistance that such attempts at change provoke, without first spending time and energy on getting to know and interpret our own beliefs and behaviours and reactions to difference.  I know myself that that can be pretty discomfiting, but it needs to be done.

Second, self-awareness is something that is generally left out of the skills and attributes required of diversity practitioners.  The competency model for D&I practitioners to which I most often refer – and refer others – is published by the Conference Board, and is called appropriately Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners. It’s an exhaustive collation of knowledge, skills and behaviours under eight business-like headings: change management; diversity, inclusion and global perspective; business acumen; strategic external relations; integrity; vision and strategic leadership, and HR competencies.

Written in 2008, it’s stood the test of time for me – until now.  Because now I feel it has one glaring omission – possibly the most difficult competency of all to acquire  – that of real self-knowledge.  Mee-Yan Cheng-Judge refers to use of the self as instrument as a ‘cornerstone for the future of OD’.  I think it’s the cornerstone for the future of D&I too.

Third, Mee-Yan’s article was written well before the explosion of interest in unconscious bias as an explanation for the slow progress being made in many organisations towards real change on diversity and inclusion.  Unconscious bias awareness activities are now all about building self-awareness and self-knowledge, and form an integral part of many an organisation’s diversity action plan.

The thing is, unconscious bias programmes promise self-awareness in 90 minutes.  I’ve been part of such programmes, and it’s true they are powerful and enlightening.  But Mee-Yan sees the development of self-awareness and self-knowledge as an ongoing journey, in effect a lifetime commitment, which I suspect is a more realistic – though less palatable – timetable for real self-knowledge.

Women experts and speedy organisations

Three cheers this week for Caroline Criado-Perez who has set up www.thewomensroom.org.uk to gather and showcase the names of women experts, in response to the BBC’s recent assertion that it couldn’t find any women experts to debate breast cancer treatment on Radio 4’s Today programme.   It’s a great idea, and very simple.  Women can either self-nominate on the still-developing site as having expertise or experience – in anything, really – or can be nominated by someone else.  The first few experts up there include an oceanographer, a postdoctoral researcher into astronomy, a midwife, a university lecturer and a family lawyer.  This evolving list of media-friendly women experts will help demonstrate to the BBC – and indeed to any other doubting Thomas or Thomasina – that there are in fact plenty of women experts out there.  It’s just a question of making the effort to look.

So if you are a woman with expertise or experience to share, and are willing to speak out on your subject – or if you know anybody who might fit that bill – then you should definitely check out the site.

It’s not just the media that struggles with this though.  It’s also the organisations that the media approaches for comment.  They have their own internal lists of experts to whom a request for comment or appearance will routinely be directed.

So if you are a woman with expertise or experience, you should also ask yourself if your own organisation’s external comms team would know to come to you for expert opinion.  If not, be sure to make yourself known to them too. That way, the next time your organisation is approached direct by the media for comment, it will also have you on its own list of experts.  And organisations could take a more proactive approach themselves, refreshing their own lists of usual-suspect experts with the female talent that exists but is so often invisible in all organisations.

Finally, I’m impressed by speed and passion-over-perfection attitude with which www.thewomensroom.org.uk has been set up, and the mingling of old and new media which has helped create it.   In less than a week it’s gone from an idea inspired by an old-media radio report, to a Twitter request, to the pilot set-up of an on-line organisation, to an article which I read about today in an old-media Sunday newspaper.  The idea needs some development, the site’s not perfect, but it’s already up and running.  Business just ain’t what it used to be.

Do the continental walk!

Two steps back for business this week, as EU proposals for quotas for women on boards hit the skids, and Cynthia Carroll joined Marjorie Scardino as the second woman CEO of a FTSE 100 company to step down this month.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights, has been campaigning for Europe’s listed companies to be required to appoint women to 40% of their Board positions by 2020.  There’s been a lot of opposition from business – particularly in the UK and apparently particularly from women – on the basis that gender quotas will result in poorly qualified women being appointed to Boards to make up the 40%, and quotas in any case don’t make any difference to the ‘real issue’ of the representation of women in the pipeline to Executive roles.

On the first point, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there are enough talented women out there to fill 40% of Board positions right now, let alone in eight years’ time.  Three cheers then for Martha Lane Fox, founder of lastminute.com, who described the view that quotas result in ‘sub-standard’ women on boards as ‘patronising and sexist’.  On the second point, it seems that the quota for women on Boards in Norway and elsewhere has done little to increase the number of women CEOs in European business.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  Why not learn from the experience in Norway instead, and redouble efforts to strengthen the pipeline alongside (not instead of) the introduction of Board quotas?

Still, all is not lost, and I have my fingers crossed for a redoubling of efforts on quotas themselves later in the year. Viviane Reding’s Twitter feed from last week (@VivianeRedingEU) tells a poignant 58-word story of hope crushed but not defeated:

22 October: ‘This week, I will fight for a Directive to bring about gender equality in corporate boardrooms’

22 October:  ‘Of course, there will be some opposition.  But #Europe has a lot to gain from more diverse corporate boards’

23 October: ‘Gender balance directive postponed’

23 October: ‘I will not give up.  @BarrosoEU [Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission] will put this on the Commission agenda again before the end of November’

And talking of the pipeline, disappointment at Cynthia Carroll’s decision to step down as CEO of Anglo-American, joining Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, who announced her decision to resign in the same month (as indeed did Kate Swann, CEO of WH Smith).  With just two women CEOs of FTSE 100 companies remaining (Angela Ahrendts of Burberry and Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco) the high-profile business-women role models for my teenage daughter remain few and far between.

On a lighter note, take a minute to check out Hank Ballard and the Midnighters doing ‘The Continental Walk’ here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaf-9Su_xTw  It’ll get you singing all the way to the boardroom!

Two great reads on culture and change

First up, two excellent reads on culture and change.  Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career (Harvard Business Press, 2003) is a classic.  Ibarra’s a great story-teller, and she talks business (not really surprising – she’s Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD).  So she recounts rollicking tales of change and transition in the working lives of Pierre, Lucy, Gary and others, and from these develops nine ‘unconventional strategies’ for career reinvention.  Her strategies turn the orthodoxy of change upside down, and as someone who’s gone/ going through a career transition, moving from corporate life to setting up a consulting practice, I find their directness and self-acceptance inspiring.  Here are my top four:

Unconventional strategy 1: Act your way into a new way of thinking and being.  You cannot discover yourself by introspection

Unconventional strategy 2: Stop trying to find your one true self.  Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about

Unconventional strategy 6: Don’t just focus on the work.  Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition.  But don’t expect to find them in your same old social circles

Unconventional strategy 7: Don’t wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed.  Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through.  Practice telling and retelling your story.  Over time, it will clarify

If you’re embarking on a career transition – or working or living with someone who is – I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

This next book is a really good read too.  It’s Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things (Polity, 2008), an anthropological study of thirty front rooms in a south London street – or rather, the moving, gripping, full, empty, concluded, inconclusive stories of thirty people told through their possessions, their clothes, their pictures, the furnishings, the stuff of their front rooms.  Like Ibarra, Miller’s a great story-teller; I took this book on holiday with me and honestly couldn’t put it down.  It also got me thinking about the front rooms of organisations, about the cultures and values made manifest – sometimes consciously, and more often not – in the furniture, art, papers, coffee machines, flooring and lighting of the foyers and reception areas of the organisations we work with, and in the behaviours of the people who work there.  I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a study of organisational front rooms, but if so, do let me know – I’d love to read it!