I’m a cisgender, binary, Indian, heterosexual male and here’s why that matters

I haven’t been writing too much about L&D and the world of work lately. In fact, the writing bug has kind of gone away from me. I’m far more concerned at the moment about how there are many people in society who are struggling in dealing with their own emotions and thoughts about people with difference.

This isn’t just restricted to the outcome from the Brexit vote. More and more I’m seeing that people with difference are being targeted and ostracised for no other factor than they are different.

What is becoming starkly aware to me is that there are privileges associated to however we identify ourselves, and often those privileges are taken for granted and we do not fully appreciate the impact of those privileges.

If you’re reading this because of the title of the blog, here’s why the title matters. I’m warning you now, this is quite likely to be uncomfortable reading – particularly if you’re a someone who has never considered they needed to think about these things in this way before.

With the exception of being Indian, I’m about as ‘normal’ as normal gets, and I’ve come to understand that there’s a lot of bias and unspoken prejudice that I have which can impact on others and I may not even realise it.

Cisgender means I identify as the gender with which my biology determines. In my case, that means I’m male because my biology is male, and I self-identify as being male.

If you’re gay or lesbian, you’re still quite possibly cisgender in that you identify as the same gender as your biology suggests – male or female.

Some people don’t identify as cisgender. That is they don’t agree that because their biology may suggest they are a gender, that they actually are. That’s what is called transgender. Also some may not identify as any gender, and that’s called genderqueer or gender fluid.

Binary in the context of sexuality means I’m either masculine or feminine. I am masculine, I am male, I am a man.

Some people don’t identify as either male or female. That’s called non-binary. That means they don’t have a need to identify as either male or female and they can have any sexual orientation. This is markedly different from being gay or bisexual. It also means they do not identify with pronouns like ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’, ‘he’ or ‘she’ they are likely to prefer ‘Mx’ or ‘they’.

I’m Indian. Although, to be exact I’m a British-born Indian. My heritage is from India. I identify with much of what it is to be Indian in terms of my culture and religion. Being British-born means I have a range of opportunities open to me that I may not normally have available to me. The education system, the healthcare system, my employment and so  much more have helped me become a fully committed citizen to Britain, our values and or way of life.

There is a population of people who do not understand how to appreciate the impact of living in a predominantly white country. I’m not talking about the racists or bigots in society. I’m talking about normalised conversations. Ethnic minority families have to have conversations at home with their families and friends about how to integrate well when they’re out and about. When they go for job interviews they have to explain how to dress like a white person, and talk in the Queen’s English, because that’s the norm. When they go to the restaurant, they have to understand how to eat in conservative ways, conforming to social etiquette, and how to be respectful to others around them. When they go to the beach, they do so in an effort to expose their children to normal experiences that white people don’t think twice about but for an ethnic minority may be incredibly uncomfortable. It means when I go to a conference or networking event, I have to be on my best English behaviour because anything out of that norm is met with confusion and misunderstanding.

I’m male. That means I already have privileges available to me, and all I’ve done is just be of one gender. I can raise my voice when with friends and be dismissed as ‘just being a guy’. I can make a sexist remark to women and be dismissed as ‘just what men do’. I can act with prejudice and stereotypes and be explained as ‘such a typical guy thing to do’. I’m probably going to be accepted for a senior job role because I’m a man. I’m probably going to receive a higher salary because I’m a man.

Why does any of this matter?

Because it’s not about treating people as equal. That conversation is now old, redundant and ineffectual. We have strived to treat people as equals, and all we’ve effectively done is teach people how not to offend others. We haven’t helped people understand how to appreciate difference, how to enquire about it genuinely and how to not just accept difference but deeply value it.

Instead we get caught up in conversations like:

” But which toilet will a transgender person use?”

“Does that mean they’re attracted to me or not?”

“But, how do I pronounce Mx?”

“Do they still have their genitalia or new bits?”

“Will we offend by either inviting that person out or not?”

We get caught up in conversations that are less about valuing the person and the difference they have and more concerned about triviality that does not help the individual feel valued.

Or the other end of that conversation tends to be “why does it matter, why can’t we all just be people?”. The sad truth is that we don’t really value each other as people as it stands, so these labels do matter.

Labels matter because people need an identity that they can claim as their own. Our identity is a fundamental part of accepting our place in life. Without that, we can’t be a fully functioning person. For people with difference to that of the society they live in, can and does cause a range of personal decisions and life choices and can and does effect physical as well as mental health.

For most people, they won’t ever worry about things like this. Labels like these will be seen as divisive, and for the racists and bigots as ways to attack those with difference.

My hope is that we can start to understand how these labels can help others find their identity and in doing so help them find ways that they can be their full selves and their best selves in society.

This blog post is to share my own thoughts on the topics I’ve raised. They will be shared by some, and others will find it too hard to discuss well. I respectfully ask that if you find the above difficult and personally challenging that you don’t resort to abuse or attack.

Grace and humanity

Last week, I gave an Ignite talk for the inaugural Disrupt HR London event organised by Katrina Collier. I like the Ignite format because it forces you to have to be clear about your message, your story has to be tight and you are forced to think about images that help move your story along.

But this isn’t about me giving an Ignite talk. It’s about grace and humanity. The day of the event, there was an horrific terrorist attack at an airport in Turkey. 37 people died. In a week of turbulence, cultural instability and economic uncertainty, this was pretty hard for me to just grit my teeth and get on.

So, before I spoke, I asked for a minute’s silence in memory of those who were killed. I didn’t do this because I’m some amazing human being who has abundant love for humans, I did it because I needed to share what I was feeling with others. A complete group of strangers, with friends in the crowd, and with myself.

There’s plenty written about being authentic. I had been thinking all day that I’d not deliver the Ignite I intended to, and instead ad lib something about social cohesion, humanity and heart for each other.

If I wanted to deliver a talk, I needed to be well, release my negative energy in a useful way, and share that power with others. Most of us would have felt sadness at the attack, but most of us would be happy to just move on from it mentally and pretend it’s not relevant because it didn’t happen in our country.

I believe that if there is a platform to talk, we should use that platform to lift people up, raise the thinking, and discuss the important things. If we can do that, we improve things for everyone. There is a grace and a humanity I don’t experience often at formal events. Some people can deliver the most heart warming of talks because they are delivered with grace and humanity. They speak to us at a personal level. 

In organisations up and down the country, we’re all going to be faced with challenging times. With one another, we need the grace to accept that people will react differently to everything that’s happening around them as well as what’s happening personally for them. Where we can we need to see the humanity in decisions we choose to make. Some of those decisions will be about sound organisational decisions, and yet they may feel harsh and cold. If that’s the case, how do we find the humanity in what needs to be done?

I can advocate for such things because I believe in them. We all have the capacity to be graceful and have humanity in what we do. We don’t need to be disassociated or removed when we go through our decision making processes. Life is already enough of a challenge without people having to be cruel and divisive with another. Let’s help each other through. Grace and humanity for the win.

I will stand for inclusion. I will stand against intolerance.

Today, I am morose. More so than the riots we had across the UK in 2011. At the time of the riots I couldn’t understand how to help those who felt actively disaffected by the changes the government was sweeping onto them.

Today, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. I’m finding it hard to process, hard to help myself work through what I’m feeling, and feeling quite sad about what this means for our future as a country. I am British born, proud to be British, and have contributed in every way possible a citizen is expected to. And I have enjoyed being part of a union where peace has been the mainstay, and that we have grown and developed our collective ability to not only be more tolerant as a society, but also more accepting of difference.

And today, I am left feeling that those things are now less important and that those with power are fundamentally challenged in the mandate they thought they had.

I am concerned about the influence of UKIP on the UK scene, and I am very glad that they have no direct political influence in the UK. UKIP have one offical MP so their political power is far less than they would have us otherwise believe. But the rhetoric they’ve been allowed to foster and cultivate has driven many in society to forget that inclusion and acceptance of difference are important.

The ridiculous levels of argument and debate have seen experts reduced to nothing more than pains in the arse because their facts don’t match those of people who have a personal position. It is ridiculous because you would not question a doctor or an accountant or a lawyer on matters of which they know more about. It is their duty to be informed and to present information to helpfully advise others. When we don’t listen to those sound opinions because of nothing more than skepticism, we reduce our ability to be healthy individuals and increase our chances of being distrustful and end up acting out of spite.

People are sharing many reasons for the vote to Leave. This will continue for many years to come. My personal opinion is that we won’t know the true impact of this decision for at least a decade. Why that long? Because regardless of protocol, changes like this take time before those in power decide on how to act next. When they do, and things start to happen, evolution of that process has to happen. There will be implications and consequences that none of us can forecast at this stage or indeed over the next few years. The best that can happen is working a few months ahead at a time. Things won’t settle for years because there won’t be any certainty of anything for years.

This is quite possibly one of the most radical events of change we’ve seen in the Western world since 9/11.

What concerns me, more than anything, is the willingness by some in society to feel they have a voice for intolerance just because they can, and have less capacity for compassion and inclusion. Farage and UKIP have stoked fears amongst the populous like never before and are responsible for the negative attitudes held by their followers. They’ve long campaigned for exiting the EU, and now it’s happened, where will their attention turn to? Their rhetoric until today has been about the immigrant problem – and that’s not going to be resolved before we leave the EU, and certainly won’t be resolved for several years to come.

Which means their attentions turn to those of us in society with difference. Ethnic minorities are now at more risk of exclusion than before because of the rhetoric that had been allowed to be cultivated. The LGBTQ community will face abuse in a way that hasn’t been prevalent for more than a decade. Women will have a harder time to have equal status for no reason other than Farage and his white trope are mysoginists.

And that’s the problem with why we’re at right there. The Leave campaign has largely been led by white middle class men. In that group, where was the representation from the other communitities? They just weren’t there. And because they weren’t there, the Leave campaign couldn’t embark on an inclusive campaign because they had no-one to advise them otherwise.

I don’t accept intolerance. It only leads to people being ostracised, marginalised and made to be the problem. As much as Farage, Katie Hopkins and the likes feed on the fears of people, I know there are many in the Leave campaign who don’t agree with them or their positions. Some are good friends of mine.

I will stand for inclusion. I will lead with inclusion in mind and engage with inclusion as my heart. This is my stand. Come what may in the years to come – I will be known for actively seeking to ensure everyone has a voice, everyone has the opportunity to participate and everyone is included. I will stand for everyone who can’t stand for themselves. I will stand for myself, my family and my friends.

I will stand for inclusion.

The Innocuity of HR Blogging

A few weeks back I was at the Social Age Safari learning about all things social, learning, change and leadership. In one of the breakout sessions, there was a call to talk about blogging, how do people start, what should they write about, that kind of thing.

What got me is the perception that in writing thoughts through the medium of blogs could attract a backlash of responses. You know, people write something, a troll reads it and attacks them online for it. That kind of thing.

I mean, we’re talking about HR. Or L&D. Or Recruitment. You know, fairly unimportant and innocuous topics for most people in their day to day lives. In the main, people interact with these departments/teams when they have to. Beyond that, no one really cares about what’s happening in those teams. And most people certainly don’t care all that much what professionals in those spaces are talking about.

But social media invites a different set of thinking. Suddenly, once you hit that publish button, your writing is out there for the world to read, to scrutinise, to criticise. Also it’s out there to be praised, congratulated, and appreciated. What I’ve discovered over my time of blogging is that very little meets with anything close to trolling. At worst, I get personally challenged on a topic I might write. More regularly, people appreciate and support my writing. (I know this to be true of others, so I’m not talking about one man’s view of the world.)

Nearly everything I read in the HR space is falls in the safe space of ‘innocuous’. There is very little that is written that is truly contentious or challenging to people’s belief systems. We’re not writing about religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender biases, or anything which is likely to cause inordinate ire and trolling. In fact, most of what we write about is how to improve workplace practices in a number of ways. That’s always good and useful, and is hardly ever offensive.

In fact, there are so few controversial writers in the HR space that I can count them on two fingers.

I am known to sometimes write and be contentious. That’s not because I’m talking about something controversial, it’s because I choose to write about some topics in ways that is designed to provoke a reaction. I mean seriously, when I’m writing about 70:20:10 or modern workplace learning and causing a reaction from people, it’s definitely not about the topic.

So, this is to say, if you fancy writing, do it. Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you. You’re probably gonna write about leadership, HR practise, L&D theory and practise, or something related.

That’s such safe territory that I would willingly let my children read most of what I read about in this space. It is so innocuous that I would be happy for HR blogs to be posted on the walls of my children’s rooms just so they are exposed to writing. Most of what we write about is so niche and on topic that unless you work in the HR space, no one really gives a shit. (I’ve been blogging for about 7 years now, and I don’t think my wife has ever read one of my blog posts – I mean, I can’t express just how uninteresting it is to write in this space unless you’re a professional in this space.)

Which does present a challenge in other ways to the writing that we do. People like Julie Drybrough write with such heart that I get swept up in her words and poetic style. People like Doug Shaw write about things in such open and accessible ways that I can only appreciate him and what he does. People like David Goddin write about things which cut to the heart of the matter. People like David D’Souza write about pop culture and links to HR and I often laugh at what he writes. People like Joey Stephenson write about their reflections and I’m moved to think with her and gain better understanding of who she is as a person. People like Gemma Reucroft write about making the world of work better and not being a slave to the system. That’s where writing is special and lifts your thinking, lifts your attitude and can be supportive to you as a person.

Open conversations about diversity at conferences

It’s a tough one, and there are no right or wrong answers. There are questionable questions, and questionable answers. Sometimes we can respond with absolute brilliance, grace, respect and inclusion. At others times we can respond with ill thought, defensiveness, and lack of openness to feedback.

I see it fairly regularly these days at conferences. I last wrote about it 3 years ago and there’s not been much movement. Just have a look at the speaker line up at conferences and you’re more than likely to see a list of white people speaking. Some might be women. If you’re lucky, there may be the odd person of colour.

The best worst thing I’ve seen today is a well known consultancy holding a conference in a few weeks time, and their speaker list is pretty much exclusively their own consultants, and all are white.

In this day of 2016, how can we not take the idea of diversity more seriously? I am actually lost for words.

If you’re an organiser of events, then I’m kind of looking at you squarely in the eye. (Also, I am fully aware I’ve had some direct conversations about this in recent days, and this post isn’t directly about anything I’ve attended or have been commenting on.)

I’m writing this as if there’s an order of who has more importance in the list of diversity characters, and there really isn’t.

Is there gender diversity? That’s kind of the basics of what I’d expect to see. And I mean talking on the big stage, not in smaller breakout sessions. How many women do you have speaking to a large audience? Scared you won’t sell enough tickets with a woman headlining or being the keynote? Re-think your PR strategy, and, perhaps, your worth as a human.

Look at the diversity of ethnicity of the speakers. If you have a minority of your speakers from an ethnic minority, that’s just a cruel reflection of society. How can you make that better? Actively seek out people of colour who have an opinion on the topics you want to talk about. Can’t do that? NO EXCUSE, DO IT. Or are you making judgements that people of colour will only talk about things in angry voices and not add content of value? If not, what judgements are you making on having ethnically diverse speakers? And if you don’t have any/enough speaking at your conference, how can you objectively claim to be an inclusive conference?

Your audience may have diversity, that’s not the same as your speakers having diversity. When we attend events where people are speaking, we want to feel we have a connection with them. At a basic level, what we see is the connection we make. If I don’t see an ethnic minority person speaking, then how can I take that conference event seriously? If a woman in attendance doesn’t see a woman speaking, what social norms does that reinforce for her?

If your speakers are all white men, no matter how well they speak, and how great their content, how are you genuinely including people with difference into that event? Where is the inclusion? If you’re all patting each other on the back for such a great event, how are you challenging yourself to think better and actively seeking to include voices of difference?

We hear about privilege a lot when it comes to diversity and inclusion. That privilege comes from a place of blindness and ignorance. It comes from a place of not thinking and acting in the interests of sales. It comes from a place of justification and explaining why things haven’t happened.

It’s too hard a topic to articulate well in one blog post. It’s too hard a topic to debate well openly. It can easily (and often does) break down into abusive and offensive language.

If you’re a conference organiser, you have a moral obligation to improve this. Yes, there could be a business benefit, BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING THIS.

And here are some quick thoughts on what can be done to make things better:

  • Improve your PR and your marketing of your events so that more people are able to access the event
  • If you notice your speakers are either all white men, or white men and women, then you have work to do to make that better
  • If you notice that your speakers may not represent other important diversity factors such as disability or gender orientation, then you have to work to make that better too
  • There is nothing wrong in asking people of influence to share marketing with their networks so that you can make these things better.
  • If you’re holding an event and it’s in an area where a certain class/gender of people is likely to attend, then you’re automatically excluding others to attend
  • If your PR and marketing makes it sound like you have to be brought up in a certain environment or you’re making cultural references, or you need a certain type of education, then you need to think that through better
  • Actively analyse your audience makeup and speaker makeup to better understand how diverse they are and then decide on how you’re going to make it better

There are no right or wrong answers to any of this. There are questionable questions and questionable answers. Even in writing this, I am sure I have made exclusions and omitted important inclusions. I will get this wrong, and I will learn every single step of the way.

If you’re a conference organiser and you want to make this better, holding a conference isn’t the answer – acting on that gut feeling that this isn’t right is the answer and will make it better.

Delivering a new kind of L&D

I’ve been heading up a project for the organisation to work towards achieving 100% completion of appraisals (inclusive of review, objectives and PDP). It’s a tough target to achieve, and was set by the board so highlights the seriousness that is given to achieving the target. Cynicism of annual appraisals, and of targets like this aside, I want to share the approach we’ve taken internally in working towards achieving this.

The appraisal period for us spreads over April and May. There are still two weeks left, and we’ve already hit 75% – which I think is quite impressive. We’ve (my L&D Manager, Kate Bowden and I that is) managed to get this far without holding a single person-led training session – be that in person or digitally. (We’re an organisation of about 1200 people.) Instead, what we did was re-think the way we support our managers and staff to access the right resources, make use of internal support and opened access to completion data. Here’s what that looked like, and how we did it.

First, we (I) decided we weren’t going to hold any formal training sessions if we didn’t have to. This isn’t because I believe person-led training is a waste of time or redundant or anything like that. It’s because I needed an effective way to just get people doing things, which didn’t take up unnecessary time, and I was (and am) against the clock.

Instead, I wanted to provide on-point resources that people could access (yes, via our LMS) when they needed, and could answer pretty much any and all questions that people might have had. We produced tip sheets, videos, e-learning and guidance sheets. Anything to do with using the system, about the meeting, having a good conversation, having difficult conversations, setting objectives, establishing a PDP, was all covered.

This set of resources was the essential ingredient needed to provide that support to our managers and staff. Without this, we couldn’t be in the position we currently are – I’m cautious to say this is a complete success, but the evidence to date suggests this approach has been effective and will help us achieve our target.

Next, I needed people in the organisation who I could rely on to support their peers and team members without needing to rely on HR. Some of you will recall a while ago I asked for another name other than ‘champions’. I settled on ‘Advocates’. These advocates were chosen because they were naturally positive people, were good organisational citizens, and would be supportive of helping to achieve the target. I checked in with each of them individually before briefing them on what was expected of them. I made it clear that the support they needed to provide was focused on the support to their peers and to their team members in getting things done. They weren’t experts in systems, or in policies or processes, they were just great managers.

Kate made sure the HR team could handle any system based queries. She needed to be free during this period to be able to address any escalated system issues, and focus more on the internal comms plan that was going to help us (bang a drum) spread messages about appraisals in different ways.

We’ve literally saved hours in avoiding unnecessary training, administration time and really focused on helping people at their point of need with the right set of resources available and the right people to help them.

And if it isn’t obvious, there was (and is) clear leadership on this from our senior leaders. Everyone is tasked with achieving the targets for their areas, so they’re all vested in making it happen. Oh, and we opened access to the completion data so that anyone can access the completion data from the business. In particular this has been useful because senior leaders have taken it on themselves to find out how their teams are getting on without relying on HR to produce reports and wait for them to come through.

In the 6 weeks that the appraisals have been happening, there has been all sorts of system based queries, but very little around the appraisal meeting, setting objectives or PDP based queries. that suggests to me that:

  • people are making use of the resources
  • people are relying on their peers to figure things out
  • people are just figuring things out anyway
  • the advocates are doing a great job
  • some combination of all of the above

Ok, so the title kind of lies. This isn’t delivering a new kind of L&D, it’s delivering modern L&D. I’m cautious to say it’s performance consultancy, and I haven’t adopted a direct 70:20:10 model around the design of this – but it definitely is a modern take on supporting performance at work. There’s work to do yet. That last 25% needs clear support to help them get through to the final point. Hopefully this post helps share a practical example of how modern learning can be delivered with some clarity on the methodology used to get there.

(Oh and if you want me or Kate to come and talk about this at a conference / seminar / other event just get in touch and let me know.)

When a personal learning network becomes… more

Two years ago I sat with a group of people for a two day self directed and self facilitated learning experience. The intention behind the event was that we would direct our own discussions, that a loose structure would allow us to explore thinking, for there to be dialogue, and for us to hone and craft our facilitation skills. I knew these people mostly from Twitter, had various interactions and engagements with them in real life and on social media, and regarded everyone there well. When we were doing our introductions and talking about our purpose for being there, I unexpectedly started crying. I couldn’t stop. I was offered if I needed a moment to myself, and I took it. On coming back into the room, I wasn’t questioned about how I was, I wasn’t cuddled, and I wasn’t judged. There was enough trust and empathy within the group that there was an appreciation that I would know and could ask for the help and support I needed without it being offered.

As the years have gone on, as I’ve grown with social media and keep learning how to get the best from it and how to give my best to it, there are some surprising things that have developed which I would not have expected on the outset.

Sooner or later, in the world of social media, you hear about personal learning networks (or PLNs). A group of people that you are connected with, can learn from, share knowledge with, have discussions with, connect in real life, possibly do work together, and all with a shared understanding that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

What I’ve personally discovered, though, as I think many do, is the unexpected point when the PLN becomes more. Consider my experience I described at the outset of the blog – could such a thing have been cultivated and engendered with another disparate group of people on your typical training course? Possibly, but not likely. There was something about the fact that we were a PLN that allowed a deeper connection to be present without needing to build that level of trust at the outset.

What I’ve discovered, personally, is that my PLN has grown to be that, and with a group of others, they are clearly now friends and my personal support network. I can rely on these people to help me when I need them. I value their thinking, their challenge to me, and I value them individually. I have found someone who I can trust as a counsellor and they help me work through personal struggles. I have found someone who I can talk openly with about starting my own consultancy and bounce ideas with. I have found someone I can hold events with and enjoy the experience. I have found friends, unexpectedly.

So in your world of building a professional network of people through social media, don’t be cut off to how the network can suddenly become more, and what that can mean for you personally.

In no order, I honour these people for being in my personal support network. David D’Souza, Phil Willcox, Julie Drybrough, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw, Fiona McBride, Simon Heath, Perry Timms, Tash Stallard, Rachel Burnham, Martin Couzins, Jo Stephenson, David James, David Goddin, José Franca, and Michelle Parry Slater.