How to share learning to promote Equality and Diversity

Today I was involved in some very good discussions about how we help embed topics like Equality and Diversity into the culture of the organisation. The conversations really helped me to think about how we can cultivate inclusive work environments. One of the things we became focused on was on how to usefully share knowledge with others about the topic. Let’s take sexual orientation as an example. How do we help others to understand the impact of behaviours in the workplace that negatively affect people who are not heterosexual, but may define as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT). How do we normalise the conversation in the work environment so that it’s not a taboo subject? How do we help create such a safe environment that the person is allowed to just be without a thought to having to identify or disclose their sexual orientation?

I’ll say this now. I am not confident with the topic of diversity. I find it hard, and I find it a challenge. But I refuse to let that get in the way of valuing others, and finding ways to ensure we create inclusive workplaces for all. I might also add this extends to life in general, but we have to start somewhere.

There will be a population who will say – but this doesn’t matter, we should only be treating everyone equally. Well, yes, but this isn’t about treating everyone equally. This is about valuing difference.

If I think about only treating everyone equally, then I am shutting myself down to being genuinely curious about what life is like for someone who is LGBT.

If I think only about the language and being politically correct, then I’m missing the point completely and neglecting to understand the impact my words have on others.

If I paint a broad brush and say I don’t discriminate against anyone, then I’m falling into an awful complacency of treating people poorly and without consideration.

If I want fairness for all, I have to value the difference we all bring to the table, and thereby understand what fairness means for everyone.

There are some useful ways of sharing experiences which can highlight exactly why we should be concerned.

Case studies that are based on actual experience I think can be helpful. They help to show exactly what situation a person faced, what they experienced, and the impact it had on them. From these, we can create discussions, debate, argue, and disagree. But we’ll be talking about it, and raising awareness in ourselves and others.

Poster campaigns are clearly powerful tools. Used effectively they can provoke a reaction, and cause unrest. Good. That’s what they’re there for. If a poster doesn’t hit you in the gut and show you a stark reality that needs to be dealt with, it’s not been designed well. I’ve seen some very powerful ones, and when I see them I sometimes rescind. Have you seen the Changing Faces posters? They are not easy to look at. They’re not meant to be, because they show the difficulty people with facial disfigurement face, and it’s just a poster.

Sharing news through social networks can be highly useful. In the UK there are changes to the Marriage Bill being proposed, and in all likelihood will pass as law. This will upset a good many folk as we will all have to come to understand that the term marriage will potentially no longer be between a man and a woman, but any person who loves another and wants to commit through the institution of marriage. This is just one example of how the sharing of content can help the discussion to be had.

Where organisations have E&D networks, these are useful ways of highlighting the needs of various groups which may not be obvious. Are there prayer rooms for those who want to practise their faith? Is there flexibility in the company policy about which days can be classed as public holidays if you’re not a UK national? Is the building wheelchair accessible at all levels? The considerations need to meet some level of statutory (legal) requirements but also meet the needs of the local population – both those in your workforce, and those who make use of your services.

Videos are great ways of allowing people to follow a story without having to single people out internally. I recently saw a great example of how a suite of videos were produced by a large multi-national organisation to help raise awareness of how regular workplace behaviours can have negative impacts because we’ve not been mindful of the people we’re working with.

In L&D sessions we might think we’re being inclusive because we’re talking about topics which are neutral, and we have to really challenge that thinking. In a session on effective communication, why not include a piece on cross-cultural communication? In a session on conflict resolution, why not include a piece on personal identity and how this may be affecting someone in all parts of their life? In a session on team development, why not include a piece on eradicating discrimination against anyone? Any of those pieces can happen as a natural part of the session without needing a label that says “we’re now going to talk about diversity in relation to this subject”.

And then there’s just talking about it with others, which is probably the hardest of all, but the best tool we have available. It involves being curious, and asking questions we might think are uncomfortable, and hearing responses we may not be comfortable with, and having to process that information into a way of potentially changing your behaviour.

There’s certainly enough practitioners around who can and do help to keep the conversation relevant and prevalent. I’m glad I know them, and I’m glad to be minded that this is something which will take regular iterations in order to move an organisation to a positive place. The challenge is helping people to understand the topic and why we need to value others. I’m up for that challenge.

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L&D and Intellectual Property

Today I went to a training forum arranged by the IPA where we discussed how to make Inductions long lasting and meaningful. There’s plenty of information on how to make inductions effective, and if you’re after a good source for this, you should get in touch with Sheridan Webb.

The presenter spoke about what they do as an agency to make their induction effective, and she declared right at the beginning that although she’s happy to share the information with the group, she wasn’t going to make it available after the session. And that’s been playing on my mind.

Much of what we do in learning and development is not specific to any business or industry. At the end of the day, leadership training, personal development and interpersonal skills are all skills which will need to be developed at various points of a persons career. And that’s part of the reason training companies have managed to do so well. They’ve been able to take a behavioural skill, develop some training around it, and offer it out as a service.

But, and this is the nub, to think that I have any claim on those training materials or methods is complete hogwash. Only a handful of organisations have successfully developed a tool which they can lay claim to. And, in most cases, these are occupational psychology consultancies. OPP, SHL, PCL, Senn Delaney are all names which those in this field will be familiar with. There are more, but this is such a small portion of the L&D field (in its broadest sense) that we really need to be mindful about what it is we’re laying claim to.

For the business I’m in, I’ve not developed a single thing I wouldn’t happily take and use for the next company I work with. And that’s because none of it is copyright. Not one piece. How I conduct my training needs analysis, my training design, my delivery method, and my evaluation is true of how any other L&Der carries out their role. So when a business says “I’m not going to share what we did because it’s specific to us”, that makes sense on the surface. But it’s rubbish.

The key insights that you draw are exactly because the context is important. If you’ve developed a leadership programme that is excellent, it’s excellent because of the business and the culture of the business. If you just give me the programme, I could take it and adapt it to any other business. Give me the context of why it worked so well for your business and I can then truly draw insight into why it was excellent. But – BUT – that is still nothing to lay claim to.

We live in a social world where information is flowing at a very fast pace and everyone is looking for information for free. This is no bad thing. Particularly for those of us in L&D. If I need to learn about how to develop a negotiation skills course, do I need to attend a course to accredit myself, and then go on and deliver it? No. Not because it’s not a valuable or worthwhile training course, but because the self-inflated sense of importance is nonsense.

What I know is valuable. For me to hold on to that is selfish and gains nothing. For me to share it builds social capital and encourages positive energy networking. The opportunists in this world will always see a way to make money from their knowledge they hold. The successful people in this world will see that sharing and being open with your knowledge creates and builds the kind of society and community which makes a difference.

I lay this challenge down to the likes of the Negotiation Skills experts, the Executive Coaches, the Presentation Gurus – share your knowledge beyond the boundaries of the contracts and training environments. Not just through blogging and the likes, but through true sharing. Make YouTube videos of your core materials, dedicate your websites to making all of your information free and available. Take away the perceived need for a license and be open about the use of your materials. Of course train people so they use them well, but don’t pretend without your product they won’t be successful.

My best piece of delivery

Yesterday I facilitated (shepherded) an all day Induction. In a post I wrote for the Training Journal, I spoke about how this is the one key structured piece of activity any organisation or business just has to get right. It’s the first entry point to the business and makes such a key difference to the performance of the new starter. The day made me think about how this is so important for others that are engaged with a business too. You know, the dirty people – suppliers.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the L&D sweet spot and how I designed possibly my most favourite exercise. Today I’d like to share with you what I think was my best ever piece of facilitation. I was given a task of putting together a programme to help our vendors get who we are, how we work and why we work the way we do. I and the manager involved had no idea how this would pan out. We were both shooting in the dark but hoping for the best.

We decided that there needed to be key merchandising, planning and operational managers presenting. The company values had to be shared, as well as the company vision. Organisationally, QVC had come on leaps and bounds in the years that I was there. (Just realised that sounds like I did that. In true fairness the L&D team made it happen. I was part of that team and learned a lot.) So to do this for our vendors didn’t seem like a chore. A lot of the collateral we needed was already to hand. The key presenters already had relationships with a lot of the vendors. The vendors just needed some airtime and some answers.

So we gave them what they asked for. We were open about everything we presented and hid nothing. The result? A programme that runs to this day. I’m confident about sharing this in that it’s been 5 years since I left the company, and the programme has developed since then. But here’s why I loved it. I got to be part of a programme which we had no idea how it would be received. We put together a day full of interaction and information that was bang on for the audience. The relationships with our vendors who attended were stronger as a result. Our merchandisers became far more comfortable talking with our vendors as they now understand company aims and vision.

It may not sound exciting, and indeed is just an Induction for suppliers and vendors. But what makes a day like this exciting is the flavour and enthusiasm you bring to it. We could just as easily have put together a day of presentations that were one-way delivery and left it at that. But we saw this as an opportunity to do so much more and not let the opportunity pass. That’s also why I enjoy the company induction. If this is such an important event – and it is – why leave things at being standard?