A pale, male (hopefully not stale) EDI leadership perspective
Through my work helping organisations develop cultures of greater Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) I have been struck by the crucial influence of organisational leaders and the challenges in their personal journey.
In parallel I have been reflecting on my own journey and progress with these huge topics. I believe there a lot of well-meaning leaders out there who like me recognise that this is an incredibly important time, have some desire and belief that I can affect things but are not sure where to start and how to practically go about it.
This article is a short description of my journey to date, including examples of how and where I feel I have made progress.
How does someone like me – a 60+, white, male, married, British, father, home-owner, professional, business-owner, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied person, really understand the challenges others might face in their lives? And why would I want to? What’s in it for me?
Often people like me are labelled variously as blockers, gatekeepers, privileged, old-boys network, unconsciously-biased, protecting the status quo. I don’t believe I am any of these things but how can I be sure?
My own journey can best be summarised using one of our Pecan frameworks we use for navigating a journey of change:
In developing my awareness I have followed various social media groups and thought leaders, attended webinars, participated in networks, read some books (Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge was particularly eye opening and shocking), listened to podcasts.
There was a part of me that felt like an imposter. Here I am helping clients develop D&I strategies from my own little bubble. The subject seemed so big and attitudes so entrenched that I questioned my credibility and ability to make any difference. This started to change when a trusted friend and EDI activist told me that out of a big number of people in her network I was one of the very few at least trying to do the right thing.
I became more curious about members of my family and long-term friends and their journeys and challenges. I started to ask different questions, listening more and feeling empathy. I realised I actually have quite a lot of experience of EDI through the people in my life, I just hadn’t been ready or interested enough yet to explore their stories.
I started to understand what being an ally is and the responsibility I have in speaking up wherever I see disrespect, prejudice or exclusion.
This Awareness process has been ongoing for about two and a half years. I still feel like a relative beginner, very much a work in progress on a steep learning curve. There is so much more to learn.
This part of the process has in turn started to shift my focus from ‘out there’ to ‘over here’ i.e. this is actually something to do with me and something I can make a difference to. I started to move into Involvement
This stage is the crucial shift from a general level of awareness to a more focused personal connection. I believe this may be the most challenging part of the process for people like me and where progress often grinds to a halt. This is unfortunate as it is the stage where ownership and confidence levels start to increase. Where we start to seriously consider being and doing differently.
One of the things that makes this stage especially challenging is that it involves butting up against some of the fears and limiting beliefs around the subject, all of which can stop us engaging fully, e.g.
“I’m not sure of the correct terminology to use”
“I don’t want to be seen as/accused of being racist/sexist/ageist/biased”
“I don’t want to get caught out for getting it wrong”
“Someone else needs to do something about this”
“The process/system/culture needs to change”
“Isn’t this the job of HR/the D&I programme/leaders/government to sort this stuff out”
If we are always concerned about ‘getting it wrong’ we will avoid going there. We won’t develop the mindset and spirit of a curious learner which we need. In fact, its my experience that the more senior a leader the greater the likelihood of assuming that things are actually pretty good. In other words, from our position of privilege we underestimate or can’t even see the challenges others face.
If we think it is someone else’s problem we intellectualise it away and nothing changes.
Involvement is the stage where mindset and behaviour start to change. My acceptance that I am (and always will be) learning in this space helps to develop greater consciousness of what is in my Zone of Influence. Once I start to consider this imagination starts to flow and motivation can grow
Performance is where shifts in mindset and behaviours turn into new habits that get different outcomes.
Examples for me include:
- Checking that materials are accessible to all before starting a session or a meeting
- Paying more attention to who others are, their journey and what they stand for
- Being more considerate and empathetic to friends, Pecan colleagues, partners and clients
- Noticing my own beliefs and unconscious biases, so that I am more free of them
- Acknowledging that there is no ‘right way’ and that I will make mistakes
- Leading in creating and hold spaces where it is safe for people to be open and find/use their voice
- Using good coaching practice and principles: stay respectful and non-judgemental, ask open questions, really listen and acknowledge, be okay with going further where useful
- Collaborating with and learning from other specialists in the EDI space
- Adding my pronouns (He/Him) to my email footer and LinkedIn profile
- Writing this article
- Pecan continuing to support not for profit organisations that help disadvantaged young people
- Personally continuing to support charities
The main focus for me is to keep my attention out and focused on others. When I do this I am able to listen, empathise and understand. It is a state of mind but all to often I/we are so focused on what we are trying to achieve, our own challenges and problems that we are not aware of what is happening with those around us. Our Zone of Influence is not big enough.
I will continue to read, listen, participate and learn. I will be kind and generous and offer help wherever I think it can make a difference. And I will remember how good it feels to help another human being.