The Trust’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Pamela Brown, joined the ambulance service recently and is writing a weekly blog about Diversity and Inclusion. You can read her latest blogs below.
Thursday 7th March
In an age when every other advert seems to feature some sort of new-found chemical to make you feel better than ever before, make your skin softer or make your washing whiter than white, is neurodiversity just another buzzword? The term was first coined by the American statistician and social scientist Judy Singer in the 1990s, when she wrote a thesis on her quest to discover the reason for her family’s ‘outsiderhood’. According to Wikipedia, neurodiversity is ‘an approach to learning and mental health that argues various neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome.’ But what are these neurological conditions? And what is the potential impact in the workplace?
Many neurodiverse people are upset that Asperger Syndrome, Autistic Disorder and PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) have been broadly replaced by the umbrella term ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’.
Anyone who has lived and worked with people diagnosed with such disorders will know that the range of neurological differences they can exhibit is a vast spectrum, and simply adopting a single term does not recognise individual needs and abilities.
As far back as 1990, Judy Singer was trying to get the world to recognise that neurodiversity is a ‘portmanteau’ of neurological conditions and should be recognised in the same way as gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
The main neurological conditions classed as neurodiverse include dyspraxia, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Tourette Syndrome. Although these conditions may co-exist alongside each other, or share some common characteristics, the whole point of neurodiversity is that everyone has their own individual traits. This includes the general ‘neurotypical’ population rather than just a small group of neurodiverse individuals. For example, we may consider that a person diagnosed as being ‘high-functioning’ autistic has exceptional mathematical skills, but this may not be true of another person with the same diagnosis.
I was surprised to note that none of these neurodiverse conditions is actually automatically classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, even though people may be affected in their day to day lives at work.
Managers may be concerned that catering for the needs of neurodiverse workers could be costly both financially and in terms of time and productivity, but some simple adjustments need not necessarily cost the earth and can be implemented without a professional diagnosis.
If you need to talk to someone about this topic, please contact Pam on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace Reconciliation & Activism – LGBT History Month
Thursday 14th February
I had the honour of meeting my hero, James Baldwin in my last year of my undergraduate degree at university. I had studied American History, Literature and Politics and Baldwin represented the embodiment of what I thought a leader should be, so when I found out he was coming to the university I quickly found out where he was staying and sought him out. Unbelievably, he agreed to see me, and we met at the Queen’s hotel In Hull and drank gin and tonics whilst he essentially talked, and I gawped in wonder!
In this month of LGBT history Baldwin returned to my memory as someone who embodies the theme for me. He was born in 1924 in Harlem and was an openly gay black author and activist. Having said that he would probably disapprove of the description as he despised arbitrary labels.
“If one’s to live at all,” he said in 1965, “one’s certainly got to get rid of labels.” But Baldwin wasn’t so serious that he couldn’t have a bit of fun with people over labels. In an interview he was once asked if whether being gay, black and born in poverty had had an impact on his career. He responded, “No. I thought I had hit the jackpot! It was so outrageous, you had to find a way to use it!”
During the same period, Eve Auchincloss and Nancy Lynch asked Baldwin if he thought homosexuality was a disease, to which he replied “Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it says about homosexuality.”
Baldwin continued to comment on being gay on behalf of gay rights, but he also spent much of his time in the deep south of the USA commenting on civil rights issues, as well as speaking out against the Vietnam war. He worked alongside the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr; participated in debates with the charismatic Malcolm X and others prominent in the civil rights movement.
His overtly political writing and his support of the Black Panther Party and Communist Party activist Angela Davis gained him another label- that of radical. But for me I just want to applaud the man whose gems of wisdom stay with me and for the intellect that still challenges my thinking and thank him for the comment he wrote in my copy of his book Another Country “Keep on keeping on”.
Thursday 31st January
I was horrified to learn that girls across the country are being subjected to “breast ironing, “a painful and dangerous practice that seeks to stunt the development of the breasts. Having never heard of this practice I discovered it can take a number of different forms such as using a belt to bind the breasts of girls who are coming up to puberty or heating a stone and pounding or massaging the breasts in an effort to stop them from growing. Why? Well the explanation seems to be it is largely mothers who want to protect their daughters from premature sexual activity, rape, or an early forced marriage that would require them to leave school.
Well whilst I understand the rationale albeit questionable it is fundamentally abuse and could result in a host of adverse conditions, including burns, infections, permanent damage of milk ducts etc. let alone the psychological impact it may have. The most ironic issue is that whilst it may cause other issues it does not actually stop breasts from eventually developing.
Like a number of practices, it may not have been picked up or challenged if it is seen as a ‘cultural practice’. However, it does not matter if something is cultural or not if the outcome is one of child abuse.
I am writing this blog, because I had not heard of it before and therefore our frontline staff may not have either. If you suspect a patient may have suffered ‘breast ironing’ please report it under child safeguarding protocols for everyone’s sake.
If you want to know more, please contact email@example.com
Thursday 17th January
I wrote about domestic violence in my blog some time ago, but I have now found out more about a national campaign to highlight the issue at work. The campaign is called ‘Everyone’s Business’ and is a collective initiative by the UK’s leading domestic abuse charities and organisations, including Hestia, Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA), The Corporate Alliance, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), Bulbshare, TecSOS, Women’s Trust, and Cardiff Women’s Aid.
Everyone’s Business was started to encourage as many employers as it can to consider how they can support their employees who have been impacted by domestic abuse.
It was the Office for National Statistics’ 2017 Crime Survey which revealed a quarter of women and one in six men would suffer domestic abuse of some kind at some point in their lives.
Of these, three quarters of them will be targeted while they are at work and yet only five percent of employers have a domestic abuse policy of any kind in the workplace for their staff members to access and seek support from.
Remember, domestic abuse affects every aspect of a person’s life and leaves both victims and survivors often feeling isolated and hopeless. Most of us will know someone affected by domestic abuse, whether it be a friend, family member, patient or colleague. As a Trust we could have an important role to play in breaking the silence around domestic abuse and ensuring staff can access the help and support they need. If you think there is more that we can do as a Trust, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have You Got Teens Born Before 1996?
Thursday 10th January
Well according to global population research this generation is different to the Millenials and often referred to as Generation Z or the Pivotals.I quite like Pivotals- it sounds like a new band!
Today Pivotals have ‘friend networks’ that span the globe. These include people they haven’t met in person but share a common passion or activity with like music or gaming or even a cause.
Pivotals are the first generation to not know a life before the internet; before mobiles, before apps and the pressures/relationships found on social media. Knowledge and information is simply easier to attain, use, manipulate, apply. Potentially we’re looking at a forward-thinking, generation that just uses the tools at their disposal to create change. This extends to their being able to become more involved in social activism at a much earlier stage in life.
Think about Malalla Yousafzai who at eighteen became the world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient, or take Zhan Haite who, as a 15-year-old Shanghai student, became a hero for protesting the hukou, the nation’s antiquated system of residence that keeps millions stuck in their hometowns by law.
She first organised a protest, and then wrote a well-received article, published as Teen Girl Makes Case for Change in China Daily, to become a national face for change and forward progress .
Or Ziad Ahmed, a Bangladeshi-American student who founded redefy.org at age 17. The site, which takes on racism and stereotypes by giving victims and activists a platform to share their stories, discuss ways to progress and methods of change, and come together as a community. This earned Ahmed a seat at Barack Obama’s dinner table in June 2016.
It is almost as if the Pivotals are embarking on another phase of the Civil Rights Movement-one that exists in the digital world. It may not mean they have the financial wherewithal to support the causes they are passionate about, but they are certainly using their voice as a proxy for change! It will be interesting to see if that voice continues into the future?
Can You Hear Us? The Voice of Black Footballers
Thursday 13th December
In a past life I had the absolute pleasure of working for the now Lord Herman Ouseley. He was probably the most inspiring boss I have ever had, and he loved his cherished Manchester United. I remember on Monday mornings if they had won over the week end you could get nearly anything you wanted but if they lost it was better to wait till mid-morning before you made any requests!
He was also a key driver in the diversity world championing the fight against racism. So, it came as no surprise when in 1993 Herman came up with the idea and launched the Kick Racism Out of Football campaign. It is a campaign that is now in it’s 26th year and unfortunately still needed.
The great Ian Wright recently ran a TV documentary on the experience of black footballers in the last few decades called Out of Their Skin. Wright who won 33 England caps, following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Viv Anderson and John Barnes records some appalling social history.
It was embarrassing-and painful- to watch professional football over the last three decades. Explicit, hate filled racial abuse and discrimination was rife in football.
And so to 2018, and Gareth Southgate is still calling out racism in football after he revealed members of the national set-up’s junior sides had endured “disgusting” racial abuse on social media, and only last week we saw Sterling Raheem facing racial abuse at Chelsea’s Stanford Bridge.
The saddest thing for me was Sterling’s instagram comment:
“Good morning, I just want to say, I am not normally the person to talk a lot but when I think I need my point to heard I will speak up. Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game as you can see by my reaction I just had to laugh because I don’t expect any better. “
Do we really live in an age where people are still judged by the colour of their skin? Apparently so.
School Threatens to Ban Christmas
Thursday 6th December
If you read that headline, your unconscious bias might lead you to infer that the story has something to do with diversity and it is just another group covered by the Equality Act who want to take away Christmas from the masses. Well maybe you didn’t but I did, and I own up to having my own unconscious biases!
The following story appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday 5th December (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/dec/05/yorkshire-school-that-cancelled-christmas-reinstates-it-after-hundreds-of-letters) which is what piqued my interest and my unconscious bias:
The school that threatened to ban Christmas has been persuaded to reinstate it after receiving hundreds of “thoughtful” letters and emails from pupils.
Lady Lumley’s school in Pickering, North Yorkshire, cast itself as a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge when it told pupils that the true meaning of Christmas had been “buried under an avalanche of commercialisation”.
Religious education teacher Chris Paul told students that Christmas was “a day celebrating the birth of Jesus and should be a time of goodwill to all” but that its original meaning had been lost. Even Santa Claus, Paul said, “was probably invented by the Coca-Cola company”.
The teacher said there would be “no cards, no parties, no gifts and no Christmas tree” unless pupils wrote a persuasive argument about why the school should celebrate the holiday. The miserly move brought complaints from some parents who described it as “horrible” and
But after receiving more than 500 emails and letters “making a strong case” for jingling the bells and bringing back the baubles, the school relented.
In a message to parents on Tuesday, the headteacher Richard Bramley said the idea had been to challenge students to consider the true meaning of Christmas.
He said: “Those students who really thought about the situation and challenged the decision appropriately created the change and brought back Christmas. Well done to them and I hope they (and, in the true spirit of the season, everyone else) has a good Christmas.”
Bramley said the challenge was to make students consider the way in which society celebrates Christmas and think about the social problems that arise around this time: “Students were asked to challenge the status quo; to ask, ‘why should we do things just because we have always done them?’ and … to question whether non-religious people should celebrate a religious festival.
It just goes to show how disruptive thinking really can make you think! As for head lining story tags they really can tap into your unconscious and frame some of your approach to a story before you have even read it!
Standing Up For Diversity
Thursday 29th November
I love this story for its sheer originality! Last year, a German supermarket emptied its shelves in an effort to make a point about racism and diversity.
In August 2017 the Edeka store in Hamburg, Germany’s largest supermarket chain, took all of its products made in foreign countries off the shop floor and replaced their empty shelves with anti-xenophobia signs saying “This shelf is pretty boring without diversity.”
Shoppers who entered the store were surprised to find that a lot of the normal selection had been removed in the stunt and perfectly highlighted just how they were on other countries for everyday products.
Other companies such as Nike have a slogan saying “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,”
The text on that advertisement frames the face of American footballer Colin Kaepernick, a polarising figure who controversially protested against racial injustice in the US by not standing up for the national anthem at the start of a game.
By aligning with Kaepernick’s stand against racial injustice and police brutality in the US, the sports giant made its point of view on a contentious issue clear.
Nike is not alone. Today, brands are increasingly presenting themselves as ‘influencers’ on the pressing issues in society. Many align their point of view to topics that affect the lives of consumers, be that climate change, racial injustice, police brutality or LGBT rights. However, to what extent do the perceptions and purchasing decisions of consumers really depend upon a brand’s point of view?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that messages can be powerful and our message in the Trust needs to ensure everyone feels they are included and can bring their whole authentic selves to work.
International Men’s Day
Thursday 22nd November
You probably didn’t know it, but Monday 19th November was International Men’s Day.
So why do we have an International Men’s Day? Some would argue every day is a Men’s Day?
International Men’s Day highlights some of the issues that men face on a daily basis:
- 76 percent of suicides are men
- 85 percent of homeless are men
- 70 percent of homicide victims are men
- 40 percent of domestic abuse victims are men
- Men are the majority of victims of violent crime
- Men on average serve 64 percent longer in prison
- Men on average are 3.4 times likely to be imprisoned than women when both have committed the same crime
If women and girls were experiencing any one of those problems at the rate that men and boys are, it would be grounds for an international day in its own right – so why are we so indifferent to the various problems that are more likely to impact the male half of the population?
It seems that both women and men are more comfortable aligning themselves with campaigns to help the “sisterhood”, whereas nobody wants to be seen taking the “brotherhood” too seriously.
Over the years, there have been some interesting tactics employed to highlight men’s issues. When fathers’ rights campaigners tried to emulate the Suffragettes and chain themselves to the railings at Buckingham Palace (for example), nobody paid much attention, but stick a dad in an ill-fitting Batman costume and plonk him on the Palace balcony and the whole world starts talking about separated dads. It seems that to get people talking about men’s issues, you have to be prepared to look silly.
Take the recent hair-raising success of Movember for instance. For those not in the know, Movember is when men grow moustaches for charity. All over the country – and around the world – men are raising millions of pounds for prostate cancer research by doing little more than resisting the temptation to shave their top lip for a month. It’s an unavoidably public way of saying “look at me, I’m making a difference for my fellow man, feel free to poke fun at my magnificent Mo, just as long as you stick a tenner in the charity pot while you’re at it.”
So why hasn’t this self-deprecating approach worked for other important men’s issues? Maybe it’s because they don’t lend themselves so well to fundraisers. Maybe it’s the simple fact that men and women are uncomfortable talking about the many different issues that affect men and boys disproportionately – that alone is reason enough to have an International Men’s Day.
Thursday 15th November
If any of you watched the excellent Vanity Fair on television recently you may have laughed at the snobbery and class system that Thackeray’s satirises so well. But does the class system still exist today? Surely class-based cross-pollination is part of our ever-more connected world. Today we welcome being introduced to complete strangers in a manner unheard of in the past, often online, through social media; so it is far easier to meet and connect with all kinds of people.
Becky, like other social climbers in British fiction and on screen (think Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice or Tom Branson, the chauffeur in Downton Abbey), experiences snobbery on her way up: wealthy Miss Crawley deems her an unsuitable match for her beloved nephew, Rawdon. But that still happens today when people are perceived (however wrongly) to have gone ‘above their station’ as Becky strives to do. When there’s any kind of disparity between couples, certain sections of the media can’t help but remark on it.” Phrases like ‘commoners’, ‘rags to riches’, ‘marrying up’ and the horrible ‘gold digger’ are tossed around when it comes to couples with a class or wealth gap.
And across all sections of society people are still looked down on for the way they speak and dress. Last year the Social Mobility Commission found that access to Britain’s top professions remains dominated by those from privileged backgrounds, and noted that it sometimes comes down to what colour shoes the applicant wears, or what extracurricular activities are listed on their CV.
The difference between Becky’s world and ours, it seems, is that while her house of cards comes crashing down, more and more people put value on a person’s personal accomplishments rather than inherited family status. In other words, class still matters, but with the knowledge to play the system, you can win. Becky Sharp would be pleased.
The Uniform You Wear With Pride Is Not A Suit Of Armour
Thursday 8th November
With people giving evidence on the Grenfell disaster I began to think about the impact not just on the paramedics, firefighters and police who went to the scene but the call takers behind the scenes. The people who answer our 999 calls are a reassuring voice, a friend at times and in our case, people willing the ambulance crews to appear in time. Sometimes it must be a daunting task to have someone’s life in your hands with only your voice to save them
However, it seems that the public often forget that emergency call takers even exist. Other frontline staff are congratulated and publicised for their hard work and excellent attitudes through long hours and demanding situations. Paramedics, doctors, nurses and midwifes are among the most talked about members of the NHS; working hard and saving lives. But what about those in the background?
Paramedics may be the first on the scene of an emergency but who got them there? Who spoke to the highly distressed, screaming mother whose six-month-old baby had just stopped breathing? Call takers are the first port of call in an emergency and have to work hard to collect the correct information from the caller before an ambulance can be dispatched. Address, what has happened, age of patient etc… these may seem like simple details that don’t require a lot of thought, but in an emergency people’s brains stop functioning properly, and eliciting simple information can be very difficult.
The hardest thing must be the lack of closure when the call taker has done their bit in the whole process but then may not find out what the outcome was? As one member of staff said to me it’s a bit like reading a book but the last few pages are missing, and whilst stress and mental health issues amongst paramedics has been well documented; the stress and mental health of call takers has not had the same profile.
For example, while paramedics might struggle with visual flashbacks from a difficult situation, call takers might be left with auditory reminders. That is, involuntary recollections resulting from calls that might take the form of sounds in your head. Moreover, visual images can come from listening and those images can be very disturbing particularly in the absence of real images. Imagination can be frightening!
This year is the first year that call takers have been recognised in a national award called the Control Room Awards.
The awards celebrate the life-saving and life-changing work of staff in critical control rooms within emergency services across the country.
The London Fire Brigade control team Two Watch won the award for Team of the Year in recognition of their work on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The Control Room Awards judges said: “Two Watch showed exceptional team spirit and extraordinary resilience while delivering an outstanding service in desperately difficult circumstances. It speaks volumes that, when they were relieved of duty after sharing a horrific night shift, not a single member of the watch left alone. They waited until they were all together and walked out as one.”
Whilst it is great that awards are finally being given in recognition of staff in control rooms, let us consider our call takers at WMAS and if you have ideas or measures we can introduce to reduce stress and maintain good mental health please email me at email@example.com.
In the interim thank you to all our call takers and for the work you do.
Social Model of Disability
Thursday 1st November
WMAS are looking to launch a disability network prior to the introduction of the Workforce Disability Equality Scheme. The network will need to decide if they wish to work on the premise of the social model of disability which has been developed by disabled people or a combination of the social and medical model of disability.
The social model of disability proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society.
It is a civil rights approach to disability. If modern life was set up in a way that was accessible for people with disabilities then they would not be excluded or restricted. The distinction is made between ‘impairments’, which are the individual problems which may prevent people from doing something, and ‘disability’, which is the additional disadvantage bestowed by a society which treats these ‘impairments’ as abnormal, so unnecessarily excluding these people from full participation in society. The social model of disability says that it is society which disables impaired people.
Some of the key ways people are disabled by society are:
- lack of financial independence
- families being over protective
- not having information in formats which are accessible to them.
An illustration of the social model of disability in practice would be a town designed with wheelchairs in mind, with no stairs or escalators. If we designed our environment this way, wheelchair users would be able to be as independent as everyone else. It is society which puts these barriers on people by not making our environments accessible to everyone.
The medical model states that disability is caused by the health condition a person has and the nature of this condition will determine what they can and can’t do. The medical model would say that in order for everyone to participate fully in society, everyone would need a non-disabled body and mind. This makes ‘disability’ the result of the person being different, not of society.
Using the social model of disability as a theory instead of the medical model can change people’s outlooks on what other people can achieve, and how organisations and our environments should be structured. People who follow this way of thinking will be able to see past the outdated policies and procedures that can be a barrier to people with disabilities leading full and active lives.
The academic Tom Shakespeare writes on the need to reject treating the social model as a ‘sacred cow’ that must not be challenged, instead proposing a movement towards a medical and social continuum, with the central argument that as we are all ‘impaired’ in some manner, it is not the core component of disability. The impact of the body on one’s life is therefore included, without needing to divide between ‘disabled’ and ‘non-disabled’ people.
If you are interested in joining the disability network or have a view on the social model of disability, please let me know. We are also searching for a name for the network so again feel free to come up with some suggestions.
Stop and Think About Youngsters Whose Voices Get Lost
Thursday 25th October
This year, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition is asking you to pause and think about a group of young people whose voices often get lost in the noise.
Young people with learning disabilities are at a much higher risk of developing mental health problems, in fact, 36% will develop a mental health problem. This makes them around four to five times more likely to develop a problem than children without a learning disability.
We see this represented in the national statistics; 1 in 7 of all young people with mental health problems in the UK also have a learning disability. To be clear, we know this increased risk stems from social and emotional factors rather than from their learning disability.
Young people and families impacted often report that they don’t feel listened to. They feel professionals too often don’t believe them, often seeing only the learning disability and not their mental health needs (something called diagnostic overshadowing).
In essence, too many young people with learning disabilities are not fully seen for who they are. The vast complexities that exist within us all are overshadowed for these young people, simply because they are living with a learning disability.
Only around a quarter of young people with a learning disability and a mental health problem have had any contact with mental health services. This must change. The Coalition is urging those working within the system to refocus their efforts. Rather than constantly firefighting, we need to be stepping in with support for young people with learning disabilities before things reach crisis point. This can only be achieved with a shifting of focus onto prevention and the early identification of mental health challenges.
It is time to listen to what young people with learning disabilities are telling us. The means of communication may well be via their behaviour, which is unsurprising given that young people often say that even when they have told someone about their concerns, they didn’t expect to receive help. No child should have to feel this way. Families too often feel they are left on their own to cope whilst waiting to receive professional help. No family should have to feel this way.
If you have any ideas on how WMAS can help. I would love to hear from you.
Traditional Roles and Ingrained Ideas
Thursday 18th October
We have more women are in paid work than ever before, including WMAS but for many people the traditional, archaic ideas of what a man and women “should” do in the household linger on.
“This guilt is linked to some expectations of what women are ‘supposed’ to do, even if they don’t agree with it,” says Melissa Milkie, a sociologist. “Although women and men’s roles are much more similar than they used to be, the expectations lag to some degree – we’re still stuck culturally. This may be true for men too, in that they still believe they have to be breadwinners.”
At 31, Holly is the founder and CEO of her own company, but still finds herself constantly grappling with a question of her identity: “Am I the powerful person running a business, or am I the person incapable of keeping my house clean?”
Holly lives with her partner in Birmingham, and because of work commitments feels she isn’t able to take on her share of the household work. “It’s classic house pride: ‘I’m a woman – I should be able to keep a house clean.’ But I don’t have time to do that.”
The feeling of guilt is something Holly can’t seem to shake off – even though she is the higher earner in the household. “I feel like I should be able to do more, even though I work long hours. I think it’s related to traditional roles: even though my role has changed and I’m working flat-out, I feel that I need to keep things tidy”.
It’s what a colleague here at WMAS called the triple shift. She said, “I work full time, I do most of the household tasks and provide all the emotional support to the family”.
According to Professor Gershuny, society’s ingrained ideas are the very things that maintain inequality in the workplace. “It’s this notion of fairness within the household that generates the societal level of unfairness manifested by the wage gap. For example, if you are doing more of the childcare, that means you shouldn’t be working at your job as well,”.
“Women are still doing the triple shift of a job and most of the housework, plus caring responsibilities – and it leaves a lot of women knackered,” said Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress.
“This means women have less leisure time than men, and fewer opportunities to network. “
Do you see yourself in this scenario or are you a partner that is challenging this paradigm? I would love to hear from you?
A Life with Kinks
Thursday 27th September
Imagine watering your parched lawn, hosepipe in hand on a scorching hot summer’s day, when suddenly the flowing water stops. Not even a trickle! As you glance back, you realise there’s a kink in the hosepipe.
You can un-kink the hose but, still, no water flows. Then, it hits you. Further back, a long way back, there are more kinks in that hose. Now, you go kink-hunting with purpose and intent. You walk the entire length of the hose, un-kinking all the kinks and, eventually, water does indeed flow, cool and fresh, onto a thirsty garden.
For someone born black, the journey, more often than not, is long and arduous; there are kinks and double kinks along the hosepipe, and un-kinking a single kink generally makes very little difference. Water still doesn’t flow.
That’s not a wrinkle; that’s a kink!
Here’s a kink example from a friend’s experience. In 1987, X was a trainee barrister applying to chambers seeking a six-month internship (a “second-six pupillage”) that would lead to a permanent position (tenancy). He wasn’t fussy – candidly, he would probably have gone anywhere that would have had him. So, imagine his delight when, after a couple of weeks, he received an invitation to an interview at a high-powered set of chambers down in Inner Temple. He bought a decent suit and spent a day reading through some of the cases the leading barristers in those chambers had recently won.
Barristers’ chambers are magnificent, awe-inspiring places. On interview day, as he sat nervously on the edge of a plush brown leather sofa in the waiting room, surrounded by polished mahogany and a hundred bound volumes of Halsbury’s Laws of England, he thought the next hour, could see him on his way. This was his big moment. Well, it went better than he could have expected.
The selection panel of QCs and distinguished senior members of the Bar seemed to approve of the answers he gave to their tricky questions. There was even some jokey barristerial banter on his way out. He was all set. A couple of days later, he heard back. The interview panel really liked him and were ready to offer him a place to do his second six pupillage.
However, there was just a little wrinkle they wanted to straighten out before formally offering him the place. Rather unfortunately, they said, they had taken on a black tenant the previous year, and just couldn’t do it two years in a row. It didn’t fit with the image they wanted to project. So, provided he was prepared to come and do a second six pupillage on the clear understanding that they would not afterwards be able to offer him anything permanent, well then, he would be very welcome. They hoped he understood their position.
That is what a kink looks like. For sure, there are thousands of white trainee barristers who don’t get offered a tenancy at the Bar, but none of them has ever been told it was because those chambers took on a white guy last year and didn’t want to do it again quite so soon. I tell you that story from the archives, not because I want to rake over some ancient coals, but because it neatly illustrates the toxic characteristics of a kink in the hose-pipe of life: first, it’s a critical blockage in the
system that stops the water dead in its tracks.
Second, it’s unexpected; there you are flowing along when, suddenly, out of nowhere, you hit the kink. Great interview, shame you’re not the right colour.
Third, kinks are usually beyond your control; if your skin colour is black or brown, you cannot make it white. If you didn’t attend the right school, that’s just the way it is.
The M Word We Don’t Talk About – Menopause
Thursday 13th September
My PA in a previous life used to tell me about her mother going through the menopause. She said she would often drop into her mother on the way home from work only to find her stark naked on the conservatory floor: this being the coolest flooring in the house or naked in front of the freezer. This was the only way she could get some relief from her hot flushes!
My PA later faced menopause symptoms herself and had moved out of the marital bed to the spare room because she could not put her husband through nights of sheets that were drenched! Not everyone has such extreme symptoms, and some sail through the menopause – but it can be amazing how much the menopause can affect some women, not only in their relationships, but also at work.
The most many employers offer to their menopausal women in the workplace are fans – but is this enough? And do they assume that only women of a certain age can be affected by the menopause because it can happen to women of any age!
Let’s face it the menopause is a normal life event for women and so it is not an illness or a medical condition. This often means that the symptoms of the menopause are too often under recognised, undervalued and not taken seriously. The psychological symptoms associated with the menopause such as loss of self-confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety and depressive symptoms are the ones that can often affect women the most.
It was not until I experienced menopausal symptoms myself that I appreciated the full extent of how symptoms can have a detrimental impact on ability to work. I found I was struggling to remember client’s names, I was constantly rechecking my emails to make sure I had not made any mistakes, I felt permanently tired and was sometimes irritable with some of my colleagues. At the time I attributed this to having ‘senior moments’ and ‘growing grumpy’ disgracefully!
Memory loss, brain fog, verbal slips, memory problems and other cognitive effects of the perimenopause and menopause have caused many successful and high-powered women to give up work either because they simply couldn’t cope any more or believed themselves to be “losing their mind”.
However, some men also believe there is a male menopause:
So how do you explain men having hot flushes, mood swings, loss of muscle mass, man boobs, pot belly, tiredness, lack of enthusiasm, increased sweating, poor concentration, memory loss and irritability?
Testosterone deficiency that develops later in life, known as late onset hypogonadism, might account for some or all of the symptoms in a small proportion of men. However, the vast majority of men who get the symptoms in their mid-life have normal testosterone levels, and the symptoms are nothing to do with their hormones. It’s true that testosterone levels fall as men get older, but at a slow steady rate, around 2 per cent a year, from the age of 30 to 40. There is certainly not the sudden drop in hormones in all men as happens to women at the time of the menopause.
The commonest cause of these symptoms in men is a combination of lifestyle factors and psychological factors. It’s both how we live our lives and how our brains react to the stresses in our lives. Stress, depression and anxiety can all cause fatigue, loss of libido and mood swings.
So, as our workforce ages maybe we need to have more discussions on the menopause- however embarrassing it may be? Thanks to our health and well-being team we will get further updates on what to look out for and how we can all manage our health during this period.
The Non-binary Conundrum
Thursday 6th September
Recent blogs have attempted to increase an awareness of transgender issues in WMAS. However, despite the welcome interest in transgender issues, some transgender identities have received considerably more attention than others. Transgender identities and lived experiences can be much more varied and complex than binary ‘male to female’ or ‘female to male’ transition stories which dominate.
Non-binary people can identify as transgender, but often not within the traditional gender binary of male or female. Rather, some non-binary people can identify as a mix of genders, or none at all. Some can feel their gender identity is steady and fixed, while others feel it can fluctuate by the day, by the hour or depending on the situation they are in. For many non-binary people, life can feel like being a minority within a minority. Here’s what some people have described it as:
J from London:
How would you describe being non-binary?
Being non-binary feels like having this hole in your chest where something — my sense of gender — used to be, where you know that almost everyone else has something, and now I just… don’t. It’s not a painful lack, just a noticeable one that sets me apart from most other people.
It means people who don’t identify all of the time as a man or a woman. Maybe they switch between those genders, or feel like a different gender entirely, or they don’t have a gender at all, or something different.
What are the biggest misconceptions about non-binary people?
That we’re all just confused, or it’s just the latest teenage rebellion trend (I’m 39!).
What advice would you give a non-binary person who is considering coming out or being more visible?
Line up a support system — make sure you’ve got friends who have your back; try to do what you can to keep yourself safe.
Look up support groups and useful websites online; sometimes it’s really just such a relief to read the voices of other people going through similar things, even if you don’t reach out and participate in any discussions yourself.
Remember that no one is required to come out, and your assessment of the risks and benefits for you is the most important.
Lola Charity Worker:
What is being non-binary like?
Non-binary is an umbrella term used within Eurocentric cultures to describe an individual who doesn’t feel that “man” or “women” fit their entire gender.
I’m misgendered on a daily basis because there isn’t anything I can do in this society to have people “read” me as non-binary. I don’t feel I “present” as any gender because I am a-gender. And people will read me as having a gender and they will pick either man or woman.
I don’t see why I ought to blame myself for being misgendered just because this society is backwards enough to think gender can be read from clothing and appearance. Instead of blaming myself for not “presenting” well enough for people to read my gender (which I don’t believe is possible in this society), I blame this society for failing to understand gender and its complexity.
What are the biggest misconceptions about non-binary people?
My experience coming out to friends who aren’t within the LGBTQ community (most of my friends are) is that they have tried to understand it and don’t really get it completely. I usually still get misgendered by those people and have to politely remind them about it. But they at least haven’t been hostile, just interested in knowing more about what it means and perhaps a bit confused by the concept.
What more needs to be done to support non-binary people?
I’m only interested in laws and policy changes that help trans- women and trans-feminine people because they are the most at risk.
It would be great if I could go by “Mx.” on forms, but that isn’t enough.
Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) need to improve. They need to stop assessing the validity of people’s genders and asking people about their past history. I was discharged from the GIC for not “socially consolidating” my “gender role”. I have yet to be told what a non-binary person needs to do to socially consolidate their gender role despite a year later complaining.
Well for most people this concept and experience will be confusing but I hope that with a few more explanations we can start to embrace it in WMAS. It exists; it’s real even if it means it challenges our world view and our brains!
Is Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jerk Rice’ Cultural Appropriation or Something Much Worse?
Thursday 30th August
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s “punchy jerk rice” has come in for some serious criticism since its launch recently, but is the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’ a fair description? The word ‘jerk’ connotes meat marinated, then cooked over an open fire on a spit, just as the word “tandoori” takes its name from the clay ovens it was originally made in. And, just as with the word “tandoori”, it has also come to mean the specific spices that the marinade in question includes: in the case of jerk, that means allspice, scotch bonnet chillies, thyme and ginger at a minimum.
So, rather than cultural appropriation, is it really a case of breaching the ‘Trades Description Act’ as it’s not clear that “jerk rice” can actually exist in any meaningful sense. You cannot cook rice on a spit – or at least, you cannot cook rice on a spit and end up with something you are likely to be happy to eat afterwards! Yes, if you make a jerk marinade, realise you can’t be bothered to cover some meat with it and instead pour it over some rice, the resulting dish could fairly be called “jerk rice”, though some would say it would just be a waste of a perfectly good marinade.
But that isn’t what Oliver has done. His “punchy jerk rice” contains the following: aubergines, jalapenos, yellow pepper, and red pepper. It lacks allspice – the defining ingredient of a jerk marinade.
Much of the reaction to the criticism of the “jerk rice” has focused on the fact that a New York pizza is a very different beast to the Neapolitan original. This is true, but it is worth remembering that many Italians still regard the New York variant as an ‘abomination’, not a cultural offence; not appropriation, but simply as a bad way to eat and to live. And really, that’s the biggest problem with Oliver’s jerk rice: I have tried it, and in my opinion, it doesn’t taste of any jerk that I have ever tasted.
But put the issue of personal taste to one side, is Oliver’s cooking an example of cultural appropriation? I’m not convinced that that is the question we should really be asking.
Let me explain; Oliver’s ‘sin’ as perceived by others is surely a lack of respect for both the dish he is trying to make and the customer who will end up eating it?
Is it any different to someone who dons a Native American headdress at a fancy dress party forgetting that those who genuinely wear it are only able to do so after having won the honour and esteem to do so from their own people. Similarly, is it right for someone to wear a Victoria Cross (the highest honour that can be bestowed on a member of our armed forces) in similar circumstances, when the only battle they have experienced is the morning traffic on the way to work.
Surely, both of these cases, and indeed Oliver’s Jerk Rice, is simply someone showing a lack of respect. I wouldn’t be appropriating anyone’s culture but my own if I donned the traditional clothing of either a devout Ashkenazi Jew or a member of the Shona tribe, but I would, be showing a lack of respect.
Imagine a Fire in Your Body That is Invisible to Others?
Thursday 23rd August
When someone tells you they have arthritis you, like me, probably don’t think much of it.
You might say “Oh yes, I have a bit of that in my finger or “my mum has that in her hips.” However, as I have learnt, what I am really referring to is osteoarthritis which is very different. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic disease where the immune system attacks itself. It is one of those hidden conditions that you might not know about but can be excruciatingly painful and debilitating for the person who has it.
When I was asked by a member of staff to write about this in a blog I started on a journey of learning which I can hopefully share with you and open our eyes to colleagues who may have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
This means that the body’s immune system has made a mistake and picked a wrong target. To explain, as I understand it: your immune system is designed to defend your body against infection. It should not attack your body. Sometimes the immune system becomes too active and mistakenly attacks your body, and this is called ‘autoimmune’ disease. When you have RA, your immune system attacks the lining of your joints (the synovial lining). This causes inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as pain and stiffness.
RA is a symmetrical arthritis, meaning that it usually affects both sides of the body in a similar pattern, although this is not always the case. It tends to affect the small joints of the hands and feet first – often the knuckle joints in the fingers. It is described as a polyarthritis, meaning that many joints can be inflamed. RA is a systemic disease, meaning that it doesn’t just affect joints. RA can affect a person’s whole system, including organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with this condition, but something did help me, and it is a poem I read. I share this with you in the hope it helps you, as much as it helped me, to begin to understand just a little of what it must be like to live with RA:
Fit as a fiddle I used to be, circuit training, running, playing football, feeling free.
The adrenalin, the rush, the pain and the gain, being a competitor, nothing else makes me feel the same.
Fast forward to now, not too many years on, the adrenalin, the rush, I can’t believe it’s all gone.
The simplest of tasks which I once would complete, now seem to have me staring down the barrel of defeat.
Unscrew a bottle top, my hands they say no, waking up in the morning, feeling like I’ve been hit with a heavy blow.
Touch my toes? Not a chance, lift weights? I wish, run around a football field, the biggest thing I miss. Fatigued far too often and exhausted every day, it doesn’t sound much when “I’ve got arthritis” is all I can say.
“Arthritis? Ah yes, that must be a pain”, absolutely it is, but it’s pointless to explain.
From the outside looking in there’s nothing to see, but look closer, more carefully and there the inflammation will be.
Sulphasalazine, naproxen methotrexate I’ve tried, a cocktail of pills to try and keep this disease on side.
Rarely they win, at best it’s a score draw, one thing for sure, the arthritis always comes back for more.
So, for now the battle goes on, determined to beat this, though I know it will never truly be gone.
Thursday 16th August
When Pete asked me to help him write this article, we sat down and talked about his transition. I suggested we write a letter to his younger self as Paige and this is what came out. Please regard it with the respect and truth it deserves. It has not been an easy journey and the journey is not over yet.
To My Younger Self
When you were very young, you would play imaginary games with your friends. They would all be girls, and you would be a boy.
You didn’t know why, you just wanted to be a boy.
You still do.
Do you remember when you were sixteen and it was the school prom, your family said you had to wear a dress and heels, so you looked like a proper prom queen. You felt ridiculous and spent all evening trying to walk as you’d never worn heels!!
You knew then you were a different person inside So who was the person inside you?
He’s almost exactly like me. He’s funny and smart. He’s obstinate and argumentative. He likes movies and music. Maybe he isn’t as self-confident as he could be, and maybe his self-image isn’t as flattering as it should be, but it’s understandable, isn’t it? After all, he’s trapped in the body of a 16-year-old girl, and that can’t be healthy.
You will find out you are a boy in a girl’s body.
In a few years you will find that boy inside you. He’s three-dimensional, he feels more than you do now, he loves life more, but he needs the courage and the permission to be unleashed, to come out into the world and have a body and a life of his own.
“I am who I am.” Sadly, that’s not how you feel right now. What I want you to understand, is that you will transition into the boy you really are. You will be Pete and your family will accept you and you will tell people at work and allow people to ask you questions without fear. You will be you and free. Be brave Paige – Pete is just around the corner.
He will say “Some men are born in their bodies, others have to fight for it.
I regret nothing in my life even if my past was full of hurt, I still look back and smile because it made me who I am today.”
Power and Control: The Essence of Domestic
Thursday 9th August
We all know that domestic violence cuts across all cultures; ages; racial groups, class, sexuality etc. but the extremes we go through to justify and rationalise why a relationship isn’t working is extraordinary isn’t it?
Whilst domestic violence can be overt and even cause deaths, abuse is sometimes extremely subtle. It is often insidious: You go from thinking you fell in love to wondering why all of the “problems” in your relationship seem to be your fault — with no clear idea of how you got from point A to point B.
I recently met a very senior police officer who had left her partner and told me about her experience of domestic violence. For her it was financial and isolation control; her partner gave her a set amount of money each day for food and she had to produce receipts for what she had spent. It meant she could never contribute to a colleague collection or go for a drink after work or treat her team to a coffee. Her team just thought she was ‘tight’ which isolated her even further.
She has now left her partner and is much happier, but I asked her if she were to give some advice to her younger self what would she say? It was a long conversation but here are some highlights:
- Avoid a partner who reminds you that other people fancy them wants to manipulate you into believing that it is your job to please them and make them happy otherwise they can always find someone new?
- Avoid the partner who appears really interested in long term commitments within a very short time could be a tell-tale sign of grooming — the earlier they tell you what they think you want to hear, the easier it is for them to get you to put up with their lies in the future.
- Avoid the partner who blocks an exit so that you cannot leave a room during an argument until you have given them their “rightful” opportunity to talk circles around an issue they created is a person who needs to control your physical space.
- Don’t ever apologise for your “role” in their behavior? This is Master Manipulation, at its finest. Not only have they behaved poorly but have found a way to manipulate you into believing that their behaviour is/was/and will continue to be your fault. This issue is particularly difficult to pinpoint. Do your friends give you “the look” when you share details about the most recent argument? This is a subtle, yet helpful clue that things aren’t right.
- For example, someone might constantly check in with their partner and ask what they’re doing. “It starts as something that isn’t abusive at all and just seems like a person is caring,”. “Then, it builds into a pattern of control where a person wants to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times.”
- Someone might say that they don’t like spending time with their partner’s family or friends, and only wants to hang out with them alone. “By isolating someone from their support system, it’s easier for a person who’s abusive to use these power and control tactics,”. When things get difficult, it becomes harder for the person being abused to seek support.
- Sexual coercion is a big part of domestic violence. Someone might make their partner feel like they deserve sex or actually force their partner to have sex in a physical way. An abuser might pressure their partner into having sex by tapping into certain relationship “roles.” For example, they might say that they have to have sex in order to “prove their love” or that they’ll just “go get it somewhere else” in order to control their partner further.
- Unfortunately, gaslighting is a common form of emotional abuse, by which an abuser convinces their partner that they’re “crazy,” so that they begin to question their own perceptions of the relationship. They might trivialise their partner’s needs or straight-up refuse to listen to their partner altogether. “Someone may try to undermine your credibility or make you feel like you’re not remembering things accurately,”. The whole goal of gaslighting is to break down someone’s sense of reality, so they are easier to control.
I could go on with the subtle ways people use domestic violence to control their partners but if you’ve been there you will know or maybe you are still rationalising a partner’s behaviour? If there is one thing I would advise caution on – it’s anger management courses for abusers.
Anger control techniques can cause an abuser to further withdraw into denial of responsibility for the abuse in the relationship. In order for real change to occur, the abuser must accept responsibility for abusing. The misuse of anger can become another “reason” why the abuser abuses. If any of this blog describes you please get some help before it escalates.
The Moral of the Forest Tale
Thursday 2nd August
If we respect biodiversity in our ecosystems as Payeng has in this remarkable story maybe we would be better at respecting diversity & inclusion in the workplace?
A little more than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India’s Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site, so he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acres of jungle that Payeng planted — single-handedly.
It all started way back in 1979, when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng, only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” said Payeng, now 47 in a recent interview.
While it’s taken years for Payeng’s remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn’t take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shade less sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species increasingly at risk from habitat loss.
Different species fulfill important functions within the ecosystem. For example, they may be photosynthesizers, decomposers, herbivores, carnivores or pollinators. In ecosystems that have many species that can fulfill a given function, the ecosystem is more resilient. In other words, it is able to respond to disturbances such as disease or fire without collapsing. This apparent redundancy is a very effective insurance, for if one species succumbs to a disease, its “function” in the ecosystem is taken over by another species. Ecosystems with limited diversity, including monocultures (areas entirely dominated by a single species, as in most agricultural crops), are much more prone to disease than diverse natural systems.
Why is biodiversity important to people?
Humans depend on functions performed by the world’s ecosystems. Ecosystems produce oxygen, purify and detoxify the air and water, store and cycle fresh water, regulate the climate, form topsoil, prevent erosion and flood damage, and produce raw materials, foods and medicines. Most of these ecosystem services cannot be replaced by human technology, at any cost. Biodiversity is the ‘library’ of species and genetic information that allows the Earth’s systems to function.
If we respect biodiversity in our ecosystems as Payeng has in his remarkable story maybe we would be better at respecting diversity & inclusion in the workplace?
Ageism is Becoming an Issue for Diversity and Inclusion
Thursday 19th July
In an era of inclusivity and diversity, ageism is growing as one of the new challenges that organisations face which is ironic given we all age. Ageism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age.”
We are on the precipice of the creation of an ageist hashtag that will raise awareness of the need for inclusivity and diversity at all ranges of the age spectrum. The challenge is managing both a generation that wants to race up the ladder, skipping rungs, with another that has climbed up rung-by-rung.
In both WMAS discussions and current workplace demographics on the rise of ageism, some themes are predominant and worthy guideposts for managing leadership challenges and opportunities.
Ageism is not age specific
Ageism is being experienced across the spectrum. Both demographics at either end claim they are misunderstood.
We not only have to fill gaps with candidates that can fulfil current roles, but with an uncertain future, we need to find candidates who can roll with the punches. This is less about age and more about personality.
Ambition and development springs eternal
The desire to grow, learn, explore and develop personally and professionally is common to every age. While quick to offer development plans for the younger generation, we are often remiss in ensuring our aging demographic remains motivated. As the population ages, development plans across all ages and stages of life and work need to be offered and implemented.
Leave your ego at the door
While this cliché rings true across a broad range of situations, it is perhaps most apparent in the workplace, particularly with millennials and boomers. Given the two groups often experience parallel age-range challenges at home (parents versus children), sometimes the dynamic extends to the workplace. With increasing, fast-paced requirements placed on the Trust, it takes an egoless team of minds to keep up, let alone remain a Trust ranked Excellent.
Experience is key
At one time, I worried about a glass ceiling; I now evaluate whether a glass floor exists, run by a younger generation who – in the adrenalin rush of the new – lose sight of the value of experience, which can help to weather the highs and lows caused by “always new” and “always on.”
As I reflect on our own Trust, I wonder if the generations within our organisation are as aware and respectful of the need for and benefits of age diversity.
As the number of years, we spend in the workplace evolves, it will be interesting to note – and participate in – in how different generations respect, leverage and learn from each other’s talent.
Beyond the Uniform
Thursday 19th July
What would you do if your daughter came home and told you she’s a boy? I know there are some staff in the Trust who have children who are trans so I write this blog in support of them and more specifically for Cole, a member of our staff who is transitioning from female to male.
When Cole first spoke to his manager about his intended transition, the manager contacted me and the LGBT network for advice and together with Cole we worked out all the practical things we could do. However, the thing that kept niggling at Cole was how he was going to tell all his colleagues at work without having to have a conversation with everyone every day. In the end we decided on writing a piece that all staff could read and here it is:
Cole had two pictures of himself, one at the age of seventeen presenting as a young woman and one at twenty-one presenting as a young man. He wrote:
“The first photo was taken when I was aged 17 and the next one is me now aged 21. I’ve learnt so much in the space of these two photos it’s unreal. I’ve learnt that it is ok to be different and to take a path that some people might not accept but the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that life is so short and you only get one so you have to make every second count.
“I realised that I wasn’t living the life that fulfilled me the most and I was trying to fit in with what I thought was the ‘norm’ My journey is far from over but I’m embracing every minute I get and not wasting any time.
“I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m trans, I’m me”
The most brilliant thing is that once people have read this from Cole they may decide to change aspects of their own lives; making every second count; not wasting time or being what others want them to be.
Well done Cole for deciding to be your authentic self and for sharing this. Opinions don’t always count but being true to ourselves does.
The Pros and Cons of Dyslexia Simulation
Thursday 12th July
After his friend described to him what it was like to be dyslexic, Victor Widely decided to turn her words into a simulation, so non-dyslexic people could understand what it was like. Now I accept the technical ingenuity of this approach and how using the internet to help people understand what dyslexia is like, comes from a well- meaning place- but I also find the concept troubling.
The simulation is, I believe, based on an algorithm which scrambles all but initial and final letters 20 times a second in randomly selected words, so it looks like the words are jumping over the page. So, I tried it and I thought this might be how some people experience it, but it cannot be the same for everyone? I decided to check out what other people thought and one of the most enlightening comments I found was on the International Dyslexia Association website:
“it does little to deepen anyone’s understanding about what having dyslexia is really like. Sure, trying to read the altered Wikipedia text is challenging. And, sure, learning to read can be challenging for someone with dyslexia. Both are tough. But the two are as different as a 100-yard run and a marathon. It would be absurd to say that someone who has run 100 yards knows what it is like to run a marathon. Claiming that the simulation imparts insight into what it is like to have dyslexia is equally absurd.
Dyslexia is much more than experiencing frustration while struggling to read text. And this simulation offers about as much insight into the dyslexic experience as skipping a meal offers a well-nourished person insight into the experience of starvation.” (Caroline Cowen)
My response to the above quote is “Exactly!!”
It reminds me of the white Texan writer called John Howard Griffin who walked into a doctor’s office in New Orleans and asked him to turn his skin colour black. Griffin took oral medication and was bombarded with ultraviolet rays; he cut off his hair to hide an absence of curls and shaved the back of his hands. Then he went on a tour of the Deep South for six weeks to discover what it was like to be black. The result was a book titled Black Like Me.
But a white man disguised as black could not understand the issues and resentments that came with hundreds of years of inherited slavery. Black Like Me is a well-intentioned book but also a hopelessly anachronistic one.
I have the same response to the simulation on dyslexia. It is not a bad intent, of course. But the result is the same. Conveying well-meaning but wrong-headed ideas about dyslexia (e.g. implying that people who have it literally see letters “jumping around” rapid fire) does not help raise awareness about dyslexia or the skills it gives people.
The Amazing Communication Skills of Deaf People
Thursday 5th July
Hearing people often see Deaf people in two different ways. Either as people who have lost something – their hearing – or as people who have gained something – the ability to communicate without sound. I hope that many of us appreciate the latter.
In the first case, Hearing people will express at best compassion towards Deaf people, which will be perceived by them as offensive.
In the second case, pity will be replaced by curiosity, respect of the difference, and desire to learn skills which are not found in the Hearing world. Here are a few examples of those skills:
- Deaf people talk one at a time, in a very sequential manner. Hearing people talk all at the same time, and often interrupt one another.
- Deaf people are able to be simple and precise at the same time. Hearing people are either simple and vague, or precise and complex.
- Deaf people stay focused on the interaction. Hearing people disconnect regularly.
- Deaf people constantly reformulate and check understanding, saying when they don’t understand. Hearing people often don’t ask others to repeat, and don’t say when they don’t understand something.
These may seem like simple things but for those of us who are hearing people, we can learn a lot from deaf people and maybe improve our own communication skills!
I’m A Boy
Thursday 28th June
“Worrying about Tom affected my every waking moment. I went to my GP, but she looked at me like she wanted to vomit when I told her what had been going on. When I walked out of the surgery I burst into tears.
What would you do if your daughter came home and told you she’s a boy?”
I know there are some staff in the Trust who have children who are transgender so I write this blog in support of them.
I recently went to an event run by the charity Mermaids who support young people, who are transgender alongside families, friends and professionals. A parent spoke of her journey and I would like to reproduce it here for all the parents and friends of those who share or know someone who has a similar journey and for all allies who would do the same thing if they were in Jane’s shoes.
Jane is a mother of two who shared this:
“I’ve never brought my children up to particularly conform to gender stereotypes, so when Tom developed an obsession for Fireman Sam at the age of three I didn’t have a problem with it. He never wanted to wear a dress and rejected anything that was pink or flowery.
“But as Tom got older and became more verbal I began to think this might be more than just a little girl who was a tomboy.
“At the age of five on a trip out with his grandma Tom told her that he couldn’t wait till he was older and could grow a beard, because then he would know he was a boy. Then he told me he knew he wouldn’t grow boobs and that he would get a willy when he was bigger. When I gently explained that wouldn’t happen he just said, ‘of course it will’.
“For Tom, the realisation he was transgender dawned gradually, and I too started to gradually realise that this wasn’t a phase he would grow out of. I began to do a lot of online research into trans children and I talked to friends and colleagues about what Tom was experiencing. The vast majority told me it would go away, but deep down I knew it was more than that.
“Tom didn’t have many friends at school and he was quite solitary. He liked to play very involved, extensive role-play games where he was always the male character. By the time he was six and a half he was dressing as a boy and had asked to use the name ‘Tom’ to refer to him.
“He had gorgeous blonde hair which fell in curly ringlets, and he begged me to let him have it cut short, in a boy’s style. I finally agreed and just before the new school term started I took him to the hairdresser, and reassured myself as it fell away that it was only hair, and that it would grow back. But Tom absolutely loved it.
“At that point we were still referring to Tom using female pronouns, and I told him he needed to use the girl’s toilets at school, which he didn’t want to do. He’d always been an easy-going child, but he began to have explosive temper tantrums and became very anxious about going to school.
“It was clear something wasn’t right, but I had no idea where to turn. I felt so protective of my child, I just wanted to help him feel better and get him back to his sunny, cheeky self.
“Worrying about Tom affected my every waking moment. I went to my GP, but she looked at me like she wanted to vomit when I told her what had been going on. When I walked out of the surgery I burst into tears.
“It was my mum who told me about Mermaids, she had found them while searching online. When I first looked at the website I felt conflicting emotions. I almost felt guilty, as if by admitting I needed help and support I was making too big a deal of things and that I was actually encouraging things by simply looking for advice.
“But as soon as I joined the parents’ forum it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Other parents were going through this too and there were lots of other children out there like Tom.
“We began to think about the idea of using male pronouns in early 2015, when Tom was eight. He came up with a plan where we would start on holiday and if it was success we’d do it at home and then at school. By that point he looked and behaved completely like a boy anyway, so it seemed natural to other holidaymakers on our campsite in France that we would refer to him like that. And it soon became second nature to us too.
“When he went back to school in September 2015 Tom returned completely as a boy. He uses the boys’ toilets and he gets changed with the boys at swimming, although he is allowed to use a cubicle rather than the communal area.
“My daughter Emily has been wonderful and is Tom’s greatest advocate. She summed it up when she told me that before she had a really weird sister, whereas now she has a normal brother. And Tom is a normal little boy – it’s not everyone’s idea of normal, but it is ours.”
The Advantages of Being Dyslexic
Thursday 21st June
Strengths of Dyslexia
When someone mentions the word “Dyslexia” people usually think of someone who finds it hard to read and spell, reverses their letters, are disorganised or forgetful. What they don’t think about are the advantages that dyslexics have over non-dyslexics. However, research has highlighted some positive aspects to being dyslexic:
- Great at visual thinking- thinking in pictures
- Fast problem solvers, able to think laterally
- Excellent trouble-shooters
- Intuitive- good at reading people
- Verbally articulate- great communicators
- Creative- so many dyslexic people are employed as designers, artists, actors, chefs
- Spatially talented many dyslexics are employed as engineers, architects, designers, artists, mathematicians, physicists, physicians (especially: Surgeons and Orthopedists), and dentists.
- Dyslexic people frequently enjoy above average physical co-ordination skills
Dyslexia is not a Result of low Intelligence
Dyslexia is the result of a neurological difference; however, it is not an intellectual disability.
Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence, average, above average, and highly gifted.
It is most commonly characterised by difficulties with learning to read, write and spell but one of the biggest barriers to a dyslexic child becoming successful when they leave school is the lack of confidence that has built up if it was left undiagnosed and teachers/parents have told them that they are lazy, a day dreamer, careless.
Famous People who are Dyslexic
There is no cure for dyslexia however, with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate help, so much can be done to significantly improve reading, spelling and writing ability and to provide strategies to help a dyslexic person excel at home, school, further education or at work
There are thousands of examples of well-known dyslexic people who have achieved huge success:
Albert Einstein – He could not talk until the age of four and did not learn to read until he was nine. His teachers considered him slow, unsociable and a dreamer.
Richard Branson-School was a nightmare for him. His dyslexia embarrassed him and he was sure he failed the standard Intelligence tests. However, what the tests didn’t measure was Richard’s passion and ambition, his ability to connect with people and encourage them to chase their dreams.
Other Famous Dyslexic People include:
Robin Williams; Tom Cruise; Keanu Reeves; Kiera Knightley; Billy Bob Thornton; Leonardo da Vinci; Michael Faraday; Pablo Picasso; Andy Warhol; Whoopi Goldberg; Jessica Watson; Steve Redgrave; Muhammad Ali; Agatha Christie; Tommy Hilfiger; Winston Churchill; Thomas Edison; John Lennon; Cher and Alexander Graham Bell.
So, if you are dyslexic you are in amazing company!!
Fatism – A Diversity and Inclusion Issue
Thursday 14th June
The latest NHS figures show that 66% of men and 57% of women in the UK are overweight or obese. Okay so we all know we need to do something about it and we all know people who are on endless diets but why is Fatism a diversity & inclusion issue?
It’s hard enough dealing with issues of image when you’re a woman or a man. Everywhere you look there are air-brushed models, men with six packs, unrealistic representations, and judgment. As I think more and more about what diversity & inclusion mean, I’ve realised the falsehood of these things and how badly the stereotypes of overweight people can impact on peoples’ lives.
As the friend of a number of plus-sized man and women, I’m frequently annoyed with stereotypes and assumptions made about them.
There are many different reasons someone could be overweight, which is why the stereotypes are so aggravating. But I think it’s safe to say that generalising any group of people is ignorant and wrong and dangerous. Overweight people are no exception.
Below are the most offensive stereotypes I’ve witnessed, and think should be challenged
Overweight people are always eating.
No- you probably notice when someone is eating, what they are eating and making un-conscious assumptions
Overweight people are lazy
No lots of overweight people are busy from the minute their feet hit the floor in the morning until their head hits the pillow at night. Just because they may not have tales of what they do at the gym, it does not mean they are sitting on their backsides all day.
Overweight people are prone to be sick all because of their weight.
No-overweight people are not all wracked with health problems, either. I realise being overweight can increase the risk of a multitude of diseases and issues (heart disease diabetes etc.). But it’s not a guarantee, and you can’t assume an overweight person has these challenges.
Overweight people are jealous of thin people.
No-Lots of people don’t care about who is thinner than them. They are not all jealous of thin people and like being the size they are
Overweight people don’t know they’re fat.
No-I’ve overheard more than one person in my life feel the need to point out to others that they are putting on weight. People don’t need others to make them aware of being overweight. People are perfectly capable of knowing this for themselves.
Overweight people don’t know how to lose weight themselves.
No- No-one needs to be enlightened with unsolicited advice as if we aren’t aware you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. People aren’t all completely helpless in this capacity.
Overweight people are all jolly slobs.
No-Is it really that funny for so many silly, bumbling TV, book and movie characters to be depicted as overweight, uneducated yet loveable because of their good “sense of humour”
Many overweight people are educated, successful professionals who are goal-oriented and have a lot to offer an organisation.
If someone is overweight it is not anyone’s business to judge but if you see that person being stereotyped or discriminated against .IT IS.
Stereotypes and assumptions are destructive. This is where discrimination is born. It’s not OK to discriminate against someone for any reason, and size is not an exception.
Autism – Different, Not Less
Thursday 31st May
I am not the parent of a child with autism. I am good friends with a mother of autistic children and admittedly come from the position of someone who does not entirely understand the entire spectrum, however, I do have a strong interest in learning more, particularly from a neurodiversity perspective.
What annoys me are comments I hear and challenge such as:
- “He can’t be autistic because….”
- “He’ll probably grow out of it…”
- “I read that autism is caused by….”
- “I heard that you can cure autism by….”
I am particularly intrigued by comments that include the word “cure” and how a lot of people on the autistic spectrum like who they are and don’t want to be ‘cured’ thank you very much!
An important point in this conversation is having clarity between physical issues versus behavioral issues. The neurology of autism is how an individual’s brain is physically formed, like the colour of your eyes or the shape of your nose. Autism manifests itself through specific, measurable behaviors, but those behaviors alone are not what autism is.
Perhaps people mistakenly assume successful adaptation of behavioral issues to what society considers normal is a ‘cure’, when in reality the fact of how the brain was physically formed will always exist.
As autism is a neurological wonder with behavioral cues; there can be no cure without somehow re-forming the brain. The ability to adapt is as much a part of the brain as is the neurology that causes autism. The willingness to adapt is fundamental to a person’s character.
Looking at it another way, if someone who is left-handed learns to be right-handed because it is easier in a dominantly right-handed society, does that mean that they are ‘cured’ of being left-handed? No. The ‘draw’ in the brain to be left-handed is always there. It is how people are made.
It is with some joy that I can see how some companies are embracing neuro-diversity and actively recruiting people on the Autism spectrum.
IBM take the view that if someone has a disability a corresponding ability is often revealed.
In autism it could be skills such as:
- Taking things literally to excel at following instructions
- Repetitive work does not bore some people and they love structure; while some can excel at pattern matching
- Being focused on one subject matter makes some astounding experts in an area
- Some people are able to concentrate on tasks that easily wear down others
IBM recognise these talents and find great use in areas such as software development, especially in testing. However, because many on the autism spectrum find it hard to look a person in the eye, control repetitive or comforting behaviors, or hold a ‘normal’ casual conversation, they don’t always fare well in interviews. Their talent and academic achievement is wasted, and organisations miss out on talented individuals.
With targeted recruiting, a change in interviewing skills, and some reasonable workplace accommodations – largely through educating ‘neurotypical’ staff and management to be more precise, careful and literal in their instruction – these differences can be cast aside to the benefit of both the autistic individual in getting a productive and meaningful job, the workforce morale, and an organisation.
So next time you hear some of the comments I started this blog with, challenge the neurotypical brains with the wonder of the neuro-diverse brain.
How are we including straight white men in the diversity & inclusion debate?
Thursday 24th May
Research has found the increased focus on diversity in the workplace has overlooked straight white men.
This is why some organisations have moved beyond focusing solely on diversity, or diversity and inclusion (D&I) to a new, even better goal: diversity, inclusion, and belonging. When you address belonging, you help ensure the best ideas are getting heard. The major bonus is that everyone brings their best selves to work and feels engaged to help the organisation achieve its goals.
I am interested to see if we can work towards a number of initiatives designed to build a greater sense of belonging among straight, white men when it comes to diversity and inclusion at WMAS.
The executive director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, Karen Horting, shared a particularly interesting perspective in an article this month for Forbes.
Horting described efforts from her organisation to create “meaningful diversity” in the workforce by tapping more often into the white male perspective – which sometimes dominates engineering firms.
“At the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), our focus on a real-world solution is a decidedly female-oriented approach. What we have found in our experience, however, might surprise you: the key to diversity in the workplace is men – specifically, white men,” Horting wrote. “At SWE, we have implemented a programme called Men as Diversity Partners, based on the very premise that, for business to achieve the promise of diversity, men must be willing partners in this pursuit. To come up with this solution, we talked to a lot of men about diversity in the workforce and we listened to them.”
These perspectives are important in order to make progress. My experience here at WMAS tells me that straight white men want to get involved, but might feel awkward doing it, wondering how they can contribute or fear being labelled as part of the problem versus a key to the solution. If we exclude this group of people, we are as guilty of discrimination as the charges that are sometimes put to them!
In some places people are so frightened that if they ask any questions or challenge anybody on diversity, they’re going to be seen as being anti-diversity or racist, sexist, heterosexist etc. As one manager said to me “Therefore, they just shut up and sit back and walk on eggshells”
Let’s face it, if we want change, we need to include everyone, listen to every voice and recognise that every change agent needs allies and partners. All ideas welcome! If you have any ideas, get in touch 01384 246 361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supporting employees and colleagues during Ramadan
Thursday 17th May
Many of you reading this blog will know that during the period of Ramadan, many Muslims will fast, unless they have a health condition that does not allow them to do so. This year Ramadan is likely to start on the 17th May and will last a full calendar month.
The word ‘Ramadan’ simply refers to the name of a month, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This month is considered to be the holiest of the twelve as it was in Ramadan that the Prophet Muhammad initially received divine revelation. In short, it is considered the month of the year you dedicate yourself to God.
The Islamic calendar is calculated according the lunar cycles. Ramadan therefore begins when the new moon is sited. As a result, the start and finish times change from year to year, usually getting 10 days earlier each year, so in 10 or so years, Muslims in Britain will be fasting much shorter days during winter.
However, Ramadan 2018 for Muslims in the UK means they are facing very long days, as the holy month coincides with the summer, meaning long fasts. Many Muslims will not eat, smoke or drink water during daylight, which at this time of year can last about 16 to 19 hours, depending on your UK location, with those in Scotland facing the longest fast.
It is common to have one meal, known as the Suhoor, just before dawn and another, known as the Iftar, directly after sunset. For those of you who are ‘grazers’ throughout the day, you can imagine how difficult it would be if you were unable to do so!
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London recently said the thing he would miss most is his coffee at work! But he would also be promoting better community relations and understanding of Islam by hosting Iftars in churches, synagogues’ and mosques.
Head teachers in schools were concerned about the impact Ramadan may have on pupils taking exams and some exam boards have ensured that key GCSE and A-level examinations were timetabled this summer to take account of the holy month.
The Muslim Council of Britain has also warned those who are fasting to be careful during long and hot daylight hours. It says that as dehydration is a serious risk during hot weather, it is important to drink plenty of water between Iftar (sunset meal) and Suhoor (pre-dawn meal). For night workers, it is really important they have access to water. Homeless shelters up and down the country are holding Iftars with the homeless.
So what else can we do to support Muslim employees at work?
- Having apolicy on religious observance during working hours should have a positive impact on employees. On the other hand, an absence of such a policy, together with a failure to be supportive towards employees whose religious beliefs require them to observe certain practices, could lead to accusations of religious discrimination.
- Show tolerance on productivity levels and offer flexible working hours It may be that productivity of an employee who is fasting is affected, particularly towards the latter part of the working day, when blood sugar levels are lower.
- Managers should be aware of this and not unduly penalise or criticise an employee whose productivity has suffered because he or she is fasting during a period of religious observance. Some individuals may prefer to start their working day earlier, or work through lunch hours in order to finish earlier so that they can break fast at home although this might be more difficult with some jobs in the Trust.
- If possible, avoid holding social team events, such as extra-work activities during Ramadan. Don’t be offended if Muslim staff decline invitations to these functions.
- Encourage discussion to support and raise awareness amongst colleagues about Ramadan and support any fundraising activities which may be occurring. Some Muslims will be supporting certain charitable donations as part of their commitment to the spirit of the holy month.
- Many Muslims are more observant of prayers during Ramadan and would appreciate somewhere to pray as well as attending prayers at the Mosque more frequently. It is great that we now have quiet rooms in each hub to accommodate this.
- Once Ramadan is over, celebrate Eid with your Muslim colleagues and managers, please support requests for leave for Eid. It is a wonderful occasion with lots of food and presents and spending time with family and friends! A colleague of mine celebrating Eid last year was also celebrating the fact he had had given up smoking and lost a stone in weight due to his observances during Ramadan!
Thursday 10th May
Muslims are among Britain’s most generous givers, topping a poll of religious groups that donate to charity, according to new research reported in The Times newspaper.
With Ramadan fast approaching, it is the time that many Muslims give to charity. Last year the Charities Commission revealed Muslims gave over £100 million during Ramadan. Giving to charity is an important part of Ramadan. Zakāt, one of the five ‘pillars’ of Islam, dictates that Muslims must give a fixed percentage of their income to the poor, but many give more than this, especially during this period.
Some people are under the misapprehension that the money raised only goes to charities that are supporting Muslim communities. In fact, money donated through Ramadan appeals last year were given to a huge variety of causes. Countries around the world from Europe to North America were reported to be benefitting, with projects including:
- Helping people affected by floods in the North West of England
- Running soup kitchens for homeless people in Britain
- Supporting people to start honey-bee farms in Palestine
- Distributing hygiene kits and food in Haiti
- Teaching hairdressers and beauticians how to sterilise their equipment to prevent the spread of hepatitis
- Building ‘micro-dams’ in Mali to harness water from flash floods to be used during the dry season
- 300 volunteers delivering 22,000 chocolate cakes to be eaten at the end of the day when the Ramadan fast is broken. Cakes cost £10 each and all proceeds went to provide humanitarian relief in Syria
Along with charity, community is a core part of Islam and in the practices of being a Muslim. It’s important that Muslims maintain a positive and active relationship with members of their family and in the communities, they are a part of.
When we think of community, we often think of the street or area we live in, but Islam teaches a much broader and deeper definition of community that intertwines with the spirit of Ramadan itself.
Community in Ramadan means taking small and big actions to look out for and remind everyone around you that they are a valued member of society.
Community in Ramadan can mean being the first to wake up in your house to make suhoor for everyone to prepare for the long fasting day ahead.
Community in Ramadan means preparing more food for iftar to hand out plates amongst neighbours as well as sharing recipes to try for the following days of the month.
Community in Ramadan means fasting in your British town and being able to empathise with millions of others across the world, wherever they may be.
If you are a member of WMAS staff and would like to know more about how to support any Muslim colleagues during Ramadan, feel free to contact me via email@example.com.
The role of the Ambulance Woman
Thursday 3rd May
A handbook for ambulance personnel published in 1970 made no bones about the “limited nature” of duties female ambulance staff could perform.
The theme of this International Women’s Year’s campaign is “Press for Progress” and it marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote. Much has changed in that time, thankfully!
The handbook, written by S Cripwell Morris, features a chapter entitled “The Role of the Ambulance Woman”. It reads: “Female ambulance attendants are employed by some Authorities, but obviously the duties which they can perform normally have to be of a limited nature.
“Their true value comes in the daily transportation of the more mobile out-patients, using the sitting-car type of vehicle, and in dealing with old people and children.
“I would not in any way decry the worth of female ambulance attendants, because they do most certainly ease the out-patient work-load, allowing more double (male) crews to be available for emergency work.
“The female ambulance attendant would be advised to undergo a period of training similar to that of her male counterpart, especially comprehensive first aid, kinetics, the handling of the elderly, and good road-craft. But perhaps some special emphasis might be placed on those more sedentary aspects of the service, i.e., work in Control, preparation of work, etc., in case relief should be required in that department.”
Those words of advice are a far cry from how things are done in 2018 – with women playing key roles in all areas of our organisation.
However, we may look back and laugh at the attitudes held then, but it may well be that the young people of today will, in future decades, look back at views they once held and feel horrified.
What might these flaws be? What else might our descendants condemn us for? If enough of us know the answer to that today, we really have no excuse but to act on it today – that’s why diversity and inclusion will never stop being on the agenda.
Next generation innovation is about being open, to collecting insights from anyone, anywhere, on any topic — and finding ways to constantly connect these seemingly unexpected dots to create new ideas and breakthroughs. The winners of the future will be those with access to new and unexpected forms of insights and partnerships.
Pips Bunce. A Director at Global Bank Credit Suisse dresses according to which gender appeals most on waking up in the morning.
Are you stereotyped by Artificial Intelligence?
Thursday 26th April
The conventional wisdom, often peddled by Silicon Valley, is that when it comes to bias in decision-making, artificial intelligence is the great equaliser. On the face of it, it makes sense: if we delegate complex decisions to AI, it becomes all about the math’s, cold calculations uncolored by the bias or prejudices we hold as people.
As we’ve entered the infancy of the AI age, the fallacy in this thinking has revealed itself in some spectacular ways. Have you noticed those assistants that execute basic tasks (Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa) have female voices, while more sophisticated problem-solving bots (IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s Einstein) have male ones? What a surprise!
As with any new technology, artificial intelligence reflects the bias of its creators. Societal bias, the attribution of individuals or groups with distinct traits without any data to back it up, is a stubborn problem. Our introduction of artificial intelligence may be making it worse.
Artificial intelligence is already driving decision-making in a long list of parts of everyday life: loan-worthiness, emergency response, medical diagnosis, job candidate selection, criminal punishment, and educator performance to name but a few.
The idea that AI could function unaffected by bias reflects a misunderstanding of how the technology works. All machine intelligence is built upon training data that was, at some point, created by people. Recently, Microsoft introduced “Tay.ai” to the world, a conversational chatbot that would use live interactions on Twitter to get ‘smarter’ in real time. While Tay proved an impressively advanced conversationalist, after 24 hours on Twitter, he was also horribly racist and misogynist. Tay was removed immediately!
AI is only as effective as the data it is trained on. In Tay’s case, the machine intelligence is accurately reflecting the prejudices of the people it drew its training from. Machines place no value judgment on the data correlations they are given. It’s just math’s to them.
Recently, the AI community was left largely stunned when a study released by two researchers claimed that artificial intelligence could use facial recognition to tell if you were gay or straight. However, the AI was built using entirely white subjects, all of whom had posted their profiles on dating sites, along with their photographs, the study concluded that its neural technology could predict whether a person was gay or straight roughly over 70 percent of the time. Imagine being ‘outed’ or the ‘wrong’ profile coming up?
What is most important now is achieving diversity of backgrounds in teams designing and architecting AI systems, across race, gender, culture, sexuality and socioeconomic background. Anyone paying attention knows about the diversity challenges of any sector but given the clear bias problem and AI’s trajectory to touch all parts of our lives, there’s no more critical place than tech to attack the diversity problem in AI.
Diverse teams will be better equipped for another crucial step: removing bias from the training data that feeds machine intelligence. This means intentional screening of data to remove biased or limiting correlations (man = office, woman = kitchen, for instance). Teams will need to ensure fair and equal representation in training data. Otherwise, group think will just perpetuate conscious or unconscious bias and one day that could affect you too.
Can we learn from others & embrace cognitive diversity?
Thursday 5th April
The underlying psychological bias that results in what we recognise as “groupthink” behaviour is beginning to be well documented, with a greater focus on ensuring organisations actively seek more cognitive diversity in their teams to be successful.
Another term that has been commonly used to describe ‘group think’ is herding, it is in evidence all around us: in work, in the consumer world and particularly in emergency services. But why does herding happen?
Psychologists describe herding as social proof, a behaviour when people follow the actions of others in an attempt to reflect the “correct” behaviour for a given situation. This urge to conform to established patterns or to follow the lead of perceived authority figures, trendsetters or simply people “in the know” is the social glue that binds people into a herd.
The reality is that ‘group think’ is natural, we all feel comfortable when we are around people who have common perceptions, experiences and perspectives.
Social proof is in many aspects of our lives, this tendency to conform and follow can be beneficial. In fact, social proof is one of our key human traits.
The evidence suggests that the social proof bias is amplified in complex situations where the “right way” to act is ambiguous yet the importance of being accurate is critical. A work environment potentially, then, offers perfect conditions for social proof to operate in an exaggerated way, giving rise to the herd behaviour that can drive bubbles and bursts.
Herding with money
If any of you have made any forays into investments you may have seen how when stock markets are falling, there is a strong pull on investor emotions as social proof (and loss aversion) encourages them to sell if they see others doing so. Buy why? The evidence from behavioural finance suggests the answer to this question could be surprisingly irrational – that people sell because others are selling. Herding and group think are actively being played out.
The lesson for organisations now is that in the same way investors can fall into ‘group think’ so can hiring managers. If we keep recruiting in our own image and in the same pool of potential applicants we will keep the ‘group think’ intact and remain rigid compared to those organisations who are embracing cognitive diversity (different ways of thinking and doing things) and the creativity and innovation it brings with it.
Labels or no labels?
Thursday 29th March 2018
Armed with the millennial generation’s defining traits — Web savvy, boundless confidence and social networks that extend online and off, I thought I had understood the issues surrounding multi- generational work teams.
However, a conversation with my 15 year old nephew Nikhil and his friends raised the spectrum of Generation Z who are hot on the heels of the Millennial Generation who appear to be forging a political identity all of their own.
Having been to the London Pride Event our discussion turned to the LGBT agenda where it seems that generation Z is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question isn’t whom they love, but who they are — that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation.
L.G.B.T.” includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender —but the new vanguard wants a broader, more inclusive abbreviation.
Part of the solution has been to add more letters; the emerging rubric is “L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.,” which stands for different things, depending on whom you ask.
“Q” can mean “questioning” or “queer,” an umbrella term itself, formerly derogatory before it was appropriated by gay activists in the 1990s. “I” is for “intersex,” someone whose anatomy is not exclusively male or female. And “A” stands for “ally” (a friend of the cause) or “asexual,” characterised by the absence of sexual attraction.
It may be a mouthful, but it’s catching on, especially amongst some young people.
As Nikhil said to me when you see terms like L.G.B.T.Q.I.A., “it’s because people are seeing all the things that fall out of the binary, and demanding that a more inclusive name come into being”.
Still, the alphabet spaghetti of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. may be difficult to sustain. In the next 10 or 20 years, the various categories heaped under the umbrella of L.G.B.T. could become quite quotidian.
Then Nikhil rattled off a list of gender identities, many culled from Wikipedia. “We have our lesbians, our gays,” he said, before adding, “bisexual, transsexual, queer, homosexual, and asexual.” He took a breath and continued. “Pansexual. Omni sexual. Trisexual. Agender. Bi-gender. Third gender. Transgender. Transvestite. Intersexual. Two-spirit. Hijra. Polyamorous,Cisgender, Gender fluid.”
In response to this growing trend some universities allow students to register their preferred pronouns in the university computer systems and the University of Lancaster UK has installed gender neutral toilets in the university’s library and Sugarhouse nightclub.
From a business perspective, it’s becoming more obvious that companies that want to reach teenage and Generation Z consumers (and talent) have to show they “get it.”
Facebook made it official last February when it told the world that limiting binary-gendered options is a thing of the past and added a third option to its standard male and female ones: custom.
From a drop-down menu, users can select from 58 different identities, including agender, androgyne, gender fluid, trans female, trans male, trans person, cisgender, and two-spirit. (Each term refers to a subtle variation of gender and sexual identity and expression.) For users who don’t fit into the 58 pre-populated list of gender identities, Facebook offers a 59th option: “fill in the blank.”
Four months after expanding its gender list in the US., the social media giant unrolled 70 custom gender options for its U.K. users, including intersex man, intersex woman, and asexual as well as allow users to choose either a female, male, or gender neutral pronouns.
The U.K. have now added the gender neutral title, Mx (which was also recently added to Oxford English Dictionary alongside the standard choices of Miss, Ms., Mrs., or Mr .Interestingly Mx still comes up as a spelling error on spell check.
Notably, a number of government forms and some banks allow for the term Mx.
We have an interesting time ahead. I wonder what being a champion for the LGBT community will look like in the future or what the world of diversity analytics will offer.