Really excited for Lesbian Visibility Day, April 26th, this year. I’m giving a talk ‘Is Lesbian Visibility Day in your Diversity Calendar?’ for the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in the North East network. You can find out more here.
Really pleased to be interviewed live on TRT World’s ‘Money Talks’ show on International Women’s Day, 2021, talking about the challenges globally of the gender pay gap and how to address it.
On Friday this week, I posted on LinkedIn a personal ‘week in review’. It had been a busy week filled with some really positive things for me work-wise and my post celebrated that.
The post was only half the story. What I didn’t mention was the backdrop of this week in the UK that has left me, like many others, upset and angry. I wasn’t intending to add to all the commentary already made – some brilliant and empathic, some with many women sharing their experiences, some very defensive (‘not all men’) and some blatantly misogynist. However, I have been feeling so angry that I have wanted to put something down about my thoughts. So, this is alternative week in review.
With huge ironic timing, the week began with International Women’s Day on Monday and is ending with Mother’s day today. In the UK this week we have witnessed Sarah Everard’s (RIP) kidnap and murder and the subsequent arrest of a police officer. The trending hashtag on Twitter in response to this quickly became #notallmen, displacing Sarah Everard’s name. The conversation about a woman’s kidnap and murder and the experiences that women chose to share of the safety work many of us do when moving around in public, or the harassment or abuse they had received, had been turned round to talk about men’s feelings. The unofficial vigil on Clapham Common saw police arresting women with disproportionate force, which has been rightly condemned; we await an official response from the Met Police arising from the outcry this has provoked.
My little world
This week’s unfolding events have caused me, in an unpurposeful, haphazard way, to recall incidents of harassment or abuse I have been subjected to. They were buzzing around in my head and forming a cumulative picture of part of my experience of being a woman. I have never been raped or ‘seriously’ physically assaulted and I have never been subjected to domestic abuse – it is a sad indictment that I have heard myself say I am ‘lucky’ for not having been subjected to these things. In my friendship circle, I know women who have experienced all of these things. Here are some things that have happened to me, however, that buzzed around in my head this week. They date from some early experiences to a few weeks ago (I’m 50, so that’s a lot of years of this incremental harassment):
Aged 14/15, walking from school to the bus stop, I had my crotch grabbed by a random boy younger than me; aged 15 or so, the GP ‘examined’ my boobs for cancerous lumps when I went in for something entirely different (I was too naive to understand what went on until many years later); my bum has been felt innumerable times in pubs/bars. So that’s crotch, boobs and bum ticked off – parts of my body that are ‘sexualised’ and clearly they belong to boys/men, not an autonomous human being, not me. Standing at a bus stop – two drunk men, one of whom took hold of my hand. It ended fine but one of the things is, you don’t know which of these kind of incidents is going to ‘end fine’ and which is not.
Then there is the verbal: some highlights I can remember: ‘Nice arse, shame about the face’ (walking home from university); ‘I’d spend all my wages on you; I only get 50p a week’ (on the street where I lived, coming home from work); ‘You’re not much to look at – you should make more effort, love’ (walking home from Pride where I’d volunteered in the Women’s Tent all day (the irony! And we don’t have a Women’s Tent any more – but that’s a story for another blog!)). The last incident was a few weeks ago – it was completely inarticulate but entailed a car full of men slowing down, one opening the window to verbalise/jeer something (misogynist/homophobic/both ?) and drive off; this was a busy main road, afternoon, as I was walking into the city centre. Along with the countless ‘cheer up, love, it might never happen’ and ‘smile’ comments, these verbal exclamations inform me I am being assessed – I’m not matching up (or maybe I am matching up given, crotch, boobs and bum experiences) – to an external benchmark of womanhood – there to look nice for the men. Oh, there was also a time when in a workplace I was in, women were given scores out of ten by the men – very literal assessment going on there.
These experiences don’t mean that every time I walk out the door, I’m anticipating them, but, as many other women have shared, I do take the longer, better-lit, route home in the dark, I have held my keys/an object tightly between my fingers, have been anxious at footsteps behind me, I have caught a taxi, I have driven when I’d rather not and would have preferred to have a drink instead. I have also rehearsed in my head while walking home in the dark ‘if something were to happen to me now here, people will ask what was she doing there – why was she taking that route?’ I am not an autonomous human being – I need to be assessed; my motives need to be assessed and it’s for others to judge whether I was right or wrong – walking home.
More in the UK this week
Also this week, Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry aired in the UK. We heard a black woman talk about her intersecting experiences of misogyny and racism and its significant impact on her mental health. More misogyny and racism followed in the media and social media in response to her speaking out, with some disbelieving her account of her own experience. We also heard Jess Phillips MP’s annual reading out in Parliament of the names of women murdered by men in the last year, based on Karen Ingala-Smith’s tireless work on femicide.
Other things this week buzzing around in my head on structural inequalities – Naga Munchetty’s Panorama special ‘It’s time to talk about race’ (on iplayer if you’re in the UK). Something that really struck me on this was a black man telling his son (aged 14) to wear something distinctive, not a ubiquitous black track suit or dark clothing only, so that he would be less likely to be picked up by the police looking for ‘a black man’ wearing dark clothing. The father and son had also had the conversation around what to do if and when the son is stopped by the police. This young man is being assessed through the lens of structural racism.
I also watched Kimberle Crenshaw’s appearance at the WOW festival online. I find Crenshaw one of the most articulate and engaging speakers on structural inequalities. She was asked what her ideal world would look like. She said (more eloquently than me here) it was a world in which your life outcome could not be predicted based on who you were or where you were from. This week has highlighted some of the sexism, misogyny and racism that is the wallpaper of the way many of us live our lives. Yes please to Crenshaw’s future world.
Do you work or volunteer with girls or young women aged 18 or under?
You might be a mentor, a youth worker or work or volunteer with a girls’ group or organisation – anything that supports girls!
To mark the 25th anniversary of International Day of the Girl this year – 11th October 2020 – I am running a competition to win a programme of 3 x 1 hour FREE coaching sessions with me via Zoom between October and December 2020.
The winner will be drawn at random on Friday 9th October. Entries (open to people aged 18 or over) need to made on this 2 min online form by 5pm (UK time) on 8th October 2020.
What’s this coaching malarkey and how can it help?
I’ll work one-to-one with you and you set the agenda for what you wish to focus on. My coaching does not offer you advice but rather, through questioning techniques, you arrive at your own solutions and decide on actions to take. I bring a confidential, objective, listening ear. And, you get a supportive accountability buddy while you take your actions and make changes!
Developing your potential helps the girls/young women you work with to develop theirs – you’re worth it!
Some examples of what previous clients have worked on:
- facing a challenge, opportunity or having a decision to make
- struggling with managing time, confidence or working relationships
- not sure what direction to go in
- juggling work and life balance
But the agenda really is yours! For a chance to win, here’s the 2 min online form. Complete it by 5pm (UK time) on 8th October 2020. Entrants must be 18 or over.
International Day of the Girl
This year’s International Day of the Girl theme is ‘My Voice, Our Equal Future’.
This year focuses on girls’ and young women’s demands to:
- live free from gender-based violence, harmful practices, HIV and AIDS
- learn new skills towards the futures they choose
- lead as a generation of social activists accelerating social change
Here are just a couple of statistics that demonstrate why marking International Day of the Girl is needed to draw attention to inequalities and provoke change:
- Nearly 1 in 4 adolescent girls aged 15-19 globally are not in education, training or employment compared to 1 in 10 boys of the same age.
- Nearly 4 in 10 adolescent girls globally think wife-beating is justified.
- 1 in every 20 adolescent girls globally aged 15-19 has experienced rape or forced sex.
What a curious question!
Privilege gains you money, surely? After all, we’ve just this week seen Harry and Meghan land that lucrative deal with Netflix based on a combination of privilege and celebrity.
Money certainly follows privilege in the most obvious of ways, yet being oblivious to how privilege operates also results in loss. Anyone that knows me / follows my work knows that I am all about social justice. But I want to reflect here on the oft-cited ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion – the bottom line that shows us that having more diversity (in a leadership team, for example) fosters better financial performance. For example, a large Danish research study in 2016 found companies with the most diverse management had a 12.6% more profit margin than companies with the least diverse management.
What is privilege?
Privilege is a shorthand term to name the social advantages that some people are born with in a particular culture. Evidence in the form of statistics and what we see in front of our own eyes or experience demonstrates that people from, for example, different races or ethnic backgrounds, class, gender, disability or ability are treated unequally. I’ve quoted Peggy McIntosh in the information about my upcoming workshop on privilege, so won’t repeat her here but she encapsulates very well how those with privilege are not meant to be aware of it. This is how inequalities are perpetuated.
Privilege in our working lives
Whether you work within an organisation, run your own business or are self-employed, privilege may be impacting upon your bottom line.
If you’re within an organisation, are any of these comments familiar?
- We have a problem with retention / turnover
- Our staff surveys show low satisfaction
- We don’t have a diverse workforce, especially at senior levels
- We’d like more customers
Some of these may not seem like pressing problems right now, as we are adjusting to huge workplace changes as a result of the impact of Covid-19. Yet, the disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, not only in terns of health but in terms of impact on work has put us into an ‘inequality squared’ situation. Groups that were already at a disadvantage socially are being impacted most.
This makes it all the more important that organisations – and individuals within them – do everything possible to ensure they are on the ball and aware of how their systems, culture and practices impact on their staff and clients / customers.
If you have a deeper understanding of how inequality and privilege operate, you can take steps to counter it. In an organisation, this potentially leads to happier staff who stay around and are more productive.
In terms of the bottom line, what would your savings be from not advertising for new roles and interviewing frequently, of inducting new staff? If staff feel genuinely included and valued they are much more likely to stay and be loyal. It’s a win-win!
Not addressing privilege has an ethical and business cost.
If you run a small business or are self-employed, perhaps this resonates:
- I’m not attracting enough clients / customers
It is really challenging time for small businesses and the self-employed right now. Considering how you ‘speak to’ your prospective clients or customers, through, for example, imagery and wording on your website, the ‘signalling’ you give as to your approach, all impact on whether or not a prospective client may feel welcome as your customer. On my own website and blogs, for example, I try to use diverse imagery (sometimes you really have to search for images!) as a signal that I welcome diverse clients. I’m by no means perfect but I know that this small gesture is recognised by those that it addresses.
If we are in a position of privilege, it can leave us unaware of what it may feel like not to be included or addressed in the use of imagery or language. While it may be appear a small thing, cumulatively, if you never see someone ‘like you’ represented or addressed this adds up. Furthermore, because LGBT people, black and Asian people, people with disabilities, for example, frequently encounter prejudice and discrimination, either personally or as a group of people, taking away the ‘edge’ of wondering whether or not we are welcome is a really positive step and broadens your client / customer base.
If you want to understand more about privilege….
Do come along and join my next online workshop on 22nd September 2020, where we’ll be talking about practical steps you can take to counter the effects of privilege in your work.
What’s going on?
We are all experiencing the global Covid-19 pandemic in different ways.
Some have experienced the pain of personal illness, loss and grief. Some face threat or reality of losing a job and along with this the financial anxiety, the worry over what else you might do and perhaps your sense of identity that comes with your position.
If you are still working, you may well be doing so from home, perhaps juggling your children’s maths / ‘artwork’ / games / tantrums while your cat sits in front of your face on Zoom calls, and the Amazon delivery of your new pyjamas* arrives just as you are about to present to your team what you have worked on for two weeks (*you don’t need clothes for the outside world– you’re not going anywhere, after all).
Things are mixed up at the moment. They are not in their place – not the way it was ‘supposed’ to go.
On the other hand, you might have been guiltily enjoying some aspects of lockdown – time finally to watch the final season of Orange is the New Black, for instance (no spoilers – I still haven’t finished it).
Getting off the proverbial hamster wheel may have given you time to think about whether you are doing work you really enjoy / are interested in or if you fell into it and have stayed – 3, 5, 10 years. But what else could you do? Do you want something else? Maybe it’s promotion, maybe it’s a career change or a better work/life balance?
How could coaching help?
I’ve certainly noticed an increase in enquiries asking me about coaching throughout the pandemic.
You might not be sure what coaching is or may have the impression it’s just for senior executives. Here’s a thought: coaching is for anybody who wants to work on making some changes, wants a supportive thinking space, wants to be listened to (when were you last really listened to?!). An objective listening ear can illuminate different perspectives and get you to the place you need to be quicker than you would do yourself.
You might be dealing with change, wanting to make some changes in your life, to be more confident, to be better at prioritising, manage your time, feel less overwhelmed, need to make a decision…. the list goes on.
A coach works with you on your agenda, providing a safe, confidential space. They also act as a gentle accountability buddy. If you say you are going to do something to someone else, you tend to do it. So many of us are really good at ignoring ourselves – in fact we excel at it! Think: gym memberships, healthy eating, that small DIY task etc….
What’s within your control?
I’ve noticed that in coaching sessions recently I have been drawing a lot on the concept of the circles of control, of influence, and of concern. There is something timely about this framework, which is adapted from Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
If we spend too much time thinking about things in the outer circle, we can become paralysed as we have no control or influence over these things. Examples of things in the circle of concern are the pandemic or becoming unemployed as a result of the economic downturn.
Instead, spending time and energy within the spheres of control and influence means we are agents in our lives (you’re not ignoring those areas of concern – you’re acknowledging them and choosing to re-focus). Coaching can help you to define what is within your capacity to influence, what you may wish to, and how to go about it. It can also support you with techniques to ‘park’ those elements out of your control so that you can re-focus and support yourself better.
Coaches do not have the answers for you (sorry!) – you do. What a coach does is help you elicit what you feel is right for you to do and get started on it.
So, if you have a challenge at the moment, think about what is within your circles of control and influence. How might you use this framework to support you through one of the most challenging times in a generation?
This piece was first published on Thrive Global.
What would it feel like to build your self-awareness and gain greater confidence when working with diverse clients, colleagues or customers?
What difference would it make to the service you provide?
Peggy McIntosh is an American academic and activist whose reflections on white privilege are the starting point for this workshop. McIntosh uses the metaphor of an invisible knapsack to reflect on her position as a white woman in the USA:
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”Peggy McIntosh, 1989
Privileges we are born with we have no influence over. What we can influence is what we do with those privileges.
This online workshop offers a safe space to explore privilege in various forms: race, sexual orientation, gender, disability for example. It will enable you to:
- Know what privilege is and its impacts
- Be equipped with language for talking about privilege
- Be equipped with tools for countering the impacts of privilege in your work environment
- Become aware of your own level of privilege and how to harness it
- Get more comfortable with being uncomfortable (conversations around privilege and inequality are difficult – that’s ok)!
The workshop takes place via Zoom, is interactive, and numbers are limited in order to facilitate discussion. You will participate in breakout rooms, giving you the opportunity to meet and discuss with others and will engage in tasks to get you thinking and doing!
The workshop will be of interest to Human Resources professionals, people leaders and coaches, working independently or within organisations (or, frankly, anyone working with human beings!).
An impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is its challenge to our day-to-day working and living practices.
For many people, this has provoked a reflection on what is truly important, what our personal values are.
Building on a successful Resolutions Retreat for Women in Academia held in ‘real life’ earlier this year, I’m pleased to offer an online version of this retreat.
The aim is to support women in academia to reflect on work and work/life values and consider how to set realistic goals at a time when the space to focus is stretched or maybe feels non-existent.
Numbers are strictly limited in order to enable plenty of interaction, with lots of reflection and discussion time – and space for coffee breaks!
The Resolutions Retreat:
- gives you a space to reflect on your values
- takes a values-led approach to deciding priorities and setting realistic goals
- provides a framework for supporting you stick to your resolutions and achieve your goals
Give yourself an afternoon to focus on you.
Share the space with other women who understand the particularities (and peculiarities?!) of the academic world.
Sign up on the Eventbrite page here
Feedback on the previous (in person) Resolutions Retreat:
“Time for reflection and re-evaluation”
“A quiet, respectful space”
“There was openness and mutual respect”
“It has consolidated ideas and next steps”
“Really enabled a clear thought direction”
“Enabled me to re-set goals and resolutions”
“It has helped me focus in terms of my direction, but also why I find certain things/issues important”
“It gave a framework for thinking/reflecting”
“It has made me see the mismatch between values and goals and made me think about how to create space for the values”
“It has really made me understand/see why I am struggling to ‘fit’ in both with the institution where I work and academia. I’ve realised this is because of the dissonance between my values and goals”
The shared experience:
“One of the best things was hearing other women discuss their experiences and goals”
“It helped me realise I am not alone in these difficulties”
“It was run in a thoughtful and peaceful way”
“Julie is a skilled and enabling facilitator”
The only suggestion for improvement was that people wanted more…..!
“Julie fostered a very safe atmosphere of positivity during the ‘Resolutions Retreat’ I attended, and she really helped me to think about my goals, aspirations, and why this is my career. The conversations were lively but incredibly respectful – not always something I’m used to at work. It was really important to get together with like-minded women, of different ages, experience, and backgrounds, and really heartening to know we often share similar stories. I was especially interested in the match or mismatch with an ‘institutional message’, and how to navigate that in terms of my own ethics. The most important thing though, was that Julie helped us all explore different perspectives, and learn new things about ourselves.”
And do take a look at this blog for some thoughts behind putting on the first resolutions retreat in January 2020.
Lesbian Visibility Day: what is it?
I became aware of Lesbian Visibility Day in 2019. Internet searches tell us this international awareness day originated in 2008. However, there is no reliable source with detailed information on its origin.
It is somewhat ironic that I, as a lesbian who has researched lesbian visibility on screen had never heard of it and found out by chance on social media. None of my lesbian friends had heard of it either. We are not alone, as this article on After Ellen, ‘the leading site for lesbians worldwide’, attests.
This invisible Lesbian Visibility Day raises interesting questions: why have we never seen our workplaces or wider culture mark this day? Is it important? Lesbian invisibility has a long history. For example, while sexual activity between men was outlawed in the U.K., sex between women was never illegal – it was simply never mentioned.
In an era of what feels like an ever-increasing number and variety of awareness days, Lesbian Visibility Day seems similarly to have slipped through the net – until now. In 2020, U.K.-based DIVA, ‘Europe’s leading magazine for lesbian and bi women’, is making a week of it, with a planned launch in Parliament (revised, now, due to the Covid-19 Global pandemic).
Why your organisation should be celebrating it: inclusion and wellbeing
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace Report 2019 illuminates some of the ways in which lesbians experience the workplace differently – and more negatively – to women in general. In their survey of over 68,500 U.S. employees, 23% of lesbians reported feeling that they could not talk about themselves or their life outside of work, compared to 10% of women overall (26% bisexual women expressed this). 24% of lesbians reported hearing demeaning remarks about them or people like them, compared to 16% of women overall. Most concerning is the fact that 53% of lesbians reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, compared to 41% of women overall (62% of bisexual women expressed this).
From the McKinsey report, we can see that almost a quarter of lesbians do not feel they can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work and that the workplace does not offer ‘psychological safety’, or indeed physical safety given the proportions of incidents of harassment. Psychological safety is something that Mike Robbins and others have identified as essential for effective team working and performance. It is important for an individual’s wellbeing for them to feel included and welcomed.
To be clear, bringing your whole self to work in terms of sexual orientation is not about sharing your sex life with colleagues! It is about openly being who you are. For example, if in a casual conversation a heterosexual colleague shares where they visited at the weekend with their wife/husband/partner, there is likely no moment of hesitation as to whether or not to reveal the sex of that partner. For a lesbian colleague (or anyone in a same-sex relationship), they have to make an assessment as to whether or not it feels safe to reveal that partner’s sex. Will they be judged or treated differently as a result? They might not be judged but the anticipation of that possibility (borne out by understanding or experiences of homophobia and misogyny combined) can lead to avoiding the potential risk. Silence is an insurance policy.
If you’re thinking, OK, but we already have LGBT History Month and celebrate Pride season in our organisation. We also mark International Women’s Day. Aren’t lesbians covered?! Well, as the McKinsey report demonstrates, lesbians often have a different experience from other women in the workplace, so recognising that and supporting lesbians specifically to feel not only comfortable but welcome as they are is important. Furthermore, while some lesbians feel a welcome part of the LGBTQ+ ‘umbrella’, some do not. A 2018 survey by HER, a social networking and dating app for LGBT+ women, found that 31% of their respondents did not feel comfortable or welcome at Pride. This suggests that not all will feel included when those corporate colours go rainbow in June.
What might your organisation do?
As with many other awareness-raising days, Lesbian Visibility Day has multiple purposes:
- to celebrate lesbian role models (within or beyond the organisation), supporting lesbians within the organisation to feel safe, included and welcome
- to raise awareness, educate and inform allies regarding varied experiences of lesbians, fostering understanding and cultivating a more welcome environment
- to recognise diversity amongst lesbians (as with all groups, we are not homogenous!)
You might: invite an external speaker; host a workshop or training for allies; put up diverse imagery in your office space and on your website; feature stories on the website; consult with your staff to evaluate your workplace culture.
You also need to walk the talk by, for example, reviewing your policies and documents for inclusive language; monitoring incidents and creating a culture where it feels safe to report and raise issues; consider mentoring/coaching for specific groups; examine cultural norms; diversify representation in decision-making.
Aside from it being the right thing to do in terms of wellbeing and social justice, recent research has found that employees are 13% more productive when they are happy. So, can you afford to do nothing?
This blog was first published on Thrive Global.
This week Times Higher Education published an interesting article covering The University of Glasgow’s welcome decision to make ‘collegiality’ an explicit requirement in its internal professorial promotions criteria. Examples given include recommending a colleague for an award, or crediting them as Co-Investigator on a major research project.
The image THE chose to accompany this positive news – an image of men helping other men over a wall – is somewhat ironic if you’re a woman in the academic world. For, one could be forgiven for reading statistics on the overrepresentation of men in senior academic and managerial positions as evidence of the fact that academia is already working efficiently in supporting men’s collegiality with one another.
I was motivated to offer my first Women in Academia Resolutions Retreat, coming up in January 2020, to support women to take some time out to focus on themselves. It’s important to continue to challenge the imperfect structures of academia, while at the same time to work on how we can support ourselves within those imperfect structures. Anecdotes, academic research and personal experience demonstrate that women can be notoriously bad at prioritising ourselves. Some men experience this, too, of course, and they are the ones doing the ‘housework’ of the department alongside the women.
Housework might take the form of being the (implicitly-) understood ‘go to’ person for students for support, being the person always assigned programme leadership, teaching introductory core modules or given administrative tasks etc. It’s a real skill – and indeed a compliment – being the ‘safe pair of hands’ who can hold that ticking grenade safely. But holding that grenade comes at a cost – you are likely holding it for someone else whilst they are getting on with the things they want to do.
While you’re holding the grenade for someone else, it’s very easy to lose sight of what you want to achieve. After all, if you lose focus, you will drop the grenade and it will, you feel, be catastrophic for everyone!
So, how exactly do you focus on you instead? It’s key to take some time out to reflect on where YOU want to go.
First – put down the grenade (psst – it’s not actually a grenade and it’ll be OK!!)
Now you’re more relaxed, consider what you would like to achieve and what steps you need to take logically in order to get there. It could be that you already know what you want to achieve – great! But it could be that you need to sit back and think about what is important to you. What’s important to you aligns with your values. If you set goals in line with your values, you are going to be more motivated and likely to achieve those goals.
To use myself as an example, once I realised I was working to an agenda that was not my own in a previous situation, I had a proverbial light-bulb moment: “it’s not my goal- I’m not motivated by it”. Without realising it, I hadn’t been realistically working toward that goal; instead, I’d been procrastinating and finding distractions. It was because I was not only not bothered about achieving it but actually felt it would be pretty worthless, judged by my own value system. It was a tough lesson as I had spent many years not realising this! But I re-set things and took steps toward what I actually wanted to achieve.
We all have contexts in which we work and things we need to do that we might prefer not to (for me now I’m self-employed, that’s my accounts!). But there are ways to work within our realities.
My goal for the Resolutions Retreat is that participants leave with a clearer idea of their goals, how to achieve them and with the resolve to take action.