Choosing to Challenge – Women and Advocacy in 2021

Choosing to Challenge – Women and Advocacy in 2021

This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’. When we choose something, we opt in favour of one option and against another. The freedom to choose our path in life is fundamental in the overall pursuit of the women’s movement since its inception. That we now have the privilege to decide whether we will choose to challenge gender inequality wherever we see it is a truly wonderful sign of forward progress. But with all privilege comes responsibility, a responsibility about how we use it, what we ‘choose’ to do with it.

How it started

If we think back to the origins of International Women’s Day, which arose from female factory workers in New York marching for better pay and working conditions in the early twentieth century, one could say that they chose to make a stand. But it could also be argued that they didn’t have a choice, that the alternative was so dismal that it didn’t constitute a real option.

How it’s going…

In 2021, there is much to be celebrated on International Women’s Day. Women of all different nationalities, races, ages, religions, abilities and professions have already taken up the invitation to choose to challenge.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed, or small and insignificant, when we talk about working towards gender equality. But every one of us can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how small your action may feel to you right now, it is an important step in the right direction. No one got to do great things overnight. Every massive achievement began with small steps.

But, Inequities Persist

Despite all the great work that is being done in the pursuit of gender equality, inequities still persist. While equity is about fairness, equality is about sameness. So, when we speak of equality and equity, we must realise that before we can enjoy equality, equity must be achieved first. In my work, I’m a specialist in the area of intersectionality. This is a term that most people are not familiar with. The term is actually a legal one and was coined by an American civil rights lawyer, Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Essentially, Crenshaw’s term puts a framework around the way that gender, race, and class all intersect and play off each other. In her own words, the term captures “how certain aspects of who you are will increase your access to the good things or your exposure to the bad things in life”1. From an intersectionality point of view, gender equality is no good if it doesn’t take into account the other factors including race that work alongside it.

In Ireland a notable example of gender inequality is the difference between male and female self-employment. We know that SMEs are hugely significant to the Irish economy, employing 1.06 million people2. But in Ireland, we have the highest gender gap in self-employment in the E.U.

When it comes to venture capital funding, less than 10% goes to companies with female founders and when we drill down even further to the women who could potentially help lift those female owned businesses, only 3% of angel investors in Ireland are women3. These are areas that need to be addressed by men and women alike.

The above figures represent gender inequalities that run through the whole of Irish society. However, when we consider gender inequality in terms of under-represented voices, the numbers change – and not for the better. Women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, women with disabilities and other marginalised groups face greater inequality than their white, able-bodied Irish counterparts. For example, as it stands there is only one full-time black professor employed in Irish academia. Recently, a woman who qualifies for a disability allowance was informed that because she was awarded an educational bursary, she would no longer qualify for the supports she needs to allow her to navigate daily life, given her disability4. These are just two examples of how women from marginalised backgrounds within Ireland must deal with inequality on a daily basis.

Are we there yet?

Unfortunately not. Yes, good progress is being made, but that’s when we look at the micro picture, perhaps our own immediate circle. On a global scale, things are different. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2020 published by the World Economic Forum predicts that gender parity will not be attained in our lifetime or that of our children. In fact, they estimate that it will take 99 and a half years to achieve gender parity5. That is a sobering thought.

Earlier this year, Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President of the United States was sworn in and closer to home, also this year, Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, is due to become the first sitting Irish minister to take maternity leave. But, unfortunately for every good news story there are still plenty of other negative ones that stack up against women, particularly women with intersecting identities and from marginalised communities. Not just in Ireland, but around the world.

Who are we?

The question comes down to this one, who are we? When we mark International Women’s Day what does that mean? It asks something of us – to become advocates, allies, sponsors, upstanders or amplifiers. Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to believe, if only temporarily, that gender equality has been achieved are enjoying the fruits of other women’s labour, they worked extremely hard to give us the privilege.  Will we just take it? Or will we say thank you by giving something back?

This month, as you think about the role of women around International Women’s Day, what role will you choose to play? Remember, equality starts with you. Choose to speak up! Choose to fight injustice! Choose to call out a lack of diversity when you see it! Choose to become a thoughtful ally!

The part you play in the story may be small today – but small actions and gestures can combine to great action over the course of a lifetime. You could support the women in your workplace somehow; or vote with your feet (and purse) in a small business run by women, it’s a very tough time for small businesses right now.

If you’re not sure how you can best support women in making a difference to challenge the status quo, ask. You can also challenge by  creating of an inclusive workplace culture. There are so many ways to make a difference, starting today. There’s never a better time to act than right now.

PhoenixRize specialises in helping organisations create and sustain diverse, equitable, anti-racist and inclusive workplaces. If you or your organisation are keen to address these questions in your workplace, contact us today.






COVID-19 Initial Lessons for Businesses and Their Workers

COVID-19 Initial Lessons for Businesses and Their Workers

I would like to begin this blog post by sending my best wishes to all my readers. Wherever you may be in this world, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well at this very stressful time.

I have been watching the situation evolve over recent weeks and while I felt the need to check in with everyone, I wanted to bide my time until I felt I had something important to contribute. While lessons often emerge after an event, when a situation unfolds as the current global pandemic has, we can learn things at each stage of its development.

There are many negative effects of a pandemic, such as the one in which we currently find ourselves, but when we look, we can find the good too. One of the key lessons I have taken away so far is that COVID-19 blasted into our society, a world dominated in recent years by talk of us and them, reminding us that we are one.

This virus has moved across the world from Asia to Europe and beyond. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender or religion and it won’t be stopped by man-made borders. Some people have been surprised to see high profile people such as Tom Hanks and Boris Johnson get sick and receive confirmation that they have the virus. Neither wealth nor status can protect you from catching COVID-19, and so, the hashtag ‘inthistogether’ was born.

The irony of this virus is that while the measures to counteract it drive us apart physically, the universal nature of the virus is bringing us together. While some businesses have had to cease trading, many that have supplies of personal protective equipment have donated these to hospitals working on the front lines.

Postal workers in remote areas have taken on extra duties to include delivering shopping and medical prescriptions to the elderly and at-risk groups. The ISPCC has had an incredible response to a campaign for more resources to support the children who are at risk in their homes during the crisis.

These are heart-warming examples of communities reaching out to support one another, but what about corporate life, can this crisis bring teams, co-workers and their leaders closer together in a more equal way?

There is a great opportunity here for companies to embrace remote and more flexible working arrangements. Now that our hand has been forced, vast numbers of people are working from home. Those that still travel to work have been placed on staggered shifts to ensure social distancing requirements are met. Those companies who did not believe that it could be done have been shown that it can work.

RICOH Ireland’s Workstyle Innovation Survey produced at the end of 2017, a little over two full years ago, revealed that only 37% of Irish workers were able to work remotely. Figures estimate a jump of 100,000 people in recent weeks. While many of those will want to return to their offices once this has passed, others will expect increased flexibility on the part of their employer in future. Technology companies seem to be more ready to deal with this shift while others may struggle.

A representative from technology company, Slack commented, “we are fully prepared for this situation… first and foremost, our concern is for the families and individuals affected by the coronavirus… For now, we are focused on helping people around the world adapt to remote work with free resources.”

There is a middle ground which can be adopted post-pandemic. Maintaining staggered shifts and flexible working arrangements allows for a greater work/life balance, reducing commute times and giving team members more time in their day.

This middle ground could allow parents to spend more time with their children without sacrificing their careers through remote working arrangements.

Those who may have been cut off from employment opportunities due to lack of access to public or private transport or accessibility issues within the workplace are now able to contribute as much as any of their co-workers by working remotely.

Now that so many people are working from home, it is suddenly accepted that we show up as our whole selves. Noise from children in the background is less of a problem as it would have been a couple of weeks ago. Discussing fears and uncertainties is now becoming normalised as more and more people realise that we all have fears.

As teams are reduced, in some cases to a skeleton staff, our other talents come to the fore. We can offer our employers a much broader range of talents than may ever have been asked of us in normal times. Those with skills in live video, blogging, social media, and so on, can all deliver more value to their employer now that team sizes are reduced. Nobody is simply their job description, we all have vast talents. Now is the time for employees to offer them and for companies to draw upon them.

Leaders of teams now need to step up and lead with empathy and vulnerability. It is time to support your teams as individuals and groups. Lip service isn’t enough anymore, your staff need to see and feel that they are heard, understood and valued.

The companies who engage with and support their staff now through these difficult times are the ones who will have a full team ready to fight for their company when the virus phase has passed and the economic phase that will follow emerges. The path to recovery could be a long one, no one knows quite how long this will last. But, what is clear is that an openness on the part of the business to work with diverse teams in flexible ways that offer a range of mutually beneficial talents and solutions will strengthen the business capabilities into the future.

We truly are stronger together.

If you would like help to support your diverse teams through this difficult time, please contact me, Adaku at PhoenixRize to discuss how we can develop an online programme which will work for your business and your team.

Diversity & Inclusion at Christmas

Diversity & Inclusion at Christmas

As we near the end of the year, the is much focus and hype around Christmas. Many businesses will close over the Christmas period while people take time off to stay at home and spend time with their loved ones.

However, even though Christmas is the culturally dominant holiday at this time of the year, it is by no means the only one or is it celebrated by all. As we live and work in a multicultural society, it is important for us all to realise that December is a month that contains within it a plethora of religious holidays from many faith traditions. While you may be celebrating Christmas, others are celebrating Hannukah, Kwanzaa or Pancha Ganapati – and still others don’t mark any holiday.

There is an approach to diversity which eliminates all holidays from the workplace, but that is not reasonable or practical. People will always want to celebrate the holidays, religious or otherwise, that matter to them. Whitewashing them away is not the answer.

Instead, use this time of year as an opportunity to learn about the cultural traditions of those on your team. The first thing we need to be careful of is making assumptions. A person’s origin does not guarantee that they are a member of a particular faith tradition. There is a vibrant Muslim community here in Ireland, just as there is a large Christian community in India. Before you assume a person’s faith or tradition, open a relaxed conversation about how they plan to spend their winter break.

Regardless of culture or faith, there are many things that are universal at this time of year. When we have some time off, we like to spend it with friends and family or take a well-deserved holiday. These are conversations that we can all engage in, so don’t be afraid to raise the question because you might not share the same traditions.

It’s interesting to consider the Western traditions associated with Christmas. You may know, for example, that up until the 1880’s Santa Claus was usually depicted in either green or brown, that all changed when cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a cartoon of Santa in red for Harper’s Bazaar in 1881. The artist Haddon Sundblom then cemented this image of Santa in the drawings he created for the Coca-Cola company in the 1930s.

Turkey, the most traditional of Christmas fare, became tradition, along with a great many other things, when it was immortalised in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol in 1843. In fact, carols themselves were only a new fashion at the time.

I could go on about the origins of our Christmas traditions. The point is, however, that just because we have always had turkey, or whatever it might be, it is certainly not the only tradition. Nor has it always been so. Customs and cultural traditions evolve over time, they always have. But we need to have an open mind to allow this to happen.

I, for one, love hearing the different traditions enjoyed by different people around the world at this time of year. Whether it be an interesting way of gifting presents, traditional stories or a delicious recipe, everyone has something to share about their own way of enjoying this time of year. Take some time, before you finish up for the holidays to share with your work colleagues, over lunch, what you most look forward to at this time of the year.

The time you take to inquire and learn about other traditions at this time of year can create a solid foundation upon which to develop interpersonal relations within your department in the new year. At the end of the day, we are all people, we all have a story – and being able to share that in a safe environment makes us feel more accepted and a more integral part of the team, which helps people to do their best work.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy and safe holiday break – however you choose to spend it.

Looking forward to working with you in the new year.


Aretha Franklin Got it Right – It’s All About R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Aretha Franklin Got it Right – It’s All About R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Last month saw the passing of one of the greatest musical legends of all time, Aretha Franklin. When an artist as treasured as she passes away, it’s a good idea to look at what we learned from their time on this earth. And so, this month, I want to talk about that ‘old-fashioned’ word respect.

Although the original song was written and recorded by Otis Redding in 1965, two years later, when Franklin got her hands on it she made it her own, subsequently creating the version which most people are familiar with to this day.

So, what has all this got to do with diversity and inclusion? In many ways, the advice to treat others as you would like to be treated is a good idea. However, when two people are coming from different standpoints, the way that we would like to be treated is not necessarily the way someone else would like to be.

Redding’s original version of Respect sings of his desire for some respect from his lady friend when he comes home from work in the evening. He mentions that he is going to give her all of his money, but he wants to be shown some respect. Franklin’s version is a response to Redding’s. She demands respect when he comes home, mentions the fact that she has her own money which is just as sweet as his kisses and makes it clear that if she doesn’t get the respect she deserves, one day he might arrive home to find that she is gone.

Yes, the demands made here are similar – but they are not exactly the same. The respect that he would like is not the same as she would like. This is a fundamental point when it comes to creating diverse workforces that are best placed to thrive.

When we use the ‘treat people as you would like to be treated’ model for inclusion it works, but only to a point. Yes, we are all human and we share some common needs – for food, sleep and companionship, amongst others. But, surely as businesses, we want to cater to our employee’s needs in more than a basic way.

Once we move beyond these basic needs, our life experience determines how we would like to be treated. This includes our cultural background. When we, as an organisation, think of how we ourselves want to be treated this puts us at the centre of the situation instead of the person themselves. An organisation dominated by those in a power position does not do the minority members of staff any favours by thinking only of themselves when trying to create an inclusive environment.

Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, not putting them in yours. The crucial line in Franklin’s version of the song is ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me’. This explains the concept perfectly. We need to be willing to discover what other people’s version of respect looks like in order to be able to deliver that. Otherwise, all our efforts to create a diverse, inclusive, welcoming environment go to waste in creating a place that is more welcoming and inclusive to people ‘like us’.

Generally, when organisations, and the people who populate them try to create a diverse and inclusive work environment, it is both from a desire to do better and be better for everyone involved. But it is not always as easy as it at first appears.

How to overcome this? Open dialogue is key. It can be uncomfortable to make yourself vulnerable by asking where you are going wrong with your diversity and inclusion programme, but by doing so and asking for feedback from the people in your organisation you can find out what respect looks like to them – and then set about delivering that.

We know only too well that a one-size fits all approach does not work in business when it comes to our people. Therefore, to develop the best model for diversity and inclusion, we need to slow down and devise the best model for our organisation and our people. Yes, it might be a little more time consuming to do it this way. But doing things right always is, yet it will always deliver superior results than a half-hearted attempt.

Just a little bit of respect can go a long, long way.

Diversity & Inclusion – A Power Boost for Your Business

Diversity & Inclusion – A Power Boost for Your Business

In a competitive market, businesses are always on the look-out for strategies that can give them the edge over their competitors. Now, it has become clear that adopting a diversity & inclusion programme in your workplace can do wonders for business. A diverse, inclusive work environment makes more than good social sense, it’s good business sense too.

More than just a ‘Nice Idea’

While the concept of diversity and inclusion was initially seen as the right thing to do, it is now understood to be much more than that. While constructing your team with people from diverse backgrounds is still the right thing to do, the research has shown time and again that the benefits to a solid diversity and inclusion programme in business are wide-ranging and very tangible.

Benefits of a diverse workforce include a greater breadth of life experience, education and training, different ways of thinking and problem solving which can lead to increased innovation, and vibrant, diverse work environment where staff feel valued and worthwhile for the differences they bring to the team.

When staff feel accepted for who they are and valued in their place of work they are much more likely to give of their best and go the extra mile.

The Research

The research has shown that more diverse teams perform better than their counterparts. A study carried out by McKinsey revealed that ethnically diverse businesses are 35% more likely to do better than their peers. Deloitte Australia found that in team-based assessments, diverse teams did 80% better than less diverse teams.

It’s about more than recruitment. To achieve these benefits involves embedding and supporting a culture of inclusiveness in the business. When this happens, companies have reported significant business gains. They have higher cash flow, are more able to deal with change and have more innovative teams. This carefully crafted environment results in teams which are 3.8 times more likely to coach people into high performing roles and are more likely to identify and nurture leadership talent.

The evidence is clear, fostering diversity & inclusion in your workplace is very good for business.

Think Broad

When we talk about diversity and inclusion programmes in the workplace, there are many facets that you may want to explore. It is not just about gender equality, although this does play a part. If you would like to adopt a diversity & inclusion programme it pays to think broad. There are many groups who are under-represented in the general workforce, by welcoming them into your business you can tap into their experience and expertise in a way that your competitors have not. This can lead to a direct advantage for your business.

Many industries are dominated by people from a certain demographic, that may be made up of gender, race, religion and age. Take a quick glance at the people on your team, have you inadvertently hired a predominant demographic? There may be a wealth of people in your area of that profile with the relevant skill set for your industry. Yet, by making a conscious effort to recruit people from less well-represented groups, you can give your business a competitive advantage thanks to the fresh dynamic.

It Flows from the Top Down

Let’s be clear, diversity & inclusion in business doesn’t just happen. As leaders in our industry, we are the ones who must make a conscious effort to champion the values of a diverse and inclusive workforce. Changing decades of policy and habit is not easy, it takes hard work and dedication. Although we may not like to admit it, there are prejudices alive and well in all workplaces. It may exist under the radar and be difficult to spot, but if you are not putting an emphasis on diversity & inclusion in your work environment, the opportunity exists for stagnant, rigid ways of thinking to remain.

However, when the people at the top lead by example, guiding others into new ways of thinking, the whole organisation can benefit.

Ask for Help

If your company has been in existence in Ireland for a long time, chances are that traditionally your workforce hasn’t been diverse. That’s ok. We need to accept where we were in the past, the factors that have brought us up to now and set out a clear roadmap for where we want to go in future. Just because diversity & inclusion isn’t something you have much experience with, doesn’t mean that it’s something you need to shy away from now and in the future.

The reality is that no one group has all the answers when it comes to diversity & inclusion. The whole idea behind D & I is that with a broad base of varied opinions and perspectives we can make more informed decisions, we can think more creatively, and discover new ways to approach difficulties. For this reason, it is completely understandable that an organisation might put their hand up and admit that they need help to improve their diversity & inclusion practices.

Thankfully, help is at hand. I am delighted to work with people and groups who champion diversity & inclusion in a range of industries. My own company, PhoenixRize works with businesses to devise diversity & inclusion strategies tailored to their specific needs. I also help them to implement these strategies, monitoring progress and overcoming challenges along the way.

Through PhoenixRize your business can host workshops for both management and staff so that everyone develops new practices to embrace a more diverse workplace.

When there is so much to gain from implementing a solid diversity & inclusion programme in your business, why not get in touch so that you can start paving the way for a more inclusive, forward-thinking work environment your staff will love?

Engaging Effectively with Diverse Groups

Engaging Effectively with Diverse Groups

As a diversity and inclusion consultant, I have a keen understanding of the need to engage diverse groups effectively. Not all strategies for engaging people of diverse backgrounds have the same impact. Today, I want to share how you can increase your own ability to engage a diverse group, either in your workplace or community organisation, as effectively as possible.

What is Diversity?

Before jumping into the strategies we can use to engage effectively, it is worth examining what diversity means. Diversity is something we find all over the world. All people are diverse in their opinions, tastes and habits. However, on a macro level, we can see diversity in terms of countries, religion and culture. This is usually what we think of when we talk about diversity.

To my mind, an appreciation of diversity does not just demand us to accept other faiths or customs. It goes much deeper than that. Respecting diversity involves being open to the different, lived experiences of other people that may be very different to your own. Diversity is all about perspective, really. In Ireland, most people are of white Irish ethnicity, this is the norm. The dominant religion in Ireland, according to the census is Catholicism. However, we know very well that these broad strokes do not accurately represent the Ireland that you and I live in today. When we take an equally limited view of other cultures we can make assumptions that are not necessarily true, and which limit our own view of the world and of those newcomers to our communities.

Benefits of Diversity in Organisations

The benefits to organisations of promoting diversity are many. Not only do you infuse your organisation or workplace with a varied bank of people with different experience and education, the different opinions that they bring with them can open up new creative possibilities in terms of product and service offerings, ways of working and incredible innovation. This can, in turn, lead to a happier workforce and increased sales as the public see your brand as one that represents a wide sector of the population.

Now that we have explored the ‘why’ of diversity, let’s explore some strategies you can use to engage effectively with diverse groups.

Be Curious

To work effectively with diverse groups, we must all be willing to approach the work with curiosity. If we enter into the situation willing to learn, open to new approaches and opinions, we are more likely to embrace what we see. However, if you approach it from the point of view that the way things have always been done is the way they should always be done, then this rigidity can put up walls between the people involved, particularly if a section of the group feels that they are not being listened to.

Display Empathy

Empathy is another key ingredient to work with diverse groups successfully. Empathy is the ability to imagine what it would be like to walk in the other person’s shoes, to see the world as they see it. This can be difficult when we don’t understand, so again, we must be willing to try to understand and then empathy can be used well.

Look for Similarities

Try to approach the people in your group from the point of view that ‘we’re all just people’ instead of that person’s from Dublin, they’re from Galway, so and so is from Kiev, he’s from Bangalore and she’s from Lagos. When we look at people in this way we instantly put walls between us. Instead of searching for common ground we have started from a place of difference. It is much easier to allow people to get along when we start from commonalities and work out to our differences from there.

Let Discussions Flow

Maintain open dialogue as much as possible. When people are talking, asking and answering questions of one another, we are in the learning or discovery mode. This allows us to fill in our limited understanding of who that person is and what their concerns are. When you are chatting, be mindful of the language you use and the speed at which you talk. Although many countries around the world speak English, the way it is used differs from location to location. Individual accents can be difficult to understand, while cultural references and colloquialisms can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.

Be Welcoming

Focus on making people feel welcome. This is so important and yet, is often overlooked. When we are busy trying to get our work done, it is easy to dismiss the little things. Are there people in your diverse group who may not be used to the structure of your meetings? Little things such as the setting, the other people in attendance and expectations may be a cause of anxiety for some. Take a moment to welcome everybody, make sure that people are properly introduced to one another and that everyone knows what the aim of your meeting is and what the outcomes you expect are. This allows people to relax, safe in the knowledge that there are no surprises around the corner for them.

Drop Your Defences

This might sound a little frightening for some people. However, if you are the leader of a group of diverse individuals, you need to lead by example. That means being cool-headed, fair and slow to react when your buttons are pressed. Yes, there can be misunderstandings when a large group of diverse individuals are present. However, chances are you’re all meeting up for a common purpose. In order to achieve that purpose, the group will need guidance and that should come from the top.

Be Tolerant

As you learn about the other members of your group there may be things that you do not know about just yet or understand. Some people in the group may be very private and feel reluctant to share details about themselves in a group setting. Be proactive about arranging meetings for times that work for the majority of the group, while acknowledging that some people may have different prayer times or other customs which they feel the need to observe and which may necessitate an absence on occasion.

As the director of PhoenixRize, a business specialising in diversity and inclusion practices here in Ireland, I will be happy to speak to you about your organisation and how I can help you can improve your performance in this area. You can contact me here.

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