Workplace inclusion: listen up leaders, managers, and colleagues

Black Lives Matter: it’s time to do some of the work.

Here are three evidence-based practical considerations for workplace inclusion that arguably aren’t so well known. These pointers have emerged from doctoral research looking at the career progression (or not) of marginalised staff, such as racially minoritised women.

First, some context: the upper echelons of organisations – regardless of sector and to a large extent, geography – are dominated by older white men. Further, there is overwhelming evidence indicating that this phenomenon is a result of discrimination. There’s also a truckload of evidence showing that diverse leadership significantly improves organisational performance. However, the lack of diversity at leadership levels is not just a business problem: it is a moral and legal one (Equality Act 2010), too.

Leaders and managers – as if the above isn’t enough – much evidence suggests you have a special role to play in workplace inclusion 1,2,3,4. Colleagues, you too: your support is critical to marginalised individuals according to research 5,6,7. Examples of the kind of support required is outlined below. Most of it is a human to human thing, so mates, partners, this is transferable to you also.

  1. What’s in a name? The little and the big things matter when it comes to inclusion. A client once ended our work together following my mispronunciation of their name at a critical juncture in our conversation. And I would say I deserved it. It’s not all about getting it ‘right’ though: much respect – integral to inclusion – may be manifest in taking the trouble to ask ‘how is it pronounced?’. Regardless of whether someone gets it right or not, I hazard that it leaves a warm and fuzzy feeling. A feeling that may be described as ‘psychological safety’. Think of psychological safety and inclusion as best mates. It’s a bit of a love triangle though: psychological safety also goes hand in hand with team performance, a landmark study has found 8.

    What’s in a name? Quite a bit.

  2. Hey line managers. You are a big deal for marginalised staff. Support from a line manager can be ‘make or break’ in terms of equality of promotion and retention opportunities. What does ‘support’ in this context mean? Some examples:

    i. Lean towards those staff who are different to you — even those you find ‘difficult’. We all gravitate toward those similar to us; be conscious of this as a manager. One aspect of this may be facilitating stretching opportunities for all those you manage.

    ii. Get OK with conflict – and for many of us this takes work, and maybe some professional help. Diversity breeds conflict as well as reward 9; it’s par for the course. If you tend to avoid conflict you probably won’t be able to help those staff who most need you.

    iii. Notice employees who may experience multiple dimensions of disadvantage. For example, racially minoritised women will often be contending with everyday racism and sexism. Moreover, the impacts tend to be more than the sum of these racialised and gendered parts 10. The anticipation of discrimination, for instance, will itself have adverse impacts on individuals.

  3. Know your stuff on the long-term physical and mental health impacts of discrimination. The evidence showcasing this is overwhelming 11, 12. For instance, on the physical front, it has been found that discrimination is adversely related to preclinical indicators of disease and health risk behaviours.

    Regarding mental health impacts, discrimination undermines an individual’s sense of self to the extent that it becomes a form of ‘symbolic violence’ 13. In other words, the accumulation of experiences of discrimination, and the internalisation of these, are known to ‘break’ people. Reports of anxiety, much diminished confidence and emotional disturbance are not surprising 14.

In sum, though this may sound bleak the point I’m trying to make is that there are many opportunities in the everyday humdrum of life to be that beaut of a line manager/colleague/mate who gets it. The potential impact of this should not be underestimated; it may well support the creation of a leadership pool that reflects all of society, not just a few.

References
1 Robson, A. and Robson, F. (2016). Investigation of nurses’ intention to leave: a study of a sample of UK nurses. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 30(1), pp.154–173.
2 Iheduru‐Anderson, K. (2020). Barriers to career advancement in the nursing profession: Perceptions of Black nurses in the United States. Nursing forum (Hillsdale), 55(4), pp.664–677.
3 Alexis, C.C.O. (2013). Creating an inclusive environment for black and minority ethnic nurses. British Journal of Nursing. [online]. Available from: https://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/bjon.2004.13.22.17276 [Accessed May 23, 2021].
4 Magee, L. and Penfold, R. (2021). Game of snakes and ladders: barriers and enablers for aspiring women leaders in healthcare. BMJ Leader
5 Guillaume, Y.R.F. et al. (2013). Getting diversity at work to work: What we know and what we still don’t know. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86(2), pp.123–141.
6 Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), p.350.
7 West, M. (2021). If it’s not inclusive, it’s not compassionate leadership. In Sustaining wisdom, humanity and presence in health and social care. Wales: HEIW/Swirling Leaf Press.
8 Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), p.350.
9 West, M. (2021). If it’s not inclusive, it’s not compassionate leadership. In Sustaining wisdom, humanity and presence in health and social care. Wales: HEIW/Swirling Leaf Press.
10 Verloo, M. et al. (2012). Putting Intersectionality into Practice in Different Configurations of Equality Architecture: Belgium and the Netherlands. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 19(4), pp.513–538.
11 Naqvi, D.H. (2019). Race Equality in the Workplace: A Review of Theory and Practice Commissioned by the Mary Seacole Trust. [online]. Available from: https://www.maryseacoletrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-Equality-in-the-Workplace-for-publication-Feb-19.pdf
12 Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2013). Racism and health I: Pathways and scientific evidence. American behavioral scientist57(8), 1152-1173.
13 Bourdieu, P. (1991) quoted in Larsen, J.A. (2007). Embodiment of discrimination and overseas nurses’ career progression. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 16(12), pp.2187–2195.
14 Larsen, J.A. (2007). Embodiment of discrimination and overseas nurses’ career progression. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 16(12), pp.2187–2195.

Seasonal depression: How to feel less crap about less light

“Four seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of [wo]man”
– John Keats

Women are four times as likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Yes, four. This phenomenon is evidenced in a study by Rosenthal (2013), and added reason to correct Keats.

What is SAD? Depression that occurs in the Autumn and Winter – and has occurred in this seasonal pattern for two years or more.

Symptoms? Lethargy; an increase or loss of appetite; sleeping too much or too little; low mood; difficulty in concentrating; and loss of enjoyment in any activity.

Causes?

There are 3 main causes of seasonal depression: a lack of environmental light; biological predisposition; and stress. Each are discussed below.


What to do in the fight against light? A combination of..

*Light therapy (see below)
*Over-the-counter vitamin D supplements
*The classics – exercise, eat and sleep healthily, socialise
*Talking to a professional – psychotherapist/GP/both
*Remove unnecessary stressors (this may sound overly simplistic – but try it consciously?)

What the heck is light therapy?
Light therapy brings in more light during dark days naturally or via a ‘light lamp’ i.e. it is a simulation of sunlight from a light box. There is a whole lot of research since the 80s – pioneered by a ‘Norman Rosenthal’ supporting light therapy being as effective for SAD as anti-depressants for non-seasonal depression (Rosenthal 2013).

The disclaimers: Ideally use a light box under the supervision of a professional – especially if you start to feel (rare) side effects such as headaches or eyestrain. You’re not meant to stare at it, by the way. Also make sure you speak to a Doctor first if you have a history of skin cancer: even though light therapy works through the eyes rather than skin, and most UV rays are filtered, some gets through.

The practicalities: Light boxes can be bought on the high street and cost from £40. Regular lamps aren’t nearly as effective but better than nothing. If a light box is affordable, you’re looking at 20-30 minutes daily, first thing in the morning. And you’re not tied to the thing. The best bit? Benefits tend to be felt within days if not two weeks.

Best of all? Go au naturale. Grab early morning sunshine if it’s there for the taking. Light boxes are clever, but they’re no match.

References

Anglin, R., et al. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 202, 100-107. [Viewed 20 October 2019]. Available from: DOI:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.106666

Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment. vol. 2015, Article ID 178564, 6 pages. [Viewed 30 August 2020]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564

Norman Rosenthal., (2012). Seasonal Affective Disorder [online]. normanrosenthal.com [Viewed 30 September 2020]. Available from: https://www.normanrosenthal.com/about/research/seasonal-affective-disorder/

Rosenthal, N.E., (2013). Winter Blues. 4th ed. New York: The Guilford Press


Interrupt discrimination without lifting a finger: listen more, talk less

‘I’m white in the mornings and brown in the evenings’. This is what a four year-old of dual heritage told me recently. I wanted both to laugh and cry. And what this exemplifies is that the topic of race is as confusing – and conflicting – as it gets. Moreover, such feelings are far from limited to littles. Continue reading “Interrupt discrimination without lifting a finger: listen more, talk less”

To direct or not to direct

Ten reasons why therapists find it tricky to make suggestions

‘I suggest that you.. ’ is something I rarely say to clients. This is an example of therapist directivity that sits toward one end of the continuum. If you are deciding how much you want to be led by your therapist – how directive an approach you want – the following may help. For the purposes of this piece, I’m defining directivity as the ‘I suggest’ kind of comment.

Here are 10 reasons why I don’t tend to direct clients – and some exceptions. Continue reading “To direct or not to direct”

Disclosure – and a Great Dane

This is not a ‘ten ways to be more mindful during lockdown’ article. I considered writing something similar given that these have their place; and at the same time I’m cautious of endorsing a ‘quick fix’ mentality.

So, this is me starting to unpick the relationship between self-disclosure and peace, instead. I choose this topic because this is ultimately what many clients are grappling with: the fear of being – and showing – themselves. Of disclosure. The great Dane-ish philosopher Soren Kierkengaard said that an individual’s deepest despair lies in choosing to be another than themselves.

For self-disclosure: fear – and courage

I don’t much feel the need to protect myself these days. This means that it isn’t usually fear that stops me from self-disclosing – both personally and professionally. If anything, I’ve always felt more acutely the alternative; the risk not to disclose. No doubt this is linked to having been burnt by not sharing strong feelings in the past; the inaction clawed at me from the inside. I struggled to find clarity – and courage. Now, I fear more the risk of keeping myself out of a relationship, of not communicating. In clients’ relationships too I often witness the damaging consequences of not sharing the big and the small.

Against self-disclosure: when keeping shtum is king

As in my article below, I’m not evangelical about self-disclosure and ‘the talking cure’. Keeping shtum I’ve occasionally found would have been vitally protective. For example, when I’ve disclosed something personal and difficult, and have not been ‘received’ in that communication. Self-disclosure of course does not guarantee connection and empowerment. We need the receiver to sufficiently understand and accept us often for this to be the case.

We are each well within our rights not to disclose – or answer – anything we don’t want to. I’m reminded of the writer Rebecca Solnit’s statement, ‘not all questions have to be answered’. For me, as long as it isn’t fear that’s stopping me from speaking, I’m good.

Power, power, power

Decisions not to self-disclose, if not made with awareness, tend to have a power implication. That is, the more ‘mysterious’ I am, the more likely I am to have power over others. Power over others is the last thing I want. In my personal life, if I’m needing to hold back – not disclose – then this probably speaks of some insecurity in me. It may be fruitful to check your motivation if your tendency is to be private, not just for you but so that you are not inadvertently exerting power over another.

Other players in the choice to disclose: context, content and trust

Self-disclosure is, like every other aspect of human relating, far from a binary issue. In my professional context, clients tend to feel like they know me well, even if I rarely disclose about my personal world. I believe this is because I’m pretty open with clients about how I am impacted by them. I would even say that, other than sexually, there is no part of my world that is categorically off limits to clients. And at the same time it has thus far never occurred to me to share things like my romantic status or how I feel about my mum because I have not found it relevant to another’s therapy.

Self-disclosure is nuanced: I am not discussing here sharing ‘stats’ like whether I have a partner or siblings, but how I am impacted by another. It is possible to create intimacy – like the kind I have with clients – without in some ways sharing many ‘facts’ at all.

Content: I may feel easy sharing my political persuasion but less so talking about how I feel about my beloveds – the latter is more personal to me. The nature of the content impacts my choices around disclosure, naturally.

Although I have thus far referred to self-disclosure as a singular choice, in my experience it is rarely this. It is more often a back and forth conversation between two people involving clarification, interest, digestion and so forth. I need to have sufficient trust in a confidante that they would be willing and able to engage in such a conversation. The role and person of the receiver – and my relationship with them – sits tightly alongside the value to me in disclosing. Given this, as a confidante I strive to be non-judgemental; to be trustworthy. Lofty but true: I strive to be worthy of the honour.

Disclose on your terms (mainly)

Some friends have found me positively guarded. Others have found me overwhelmingly open. I don’t know if it makes a difference that the latter experience has been with British friends. I have felt pulls in both directions: both to be more open and to be more contained.

Contorting myself too much to suit others rarely leaves me feeling at peace. I understand of course that I must mediate myself socially to some degree. And, a theme across the board in my own therapy and witnessing clients tends to be a movement away from pleasing others. Generally speaking, we are all doing too much of this. Being aware of the pull to please – including telling people things because they want to know rather than stemming from any need in me – helps me not to do this habitually.

In the absence of disclosure: are your fantasies helping you?

When I don’t have information – such as when it is not disclosed – I can automatically fill those gaps with assumption or fantasy if I’m not aware of myself. I think this is a common phenomenon.

When clients dare to trust me with their fantasies about me it tends to help their therapy. Note, I don’t need to put fantasies right by correcting with disclosure; I do need to explore how a client’s fantasy affects their therapy. For example, an assumption about me having or not having children may impact how an individual relates to me, and how they reflect on the topic in our conversations.

Outside of therapy, it may be trickier to check out fantasies we hold about others. Still, consider it if you don’t already do this, especially where there is sufficient trust between you and the other. If that’s a struggle, being aware of assumptions and fantasies we hold is in itself in the direction of health – and peace.

You

My favourite A-word: awareness. It’s worth noting where you are on a spectrum of disclosure (closed/private at one end and open/public on the other). Is fear affecting your position? If so, the eminent therapist Carl Rogers’ observation after decades of research might help here: ‘what is most personal is most universal’.

Notice your own choices in how much you show who you are – and who you include in that privilege. Consider what you are not disclosing – with loved ones, a therapist, or even yourself – and why. The answers to these questions may be a golden ticket to a more peaceful place.

10 ways that talking – to a mate or therapist – can trigger helpful changes in the brain

But how does talking help?’ is a question that I’m frequently faced with, and one that I frequently struggle to answer, despite the fact that in the young and old alike, I see changes afoot on a daily basis. A lady called Bonnie Badenoch is helping put an end to my opaque responses as to how and why. Badenoch wrote a book called Being a Brain-Wise Therapist. Below I attempt to translate the basics so you may be ‘brain-wise’ yourself – if you are not already that is. Continue reading “10 ways that talking – to a mate or therapist – can trigger helpful changes in the brain”

3 common sentences that block communication – and some alternatives

Communicating is a tricky business. So many things can trigger us and block our ability to get what we need from conversations and relationships. For me it’s a process of continual learning too; and even if I’m aware of the following ‘traps’ I find it useful to be reminded. Perhaps it’s similar for you. Continue reading “3 common sentences that block communication – and some alternatives”