Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement Phoenix’s Head of HR and L&D Woosh Raza and Director of Marketing and Innovation Jim Armstrong took some time to discuss racial discrimination, inclusion, workplace communities, privilege, education and how to make the world a better place.
We’ve split the conversation into three parts.
Part One – what can we learn from the Black Lives Matter movement?
Part Two – the potential of uncomfortable conversations
Part Three – being your authentic self
The Potential of Uncomfortable Conversations
Sounds like you've brought to Phoenix, not just a professional academic practical expertise but also your lived experience. It's really interesting what you're saying in that you can have good policy and practice, but it’s important to consider how it feels to be welcome. That’s a great insight into what ultimately what human resource is about.
I heard from another diversity and inclusion specialist who I had a great conversation with this week. And she was saying if you just put a policy in place, or you seek to just have the very minimum baseline legal training, all you will ever get his compliance, you won't ever then get real inclusion and belonging.
It's a painful journey of growth and knowing that it's going to be uncomfortable but ultimately, by achieving the end goal, you will have an environment where anyone in any role that they play at Phoenix, or any organisation can stand up and say, that is how I've been made to feel, and then we can allow someone to raise their head up high, and to share that, how they're feeling, that in itself is a testament to the culture that we have. We have a strong culture and a real employee voice at Phoenix which will provide for a great platform for our staff to speak out about issues surrounding race.
I've always said that equality is having a seat at the table, diversity is have being able to speak and inclusion is having that voice heard. You can either do a baseline of basic standard training, or you can have a meaningful discussion around inclusion. Creating a safe and open learning environment where people can actually share experiences and hear diverse perspectives is far more effective then mandatory e-learning around the Equality Act.
And in wider society we have discrimination legislation and we still have discrimination. And so, as you say that the culture has got to be right within organisation, as well as in a society. You can create an organisational law but that doesn't mean you remove the problem.
Generally, in life I am more likely to avoid difficult conversation about something I don't really understand. I might go away read about it, but I don't pitch in with the Twitter debates. How do you have difficult conversations? presumably that links to culture?
I think so, I think absolutely what you've mentioned is that it speaks to the heart of this issue which is your culture. If your employees feel safe and know that whatever they're going to say, they will not be judged and it will not mean that they lose their job, so they're fearful of their employment being terminated. People should feel that someone will listen to them, so it's not that they're going to speak up and nothing's going to happen. All of that is going to foster an environment where your employees feel safe, included and heard. And I think that speaks to the very ethos of our DNA at Phoenix. I think we have a really strong employee voice at Phoenix. I’ve not been here that long, but in the three or four months I have been here I think that reflects very well on the organisation.
And I think that is the basis for a really good discussion around inclusion. Race is always going to be a really tough conversation. It doesn't matter if you're white, black, South Asian it's going to be uncomfortable, but I think it's in those moments of discomfort that we find our biggest growth and if organisations could play a role in giving someone a conversation that they may not have in their outside environments, then that's when you realise just how powerful organisations and businesses are in the role of seeking to dismantle racism in this world.
So, it sounds like what you're saying is that by creating a community of openness and safety within a work environment, as a role model for wider society, people can learn at work through their interaction with others. Which is quite a powerful thought. The idea of the workplace as a community.
And that's absolutely what the conversations from the HR circles that I've been part of at the moment around the future of organisational development. They call it citizenship and it's about feeling a sense of citizenship and community. And actually, what they're saying is that in 5 to 10 years is the work place will have reduced hierarchical layers, but more centres of subcultures and communities within organisations that collaborate and connect.
I've had people come up to me in my career and speak to me really openly about how in my day to day life I may not have met an LGBT person like you Woosh, or I actually didn't know about the Muslim religion, I actually had those conversations in the last few weeks about Eid because we’ve been talking about Eid recently and it's been in our newsletter. So many people have picked up the phone around me as a result of that conversation saying, oh, like I didn't know Eid was now and I didn't know about fasting and Ramadan. We are a community in our own right. And actually, we may engage with people in the world of work that we may not necessarily engage with outside work because outside of work we gravitate to those people that we know and our friends are those you know. The workplace gives you an opportunity to talk to someone and share a life experience, someone who you would never have had that opportunity to speak to without the workplace facilitating that.
I think there's something about our sector, as a charity, as a health and social care charity in particular. I reflect back to when I’ve worked in different places and it always felt a little bit like everyone was a bit like me really. There was a filter that you pass through to get into the organisation. And those are probably people are a similar age, had similar interests to each other people at work. And so it could be was a bit mono-cultural.
But it wasn't until I moved into the charity sector where I started to work with people of different ages, different backgrounds, people have been directly of indirectly affected by the cause of charities such as drug or alcohol issues, mental health, homelessness or disability. So, there's definitely a greater openness and opportunity to create that sense of community in our sector I think.
It’s not a competition but I think Phoenix people have a real willingness to listen and help others.
Absolutely, at Phoenix I've seen a real sense of camaraderie. And I do think there's something about the nature of the work that we do, because the way that our residential services and our therapeutic programmes are structured it draws on some absolutely brilliant principles of teamwork, camaraderie and discipline. And I think that resonates and reverberates as part of the organisational culture and those are the principles that we need in the world right now. We need to come together, we need to unite and I think we do that really well at Phoenix. I absolutely echo what you're saying. I think some of the things you've mentioned could potentially result in groupthink, if you look around the table and if you're all from the same. You all have the same perspective then really miss the richness of that diversity. We have a really strong culture of people wanting to engage and learn here at Phoenix, the one thing I always say to hiring managers is that the two most dangerous words in the recruitment language is ‘cultural fit’. Hire people with the perspective you don’t have. Look for the gaps in your team where you potentially could diversify your team, and potentially bring people in who you may not naturally have an inclination or gravitate to but actually they could bring in new ideas and ways of looking at things. Diversity of thought will encourage improved outcomes, which will increase our business growth and development.
I think you're spot on. In terms of innovation which is one of my areas. When you're problem solving you want you want diversity of perspective, you actually want the terrible cliché of ‘thinking outside the box’. You want to be challenged by quite radical thinking sometimes. And there are different forms of innovation that we require and some of that is incremental, you can do incremental innovation with like-minded people incrementally improving processes. But when we want to look at quite radically different ways of doing things differently in these uncertain times we are in we need diversity of perspective. Especially in the the times we're in at the moment, which have radically changed recently.
So, I suppose maybe there's a thought that diversity of perspective and having those uncomfortable conversations, is actually what we need now. In times of uncertainty rather than retreating to the comfort of groupthink, maybe we'll get better solutions for the problems we face with diversity and challenge.
And I wonder whether we can work within our workplace community, if that workplace community has the right culture to have open and difficult conversations to change, manage and innovate through these uncertain times
Absolutely. And I hear this a lot and I coach on this issue. I've worked with a number of really interesting organisations and the number one thing I say is diversity is a philosophy, it's an ideology. When you think about diversity you think about black people, you think asian, people of colour, disability, yeah okay there are different groups of people, diversity is about differences, but it's a way of thinking. It's about broadening your mindset, it's about understanding differences, it's about tolerance, it's about acceptance. That is everyone. Last year (and this was a real conversation I had with a white middle-aged man, who was a senior member of the organisation) I was talking to a senior colleague and he was explaining how he felt excluded from being part of the ED &I work because he was a white male. And that's not what we're trying to do, in fact, that's the opposite because it's everyone understanding diverse perspectives and everyone coming together that's going to really achieve change. I think a lot of people I've come across have perhaps felt distanced from the debate, because they think “it's not my place because I'm not a person of colour, or I'm not disabled, I have nothing to add to this conversation”. Everyone has something to add to the conversation, and it really is about collective effort, getting together and addressing these issues.
Read Part Three coming soon..