I was at the CIPD conference in Manchester recently, and decided as the continuation of experimenting with difference, to have my nails done for the second year running. Why? Two main reasons. First, I was curious to see how people reacted, and second, overall I enjoyed the experience the first time and simply wanted to repeat it.
In 2015 I chose a dark purple as my colour, this year I went with green. Both times I enjoyed the experience of the manicure itself – thanks to the good people at Peter Marcus. and the subsequent reactions from people fascinated me.
While reflecting on this recently, a friend asked me how I reacted to myself. Here’s what I recalled:
In 2015 I had my nails done for the first time. Keira and I have played around with nail varnish at home loads of times, this was the first time in public. The person in the nail bar commented I was the first man customer who had asked for a manicure and polish. I chose a deep purple varnish. I left the nail bar and immediately scuffed a nail – went back and was fixed up again. Left for a second time feeling very self conscious. That feeling stayed with me and I attracted a range of feedback. Surprise, delight, confusion, acknowledgement of bravery, curiosity (why would I do such a thing?), and disapproval. The uncertainty stayed with me. I remember hiding my nails from view on the tube on the way home.
In 2016 I went back for another go. The person in the nail bar remembered me, we had a few laughs, made sure my nails were properly dry this time! I felt much less self conscious this year, and I think as a result of this, I attracted far fewer comments. I occasionally found myself hiding my nails but for the most part, I think they looked good and I liked what I’d had done and enjoyed the experience.
Based on this experiment, it seems that I invite reactions from other people more than I previously thought I did. There is no good reason why I felt awkward, beyond my own hangups and my perception of the prejudices of others. This is a small experiment in how people, me included, respond to difference. As an older white man, I have all/most of the privilege in many situations. The nails is a way of me disarming and enjoying myself, and I still get nervous/uncertain etc. I’m keeping going.
Best £25 I’ve spent in ages!
In addition to the nails experiment, which I will be repeating soon, I sometimes choose to wear shorts to work in the summer months. This is another one of those small differences which in some cases, attracts interesting responses. Internally I wrestle with ‘is it acceptable to wear shirts to work?’ even in very high temperatures. I frequently talk myself out of shorts and into trousers, then regret this when I’m overheating on a crowded tube in London. Additionally – I note that people (it is nearly always men) who react in any way to the shorts situation, do so by mocking me for my choice. To what extent I invite this reaction, I am unsure.
I find this kind of experiment fascinating – in terms of what I learn about others and myself, and as a reminder of my own prejudices, and as a reminder to be kind. If you’ve tried anything similar – I’d love to hear from you.
Here are my notes (they read more like a series of brain farts) from last week’s The Future of Work is Human Big Tent event.
Hosts : Robert Phillips and Peter Cheese
Speakers : Adrian Chiles, Veronica Hope Halley, Lynda Gratton, Luke Johnson, Amanda McKenzie, Tristram Hunt, Anthony Painter, Jan Gooding, Sir Ian Cheshire. Where I’ve ‘quoted’ the speakers, this was my best attempt to catch what they said, word for word. I apologise if I’ve made any errors.
Making a wish was a thread through this event, before and during. A few days before the event, we were invited to ‘make a wish’ to be displayed on our lanyards. I wish that… we would all be a little kinder to one another, that was my choice. On arrival there was a wish wall, to which I added ‘I wish I didn’t feel so nervous right now’. The event was in two parts. The first was titled ‘How can/will the future of work be human? What condition are we in?’ and the second section was called ‘How can we accelerate, support and develop a more human future of work? What is our theory of change?’
Robert kicked off the event by reading out some wishes from 10 year old kids:
‘I wish I felt less pressure’
‘I wish we were each given five pounds, and split into groups to try and make more money’
‘I wish for less demerits, and to hear everyone’s side of the story’
‘I wish they’d teach us skills that will be useful when we’re older’
Round One : How can/will the future of work be human? What condition are we in?
Adrian spoke about difference as he has experienced it, through making programmes for television including one about religion, and another exploring why people from his home town in the West Midlands chose to vote leave in the EU referendum. His learning seemed to be mostly about difference, and observing that people feel angry and not listened to. ‘We simply don’t talk to one another enough’ is his suggestion. I agree – and I also agreed with his observation about the need for more diversity in the room. Adrian put forward a view that our willingness to seek and listen to different opinions diminishes with age. He had no data to back this up and I don’t agree with him, it feels over simplified and stereotypical. I meet as many young people set in their ways as I do older ones who are open to different possibilities, and vice versa.
Veronica spoke about power. ‘With the privilege of power and the privilege of choice, comes the duty of responsibility’. She referenced the EU referendum as an example of ’the powerless having power’ and suggested that if we are feeling post Brexit discomfort, get used to it, that’s how most people feel most of the time. Veronica also spoke about a need to focus less on leadership skills, and more on behaviours.
Lynda spoke about how things need to change as we live longer. Lynda used three fictional people as models to illustrate the need to work longer/later in life to retire on a ‘reasonable income’. Apparently, 20 something year old Jane will work into her late 70s to achieve this. Lynda also observed (her opinion only, LG at pains to point out no further data to support) that ageism is now worse than sexism. I would have loved to hear from a real Jane, to counter and/or support the academic notion.
Luke spoke about the need to appreciate and truly integrate self employment and start ups into the wider mix of business. We currently rely too heavily on government and big business, that’s not where the work/jobs will come from in future. ‘Jobs are a by product of entrepreneurial mission’.
Amanda spoke about the human responsibility of business. She argued for a greater focus on the ‘now’ of work (yes please, too much focus on the future of work is an abdication of our responsibility to make now better first), and an acknowledgement of the stress folks are under, and the need to reduce that.
We were invited to chew this stuff over at our tables. Tables had been themed, and I chose to sit at the ‘equality’ table. As I took my seat, (I was the only man at the table at the point) someone remarked ‘you’re brave’. I chose to sit at the table because I felt curious, and the injustice of inequality bothers me, a lot. I didn’t take a seat because I felt brave – otherwise I might have sat at the bravery table (sadly, there wasn’t one). Here’s what I scribbled from the conversation:
We often position change as a loss, maybe of status, or privilege, is there a better way?
Less talk, more action.
Speak truth to power (love this and it’s one of those things, like busyness, which we know needs addressing, and which few seem willing to actively change).
Need to feel more solidarity within organisations, less about politics, more about common interest, mutual support.
There should be more women of colour in senior management positions.
Round Two : How can we accelerate, support and develop a more human future of work? What is our theory of change?
Tristram was here to talk about education, and the need for a systems by-pass. My gut reaction was – the last thing we need is a politician speaking to us (or anyone else for that matter) about education. He suggested we should ban GCSEs by 2025, and we should set up a non partisan group to achieve this. With that insight bomb dropped, he departed. I experienced his mercifully brief talk as typical politicking, all rah rah, no substance.
Anthony from the RSA spoke about the need for universal basic income. Solidarity (there’s that word again) declines, insecurity increases. Self employment on the rise, predicts number of self employed will overtake number employed in government within five years. Self employed often low paid, high stress. The system sanctions job seekers all the time, yet hardly touches tax evaders – where does the political will point to? Doing good work matters, universal basic income gives people some control and choice. We need to have the courage to make big social change.
Jan spoke about discrimination and of needing to be yourself at work. Jan had just returned room a visit to Singapore where, as a lesbian, she felt uneasy. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore lack many of the legal rights of non-LGBT residents. Same-sex relationships are not recognised under the law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is illegal. Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal, though the law is generally not enforced. Poverty, education, prejudice, discrimination, all preventing people reaching their potential. This harms our ability to innovate. We hire in our own image – this has to stop. 62% of LGBT graduates go back into the closet in their first job. Changing the law is insufficient, we need to change attitudes too. In support of Jan’s comments, I recommend watching this excellent talk by Toby Mildon.
Ian spoke about executive pay, and the need to reform it. I owe Ian an apology because by now, I was done with being talked at and I paid very little attention to what he said, which is a shame because this is an important subject. Average CEO pay has grown from being 64 times that of the average wage in 1999, to 145 times greater in 2009. At current rates, the gap will grow to a multiple of 214 times average salary by 2020 (source: Daily Telegraph). How much is enough?
At our tables, we spoke about some of what we’d heard (I’d moved from the equality table to the joy table, to hear more different voices), and as I mentioned in my previous post – the abstraction, and the size of the challenge, left me frazzled. We grounded ourselves at this table by telling stories of the small things we are doing to make change.
The last note on my page reads ‘confidence to change, permission to act’. I recall someone asking for a list of actions before we disbanded, which was a fair ask, and something I’d heard from others through the morning. My action? I chose to act by joining The Women’s Equality Party as an affiliate member. I love what the party stands for, I love that it wants to disband itself as soon as it is no longer needed, and I love that I can join even though I’m currently a member of another political party. I’m confident my membership will help raise my awareness of equality, and give me the confidence to affect and influence more change. I look forward to learning what action others are taking too.
An interesting morning, albeit quite abstract at times, and too cosy, and too much being talked at. I’m keen to see what comes next, and if the project continues to look interesting, maybe I’ll tag along in future. Whether I do or not, for the success of the project, the issue of diversity of thought within the group needs to be addressed. I’m yet to be convinced that the establishment are best placed to challenge the establishment.
Footnote. Interested in learning more? There is a website for this project, and after the event, a ‘call to arms’ was posted. I’ve added my action to the call, I hope others will too, as my action is currently feeling lonely.
When thinking about change, how do you enable greater diversity in your processes?
This week I attended the Future of Work is Human Big Tent. There were lots of interesting, necessary and at times fascinating subjects on the agenda.
National alienation and class
Implications of the 100 year life
Helping enterprise flourish
The human responsibility of business
A universal basic income
Actively removing fear of discrimination: the economic case
Pay and incentives – the need for fundamental reform
Education: time for a system by-pass?
I scribbled a lot of notes which I’ll write up and share soon.
The tent (it wasn’t a real tent, we were at Central Hall Westminster) was indeed big, and I felt it had a very narrow door through which we passed.
I heard some good stuff, and would have preferred a more involving, inclusive, action orientated approach, with less reliance on the sage on the stage, which was loaded with white privilege*. I’m not saying the views from speakers weren’t valid, they often were, and I think a richer picture would have been painted with a more diverse approach. If the shock I experience since Brexit has taught me anything, it’s that I frequently exist in a bubble, and I need to diversify where and how and from whom I seek understanding.
During the event, there was an acknowledgment of how we hire in our own image, and general agreement of that being a limiting and often flawed concept, yet the audience seemed to have been recruited in that way. There is a risk this will lead to a lack of diversity in thinking, the success of this work requires a shake up in how people are engaged with it.
At times, the discussion felt quite abstract, quite overwhelming. I developed a headache towards the end of the morning which I managed to ease through a bit of doodling, then someone at our table called out the abstract nature of the discussion, and suggested we tell stories of small things we’re already doing to make change. Stories of togetherness, trying something new, dog walking, art, and parties all followed. That lovely, useful, and simple idea brought the conversation back to a more applied level, and I felt it beginning to galvanise us at the table. Coincidentally, and in support of this, Johnnie Moore shared thoughts from a book by Shawn Achor called The Happiness Advantage on Facebook later:
“Goals that are too big paralyze you. They literally shut off your brain, says Achor. Here’s what happens to your brain when faced with a daunting goal or project:
The amygdala, the part of the brain that responds to fear and threats, hijacks the “thinker” part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, says Achor. The amygdala steals resources from the prefrontal cortex, the creative part of the brain that makes decisions and sees possibilities.”
I’m grateful for the invitation and pleased I went. An interesting morning indeed.
*Someone had the courage to call this out part way through the event. I don’t know his name, but thank you, whoever you are.