To challenge and to change – that is the mission

19 10 2011

There has been lots of discussion around gender equality and diversity over the past months – years!
The arguments are about fairness AND economic performance.

From Women’s Enterprise :
“As long as women remain under-represented in enterprise through lack of practical support, the government is wasting a multi-billion pound opportunity to grow the economy.”

From the Davies Report
“This is not about aiming for a specific figure and is not just about promoting equal opportunities but it is about improving business performance. There is growing evidence to show that diverse boards are better boards, delivering financial out-performance and stock market growth.”

Stephen Alambritis, Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
“At the current rate of change it will take 73 years for women to achieve equal representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. We need to speed up progress. This is not just a moral issue. Our businesses are paying a penalty; there is evidence that more diverse boards take better and more responsible decisions.

Yet, for example, of 180 HR directors surveyed by recruitment firm Robert Half, only 41 per cent said they were running or planning initiatives to help women achieve professional parity with men and according to figures released by CMI, the gap between how much male and female managers are paid has widened by £500 to £10,546 in the past year.

So while, young women achieve better educationally than boys at the age of 16 and a higher proportion of girls than boys continue in education to degree level, their early success does not translate into similar advantages in terms of careers and pay in later life.

We are all influenced by what is expected of us as a man or a woman. These expectations are subtle and pervasive and lead to the feeling ‘that this is the way that it has always been and will always be’. The challenge is to change those expectations.

Which leads me to the November Issue of the3rdimagazine.
It is up to us all, women and men working together, to take up the challenge of changing these expectations and help work towards increased diversity in the boardroom, the workplace, in public office and in our wider communities.

So for November, (deadline 2nd November for publication 7th) you have the chance to challenge the current expectations and share your views on issues around this theme, which will be expanded over the coming months to form a permanent “Diversity and Equality” section in the3rdimagazine.

I’m delighted to be supported in this venture by Jane Kenyon, co-founder at Girls Out Loud, serial entrepreneur, well respected coach, inspirational speaker and passionate advocate for equality and the need for change. Jane will act as editor for this new section from December onwards.

So please have your say and help us to challenge and to change.
Contact for details

The world viewed through an NGO lens

16 10 2011

A friend has a postcard on his fridge that reads, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans Geography.”

It is true that most Americans know little of the world beyond their shores and that their politicians practice casual xenophobia by routinely mispronouncing the names of the countries with whom they have differences, like I- rak and I-ran.

But are they alone in their ignorance? Are we much better?

Pretty much everything that I know about the world is viewed through a BBC lens which, while not as obviously biased as CNN and Fox, certainly has it’s own editorial style. For example, frequent reference to rogue states, failed states, the axis of evil will, over time, mould our judgement of these countries.

But it is the promotion of one particular world view that concerns me.

Africa is a huge continent made up of many countries large and small and richer and poorer yet what is our over-arching view? That most people are starving. This is because the images that fill our screens are of starving children. So where does the BBC get these images and the stories that underlie them?

The BBC doesn’t have many reporters in Africa. They rely largely on local sources to bring stories to their attention and to grant access to the images that later fill our screens. Typically these stories are provided by the NGOs who, being largely staffed by English speaking workers, provide an easy route to stories.

But are the NGOs the best people to provide a balanced picture? I think not.

Put simply, NGOs rely on donations from the developed world to support their work in Africa and beyond. It is easy to see why they might feed particular stories to news corporations, including the BBC. Images of starving children beamed into the living rooms of middle-England ensures that the stream of donations flows freely. From the point of view of the NGO industry this is perfectly reasonable. They are commercial businesses which rely on donations to survive. It is in their interest to proffer stories that will result in increased donations. In purely commercial terms there is nothing wrong with this. And I am not suggesting that the work that they do isn’t valuable and worth supporting.

My concern is that the stories they tell and the images that accompany them are only part of the story but this singular narrative is the one that fills our screens, newspapers and radio broadcasts.

If we are to avoid having a simplistic world view we need more balanced reporting, or at least stories trawled from a wider sea.

We can, indeed we must, change expectations

12 10 2011

Violence against women is, I believe, a consequence of the historic and persistent inequality between men and women.

While physical violence is often what makes the headlines, verbal domestic abuse, forced marriage, trafficking of young girls, honour crimes and non-consensual sexual activity within relationships, amongst others, are all manifestations of this basic inequality and should all be treated as violence against women.

We all have a basic human right to live without violence or the threat of violence. We cannot artificially remove the violence from the context in which it is taking place. That is to say that it occurs within a society where women have a subordinate status and it is only by tackling the basic inequality in the system that we can permanently reduce the risk of violence against women and improve the life chances of children adversely affected by exposure to such violence and abuse.

We are all influenced by what is expected of us as a man or a woman. These expectations are subtle and pervasive and lead to the feeling ‘that this is the way that it has always been and will always be’. The challenge is to change those expectations. Young girls see images of women as being glamour models or WAGs and set their sights on instant celebrity, largely through use of their bodies not their minds. We need to create alternative role models for young girls so that they can have different expectations around what it is to be successful as a woman.

We can change expectations; after all it was once acceptable to smoke in a restaurant, now it isn’t. This came through a combination of legislation and a change in what we as a society came to think of as acceptable and the same dual approach needs to be taken to address gender inequality.

Gender inequality has led to an inequality of power within relationships. Physical domination, verbal abuse, degradation and repeated humiliation coupled with the deflection of blame for this behaviour by the perpetrator of the abuse onto the woman being abused, are characteristic of the power and control that men exercise over women. Economic disadvantage and expectations around the care of children and dependants in the family exacerbate this imbalance of power in favour of men. At its worst this lack of power has led to rape being used as a weapon against women in war zones.

To achieve sustainable change gender inequality needs to be addressed. Violence against women is a result of this inequality. The cause and the symptoms both need to be tackled together. Taking steps to end domestic violence will promote gender equality. Taking steps to change expectations about what it is to be a woman will enhance gender equality and reduce the risk that women are subjected to violent and abusive behaviour.

What has been seen as a vicious circle of inequality, abuse of power and violence can be broken by tackling any and all of its component parts.

A crutch in a crisis …

12 10 2011

My son always prefixed a sentence with the phrase, “no disrespect but “ if he knew that what came next would be something I wouldn’t like. No disrespect but aren’t you a bit old for that Mum, was a classic. Another such prefix that you may have come across is, “I’m not racist but…”. I mention these by way of introducing my rider for this article, “some of my best friends are coaches but…”


Actually, I may not need a get out clause at all as this is a re-write of my original thoughts which, on reflection were a bit of a rant about the poor quality of some coaches. So I’ve decided to reformulate those thoughts to create a plea for improvement rather than a critique of the poor work of some. So here goes.


Firstly, please don’t create a dependence

Many coaches seem to thrive on being a constant support for their clients. We all need the help of a coach from time to time but coaches should be a crutch in a crisis not a walking stick for life, as The Samaritans say. Needing to permanently hold an clients hand is a sign of failure not of success. My theory is that it makes the coach feel better to the detriment of a client. Coaches should teach their clients to manage on their own and should learn that lesson themselves and not cling on so tightly.


Secondly, please make sure you learn your own lessons

I had a yoga teacher who sat at the end of each lesson and read beautifully from selected Sanskrit texts but even the most cursory examination of her behaviours revealed that she understood little of what she taught and the little she did know had minimal impact on her actions. And recently have been part of what should have been an open, inclusive, collaborative project which included several coaches who teach the benefits of collaborative working, which proved to be anything but, with those coaches deliberately and determinedly keeping information from others in the group. A plea for practicing what you preach, then.


Thirdly, please master your subject before you teach it.

I guess the best example here is the proliferation of NLP coaches. NLP is a perfectly sound technique for helping some people in some circumstances. It is not the cure for all ills and completing a day workshop and emerging as a certified NLP practitioner is just nonsense. Enough said.


Fourthly, don’t steal another’s clothes.

Coaching across all disciplines tends to try and claim a scientific basis for the particular technique. This may, in certain circumstances, be a perfectly valid and reasonable thing to do. In practice what tends to happen is that every behavioural theory and coaching practice tries to assume the cloak of credibility by covering itself with scientific terminology. I have a good scientific understanding of chaos and the emergence of complexity and regularly see these theories mangled by coaches and behavioural psychologists …. and don’t get me started on the regular evocation of quantum theory to prove, show, demonstrate, corroborate all manner of quackery. So please just stop it!


Fifthly, there is the Chinese whisper problem.

It is not possible to always learn at the feet of the master but the more often the original message is diluted from teacher to teacher the more the message gets diluted or mangled. So try to make sure that the person who is teaching you knows what they are talking about and that you have understood the lesson completely before you pass the learning on in your own coaching practice. Essentially, if you want to know about Eastern philosophy read the Bhagavad Gita not the Power of Now. Or at least read them both.


So there we are. My 5 point plan to improve the world of coaching.

Oh, one final thing…stop taking yourselves so seriously. There really is more to life than your next workshop.