Diversity In The Bored Room

I really enjoyed listening to Lenny Henry at the recent Changeboard Future Talent event. His talk was funny and powerful – I was live blogging on the day and first shared some of what he spoke about here.

Something which really struck me in the talk, and which has stayed with me, was a focus on the lack of diversity inclusion and representation, both in the media, and in the wider world of work. This extract is from my earlier blog post about the talk:

Lenny called out the lack of racial diversity in the room. He told us of recent times in the media, where figures show that for every BAME person who lost their job, two white people were employed. This is partly why Lenny Henry continues his campaigning in the media for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation.

Diversity in the boardrooms – that’s where change starts.

If you think you can’t change it yourself? Apply pressure to those who can.

It’s easy to spot the places and people taking diversity, inclusion, and representation more seriously. They put real jobs, and money behind it!

Out of curiosity, I started to take a look at the very top levels of some of the organisations sponsoring and speaking at the event. I’ve always had a sense of the inequality in the upper echelons of business, but never sat down and taken a good look at it myself. In doing so, I recognise that diversity has many facets, and as my friend Laura Tribe suggests, ‘looking diverse isn’t being diverse’, however what my small piece of research uncovered is a much more distorted picture than I had previously imagined. Here’s what I found (what follows is an edit of a thread I shared on Twitter):

I went to an event this week where diversity and inclusion was high on the agenda. One of the speakers said change has to start in the boardrooms. This point got me curious, so I’m currently looking at boards and senior leadership teams of some of the event sponsors and the companies represented by some of the speakers at the event. What I am seeing is white faces everywhere.

I appreciate there are elements of diversity and inclusion which go unseen, but what I observe so far, is overwhelming sameness. Here is just one example, there are plenty of similar ones to choose from.

Photos of the current board of directors at capita plc. 6 white men, 2 white women.

 

Here is another board of directors represented at the event. There is a little more gender diversity among the the next hierarchical level down, the executive team, but it is still overwhelmingly white.

Photographs of the main board of directors at Aviva plc. 5 white men.

 

Here’s another board, the first one I’ve come across so far with a woman CEO. At the executive level, one down from here, there are two women and nine men in the group of 11, no people of colour.

Photos of the main board at royal mail. 6 white men, 3 white women

Lenny Henry

Just before lunch, Lenny Henry spoke at the ChangeBoard future talent event. He brought the house down with a mixture of humour and passion, the like of which I’ve rarely seen and heard at a conference. Here are just a few snippets, notes I captured in between the laughter and the tears…

Lenny’s family came to the UK expecting streets paved with gold. What they got was factories, soot, and racial abuse. Lenny recalls his Mum being followed down the street while someone asked where her tail was.

During school, Lenny got into a daily fight with another kid named David Price. Eventually Lenny made a joke of it – something about instead of rolling around on the floor maybe we should just go out on a date – get married..? People laughed, the situation diffused, the fights stopped. There were several times in the talk where the power of humour was highlighted.

Lenny failed his 11+ exams. When he left school, took a factory job – driven to practice and rehearse his comedy to avoid the boredom repetition and smell and whine of machinery.

A winning appearance on New Faces brought Lenny to wider public attention, and he spoke about subsequently going go the BBC and seeing almost no other black faces.

Whilst on tour with Cannon and Ball, Lenny returned to further education, revising for O levels, studying world war poetry. Lenny found further education transformational. He felt fortunate that he could afford it, and now despairs for kids and the debts they incur to learn.

Can I do it? Play Othello? Yes – said the director, you can. Hard work produced a great performance and Lenny won the Evening Standard Outstanding Newcomer acting award….at the age of 50. The power of a yes.

Lenny called out the lack of racial diversity in the room. He told us of recent times in the media, where figures show that for every BAME person who lost their job, two white people were employed. This is partly why Lenny Henry continues his campaigning in the media for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation.

Diversity in the boardrooms – that’s where change starts.

If you think you can’t change it yourself? Apply pressure to those who can.

It’s easy to spot the places and people taking diversity, inclusion, and representation more seriously. They put real jobs, and money behind it!

Learning To Let Go : Change Is Hard

When things are evolving, and change is afoot, people often hanker for the good old days. ‘Things were so much better back then…’. Were they really?

Leaky Pens

When I first left school I was a trainee draughtsman working at a house building company. I drew housing layouts, road and drainage section drawings, and more, on large sheets of coated film using a technical drawing pens. Expensive, high specification, high maintenance pens, the ink distributed perfectly in lines of uniform width. Except when they leaked and scratched, which was often. When the dam burst, and the ink leaked, depending on how much progress had been made, the choice usually boiled down to starting again, or letting the ink dry and trying to scratch and scrape the excess off the drawing film with a scalpel. It was easy to cut yourself during this part of the process, adding blood to the inky excess. Truthfully I can’t distinguish whether the feeling experienced on completing a drawing was joy in my work, or simply relief that me and my pens hadn’t leaked everywhere. Things were so much better back then…

Mutant Tea Urns

One of my earliest office jobs involved a myriad of fascinating duties. My day started by filling the clanky old hot water urn so that people could make tea and coffee at will through the day. This big steaming tin can, with its shiny spout and oddly ear shaped handles brought to mind a mutant, monstrous metal elephant head, steaming with rage. The mutant was hot, and I often burned myself on its metal skin. Things were so much better back then…

The DeathBringer 5000

Once my burn wounds were dressed, it was mailshot time. We used to send letters to our customers, and the envelopes containing the letters were hand printed, by me. As a new customer joined our ranks, I would stamp their name and address, letter by letter, onto a small lead plate and insert the plate into a metal surround and file it away. When the time came to correspond, I took a handful of these metal surrounds and loaded them into a stamping machine. I then inserted an envelope into the machine, pulled the handle and voila! A movement was triggered. A metal surround containing the lead plate went via an inkpad before being forced against the envelope, where it left its mark, a name and address. We might send a couple of hundred letters in a batch and this machine was hand operated and had the capacity for one envelope at a time.

I had to pull the machine handle downwards really hard to create the force to stamp the address. For some inexplicable reason, the big heavy handle had a hook built into it. One day, at around envelope number 146, my mind somehow drifted from the scintillating task, and I became nothing more than a part of that machine. Load, stamp remove. Load, stamp, remove. Load, stamp, remove. Just prior to experiencing the screaming pain which accompanies your thumb nail departing from your thumb, courtesy of being smashed through by a superfluous hook on the handle of the DeathBringer 5000 Envelope Stamper (for that was its name), my reverie was broken by an abundance of blood all over the place. The thumbnail grew back, the mental scars have never left me. Things were so much better back then…

We have enjoyed many improvements to the process of work. Our drawing pens are better, and complemented by technology. Our mutant tea urns are safer, and slightly less angry, and the DeathBringer 5000 is where it belongs, safely behind bars at the Tower of London torture section.

So if it is not the process we look so longingly back at, what is it?

More to follow…

Change Is Hard : Learning To Let Go was inspired by a conversation with Tim Gardner over a pint or two last week. Thank you Tim.