By way of background, I have been invited to MC at an event held by the British Council and One Young World next week in front of about 150 people. This is a glorious story – so stay with me. And also, if you think I will open with an introductory pun related to ‘Emma C Jones’ and how that makes me, for one night only, MC Jones – you are 100% correct.
When I was younger, I joked with my Mum that if a door closed then I would climb through a window. What I realise now is that there's a careful dance between making things happen and letting things happen, but if you manage your networks - unbelievable things can happen. This time, there was no need to scale a wall to get into a space!
The first network I'm linked into is the British Council which is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. It positions itself to create “international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide”. In 2017, I was selected as a ‘Future Leader’ and took part in a two-week programme.
Since 2017, I have become part of a rather fabulous network with opportunities to have dinner at the House of Lords and speak on a panel at a One Young World event in London. One Young World “identifies, promotes and connects the world’s most impactful young leaders to create a better world, with more responsible, more effective leadership”. It also directly engages with the private sector and companies to pay for other attendees to attend from all over the world.
One Young World has corporate sponsors, of which my current place of work is one. I applied to represent the firm at the One Young World event in London and managed to get a personal nomination from Bill Michael. This is a huge deal and the Director I work with couldn’t believe I had managed that.
Mr Michael is the UK Chairman and Senior Partner of KPMG and a member of the KPMG Global Board and Executive Committee, leading our £2.1 billion business of over 13,000 employees. I met Mr Michael in person when he came to the Reading Office after there was a scandal earlier in the year which resulted in two of KPMG’s “most prominent female partners resigning from the firm in protest over how an investigation into alleged bullying” by Mr Thakkar, a Partner, was handled.
And so, Management have been trying to change institutional issues by making us all personally responsible for ‘ethical’ organisational behaviour.
Nevertheless, God loves a trier and a trier I am, so I penned an email to Mr Michael when the recognition of the insidious and harmful behaviour emerged, and moves were taken to combat similar things happening again with firm wide training. My email was initially in draft form and senior staff that I work closely were kind enough to proofread it and make it linguistically ‘corporated’ as I carefully flagged the flaws in the firm wide proposal to make everyone behave like decent human beings.
I picked apart the ideas proposed by Management which failed to account for micro-aggression, unconscious bias, structural violence, and the ineffectiveness of combating institutional issues with personal responsibility. As I muttered quietly to one colleague, as a Firm we must pro-actively opt out of saving for pensions into which we are automatically enrolled. Meanwhile for ethics, we have 100 volunteers who have opted in to be ‘ethical’ whilst the rest of us remain opted into saving for our pensions we are under no pressure to opt into any ethics.
The approach raised questions from me on how and why vulnerable people are expected to do disproportional amounts of emotional labour (and for free on top of current roles) despite being the ones most at risk from harmful behaviour. So there's the double whammy of - for example, being bullied and simultaneously being expected to flag to a bully that they are being a bully and then being responsible for correcting that behaviour. Sounds exhausting and unsustainable to me!
One cracking example was at a team meeting we had for the South Offices where I flagged that we had a 'Mexico' themed day in the office where the catering staff dressed up as 'Mexicans' which seemed like a shitty thing to do (to me, anyway). Not one person bothered to google why that might be an issue, and I had colleagues come and ask me what the problem was. This meant they were expecting me to take time and energy from my work to educate them - imagine what the Ethics Champions at the firm might have to deal with?
Keep in mind that a lot of 'ethics' work related to race, gender, sexuality, disability, and so one are done for free by people who are already impacted; these changes are borne out of necessity for people to work in environments free from structural violence. It means that change is already reliant on the time, energy, and expertise of individuals already negatively effected.
Following my email, Mr Michael made his personal visit to the Reading Office. These two incidences were not directly connected, it was all part of the ebb and flow of organisational change. At the Reading Office, we were given two slots in which to attend his talk. When he sourced feedback, I spoke up and reiterated what I had put into my email. Luckily, my neighbour (totally by chance) was well versed in micro-aggression and unconscious bias so we was able to elevate our concerns again.
In summary, there's a need to strengthen a top-down approach to equip leaders in the firm to be able to identify and then take action on issues before colleagues are forced to react (and subsequently raise and discuss issues which is an incredibly difficult thing for an individual to do).
After the meeting, I hung around afterwards to shake his hand, ask more questions, and congratulate him on his efforts.
Once the meeting was done, I followed up about a week later and told him about my previous background and asked him to nominate me to apply for the KPMG One Young World position, he did. Mr Michael wrote a personal response to my email and agreed to nominate me to apply.
The best is yet to come.
After being invited to apply and submitting the application, I didn’t get the place and two other KPMG UK colleagues are attending the full One Young World conference. The feedback I got had no gaping holes in it – as with everything in the corporate world, it ‘was a highly competitive process’.
Nevertheless, I got an email from a colleague at the British Council inviting me to attend part of the One Young World event in my capacity as a Future Leader.
Which I will.
I then got another email asking if I would MC at the Thursday night event with 2 representatives from our Italian offices and 145 One Young World delegates, including some of the British Council Future Leaders from the 2017 Programme. My next email will be an invitation to see if Mr Michael would like to attend with the 2 UK staff who were invited to attend One Young World and represent the Firm.
How fun when worlds collide - I'm never ready but always keen as a bean!