I’ve no idea if any of this will work but it seems like a decent place to start. It's about doing the right things and getting better, not perfect.
It's the day to day behaviours that really define who you are and who you will become - these are my #SimpleSeven behaviours that I take to work with me if the opportunity for social change presents itself.
If, according to Google, I work from Wednesday 1st January to Thursday 31st December 2020 there are 366 days. Of the 366 days, 254 are working days and 104 are weekend days.
I get 25 days of leave a year, so minus 25 from the 254 equals 229. Then, I assume we (in England) get 10 bank holidays.
So at a rough estimate, 219 days of my year will be spent with my colleagues.
Getting better at work seems like an obvious way to proceed, but how do I start? This is the advice I wrote for myself last year and looking back at the #SimpleSeven is a great checkpoint for seeing how it rolls out in reality.
1. Slow and Steady: at the 2018 office secret santa, we all bought each other presents with (in my opinion) quite a high budget of £15 per person. There were the usual stories of people getting one another Arsenal football mugs and scrubbing out the ‘nal’.
To me, £15 is a lot of money and I’ll be damned if I spend my money on something that the recipient will toss. I took a gamble with a nice facemask from the Body Shop and very nervously watched the secret santee open in front of colleagues. My colleague laughed at first and then he let me know later in the year that he went back to buy another one and was surprised that I had spent ‘that much’ on him.
At the 2019 Christmas dinner, everyone got really nice presents. One of our Senior Managers who had been posted to the USA, joined our team for the Christmas dinner and asked where the pranky, crappy gifts were – there weren’t any!
2. Speak Clearly and Consistently: Last year, one of the most senior persons in KPMG came to the Reading Office to discuss behaviour and trust amongst colleagues. Prior to that meeting, I emailed him, attended the meeting, and then followed up – I emailed again before Christmas off the back of our training.
Why? Because the fears that I had raised about the completeness and effectiveness of the training hadn’t been addressed and had only become more problematic during the training. I raised it again after the training request for feedback.
Even more recently, the regional offices have established a board of employees that will raise issues that conern us, employees, to filter up – I shared my concerns again and will continue to do so.
3. Do it with a Sense of Humour: Powerplay office politics – I won’t feel embarrassed when I am called weird. Sometimes, my colleagues act as if being an accountant at a Big Four firm is the barometer of normality.
It’s not and if a racist, transphobic, or rape related joke is made, I will feign misunderstanding and ask the office clown to explain the joke.
4. Ask Questions: we had all the financial figures fed to us during 2019 and very few people got pay-rises. When accounting for inflation, this works out as a pay cut.
Around Christmas 2019, inflation was 1.9% which means that you need 1.9% extra income next year to enjoy – at least – the same standard of living.
I spoke with two senior members of staff to understand why and how this had happened and asked them to outline what was going to happen for next year.
The short answer is – nothing, but I need them to know that I notice these things and that it’s not good enough. It also means that a record of our conversation is in place for next time.
Also, for a business that turns a massive profit to be comfortable shorting staff by a few hundred quid every year makes me cringe - Management feel the same, so now we can all share the shame.
5. Get Angry: during January, my period randomly came on super heavy and I properly leaked. There were no facilities for me to clean myself up or find a tampon without getting to a shop.
It’s really pissed me off and I’ve asked the employee representative board whether they think sanitary products are at least as vital as toilet paper for employees.
It seemed like quite an embarrassing thing to ask at first but actually, if no-one else has raised it - there might be a bunch of other people thinking the same thing.
6. Listen: a lot of sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour is met with punishment in the workplace. Accountability is important and so is listening. I had a colleague open a discussion with me about transgender people and how she didn’t ‘understand it'.
Now, thinking more broadly – what struck me is that out of all the people she knows in the world, she doesn’t have anyone else to ask.
Looking past being ‘right’ or ‘educated’, there’s a real human element in engaging with colleagues in a way that they don’t feel shamed, chastised, or stupid.
Harmful behaviour must be addressed in the moment and has taken me a lot of practice – I’m nowhere near clear or comfortable in doing it, but I’ve got to start.
7. Go to the Power: speak to the people in charge. Speak to them directly, clearly, and fairly. Also, always put it in writing.
This week, I had a racist exchange with a Partner at work. They told a story along the lines of being on a tube with their spouse when the spouse got worried about their respiratory illness as four ‘Asian’ men were sitting nearby and the Partner placated their spouse as the 'Asian' men were far away.
I flagged it verbally during the conversation – i.e. ‘that sounds like a pretty racist story’ to which the Partner responded that neither was their spouse nor the story racist.
I’ve since flagged it with the Director at my office alongside my performance manager and the regional people manager. We shall see what happens - this is new territory for me as I don't think I've every been quite so to the point with racism.
I discussed it with a few people before flagging it, the response from one individual was not to be a 'tell tale' and that it's a conversation between two people. Another advised that racism was racism, and yet another leaned on statistics to justify the behaviour outlined above - i.e. that 'Asians' are more likely to be carrying Coronavirus.
For me, if it feels racist, it probably is racist.
Diagram from StuartCenter