Diversity Voices Interview: Marsha Ramroop, Founder of Unheard Voice consultancy [specialising in cultural intelligence]
1. With the work that you do as an inclusion advocate, with your brand Unheard Voice, what are the key challenges that repeatedly come to the fore in your work to get the unheard, heard?
The key issues are reticence and reluctance. Reticence from those who may have received a bit of Diversity training, to admit there is so much more they need to know and understand; they do need to do some more listening. I was in a room the other day and I was clearly the most qualified person to speak about the value of types of D&I training, yet I was made to feel like I didn't know what I was talking about. Sadly, we didn't have time to have a robust discussion about its merits. Biases in play especially Confirmation bias, means when I present an academic counter-argument, I can be ignored.
Reluctance comes from those who fear they are going to be accused of doing something or saying something inappropriate, and so do not want to enter into the conversation, the level of discomfort is too great for them. There are many too who think issues of e.g. racism and sexism have gone away, this sadly is part of a prejudiced culture.
There are also those who are being discriminated against, but do not see it - to use modern parlance, they're not woke to it - and they tell you the work you're doing is not relevant to them.
The issues are huge, societal and run deep through hundreds of years of history; it can be hard to keep pushing to create change, dealing with the issues with passion and ongoing determination; when despondency befalls me, I try to focus on those 'unheard' I'm trying to serve.
2. Marsha you are a passionate advocate and one of the few qualified practitioners of 'Cultural Intelligence' CQ in the UK: Please tell us why you feel that it's such a vital part of the ongoing D&I conversation.
There are many people working in the D&I space raising awareness and promoting mitigations, showing the "business case" for embracing D&I and railing against Unconscious Bias; but not anywhere in that is the process to move people from knowing they need to be better at Inclusion, to actually being better at Inclusion. There's a sense that, 'ok you know you need to be better, so be better'. In the same way that a non-piano player wouldn't be expected to sit down at a piano and be able to play a piece, having simply being told what the notes were and that a piano makes a musical sound, we somehow expect people to know D&I is important and then just get on with it.
Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the process - the missing piece of the puzzle.
CQ includes an online assessment which measures four capabilities; CQ Drive - your motivation, CQ Knowledge - what you should be thinking about; CQ Strategy - how you plan your interactions; CQ Action - your behaviour. Each Capability has sub-headings, or "sub-dimensions" which are individually measured to help individuals and groups see and pin-point areas for improvement.
CQ Drive - It all begins with motivation. If you're not motivated in your heart as well as your mind to be better at Inclusion, the fact is, you won't be. How to motivate yourself when you simply don't feel like working with a bunch of people who seem so different from you, is a proper hurdle that needs specific attention.
CQ Knowledge - Then, what do you need to know? E.g. If you're working with transgender people, what are their concerns? What are your fears? Investigating properly and researching properly, takes time and effort.
CQ Strategy - Then, once you've gathered your knowledge, how are you planning ahead of your encounter? How do you monitor, analyse, adjust your assumptions? How conscious are you of yourself? It's at this point understanding and mitigating Unconscious Bias is crucial.
CQ Action - This is the part whether you do not rely on stereotypes, you act in an adaptive way because a person with High CQ possesses a broad repertoire of behaviours which they use depending on the context.
CQ is effortful and resourceful; it requires you to know and understand yourself, as well as understand others, and it is a constant state of learning and reflecting.
Going through this process is how we can be better at Inclusion. It's not a quick win.
3. Recently there has been a lot of interest in wellbeing and mental health: do you think that organisations should be placing more emphasis on creating wellbeing programs and policies? Or what benefits do you think there are in organisations placing more emphasis on creating wellbeing programs and policies?
People are the lifeblood of any organisation. Very few organisations can exist without people; so there should absolutely be structures, policies and programmes in place - and crucially, the leadership that understands and implements them - to support well-being and mental health. The key to this is Inclusion, because those who cannot be their true selves at work, suffer greatly. Pretending, or coding, to fit in to an overall culture is draining and can wear down someone who could be a great worker otherwise.
We hide our mental health issues in a way that we wouldn't if we had an ongoing lower back problem. We bring in Occupational Health and adjust desks and chairs for that; we must have similar openness for mental health issues and include those staff. They shouldn't be made to feel any less worthwhile, or be told e.g. they "won't be able to handle the pressure"; ask them. Just like you'd ask the person with the lower back problem if they could participate. Organisations and managers should presume less and ask more.
An open culture of acceptance, whatever the issue should be a bedrock of all policy with wellbeing and mental health programmes part of that.
4. In your opinion what steps should organisations be taking to improve equality of access to leadership roles for those currently poorly represented?
The status quo is not good enough. The "pool" in which many organisations current "fish" for staff is small. The "pool" needs to be bigger.
If we continue to recruit in the same way, we will continue to get the same result.
Recruitment processes need to be turned on their heads.
There is host of research and information out there for recruiters and HR professionals to call upon to adjust their practices, and once they've adjusted them, there then needs to be evaluation, ongoing, to keep improving the systems. Cost and convenience cannot be primary concerns. If organisations want not only a great mix of staff who feel included at work, it requires investment and a focus on anti-discrimination.
Pipeline development must come for the most able staff, with development programmes, yes, but also mentoring and sponsorship at the highest level. For non-dominant groups, it is not inherent in us to understand the unspoken networks of the patriarchy, so we need belief, support and championing.
Conscious Inclusion to counter unconscious exclusion.
5. Social media: has it been a help or a hindrance for the Diversity and inclusion movement?
Social Media is a tool. It's the people who use it who are a help or a hindrance.
We have seen the power of Social Media to rally: #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #JeSuisCharlie #BringBackOurGirls
There are many who hide behind the anonymity of platforms to spew a message of hate and division, but that exists in our society anyway, so it's not a reason not to try to wrest back control of our message and continue to share it by all and any means possible.
We need powerful allies, and the social media message needs to be constant and ongoing in new and innovative ways so we don't lose interest, passion and develop fatigue.
I believe there should be strongly-enforced legislation around the use of Social Media for hate purposes and sanctions for those who spread false claims, but just like those who are successful at spreading their viral messages of distrust, the D&I movement needs to be equally adept at spreading hope, trust and peace.