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Category: Diversity

Being a visible leader with an invisible disability.

Hi, I’m Zoe and I’m a NeuroDiverse Senior Civil Servant.

This is me! (Photo curtesy of @RachelleMoose)

Last week I attended Civil Service Live, it was an interesting day, with sessions on everything from AI and keeping abreast of new technologies, to Transformation to resilience and personal wellbeing. The session that stood out most for me was the “Making Government an event greater place to work” which was an interesting session featuring several people talking about their own mental health, and colleagues from DWP’s Diversity and Inclusion Team talking about the work they have been doing to make invisible disabilities more visible.

The team has been working with neurodiverse colleagues to make short videos to help neurotypical colleagues understand their disabilities. This included a video on sensory processing disorder, and how many colleagues with ASD can find what some people might call normal background noise overwhelming; and another video on how some people with Dyslexia can struggle with reading, with text moving around the page.

Exmaple of how someone with Dyslexia can perceive text

I thought these were really useful tools for colleagues to help increase understanding, and to normalise invisible disabilities.

After the session I got talking to one of the speakers and a few other attendees about some of the mentoring and leadership schemes that exist for Disabled people, and that unfortunately these are not widely visible with a lot of people not knowing they exist or how to join them. We also discussed the need for more visible representation of neurodiverse people within senior leadership.

I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia when I was 14, and nowadays I’ve recognised (through parenting my child through the intricate diagnosis process for ASD and ADHD) that I probably have ADHD as well and am now in conversations with my GP to get a referral for an assessment.

Writing ADHD on a blackboard.

When I first joined the Civil Service (technically as a temp back in 2002 before I went to university) I was doing a data entry job, and when I admitted to a senior manager that I had Dypraxia he told me to keep it quiet or everyone would wonder why he’d hired me. Having a learning disability was definitely seen as a barrier to progression.

I remember when I joined the Ministry of Defence as a Fast Streamer back in 2006, I looked at the data for the Senior Civil Service at the time and realised that less than 3% of colleagues in the SCS had a disability, and of those, the number who were declaring a non-physical disability was in single figures (in the MoD at least). At that time, I made the decision that I would do everything I could to reach the SCS, so I could help change those stats.

Until a few years ago I’d never met an SCS person who I knew was neurodiverse. I was talking to a senior leader asking for advice on speaking at conferences as it was something I’ve always struggled with in terms of confidence, and he admitted that he was Dyslexic and couldn’t read of prompts, so would always have to learn his presentations by heart. This was someone I had known for over a year, and it felt like I was being told a secret that they were ashamed of, but it made me feel hope. Here was this person 2 grades above me, who also had a learning disability. It was possible.

Several years ago at a leadership development session designed to help G6 colleagues pass the SCS application tests, one of the senior colleagues stated that “anyone can just learn to do maths with a little bit practice”. I ended up speaking up and saying that “as someone with a learning disability I found that kind of sweeping statement very unhelpful”. After the session I had another colleague approach me and ask if I could provide some mentoring to one of their members of staff who had Dyslexia and wanted to progress in their career but they weren’t sure if that was possible given their disability, and my colleague believed that talking to another neurodiverse person might help their confidence.

Over the years I’ve mentored perhaps a dozen people, some through official schemes, but just as many have approached me and asked whether I would mentor them as they themselves are neurodiverse and there aren’t that many senior leaders out there who own up publicly to having a learning disability or being neurodiverse. As such people feel that there aren’t people in senior leadership positions who have learning disabilities or are not neurotypical.

Within the Civil Service and wider public sector we are doing more now to normalise Disability, there are great leadership and development schemes like the Possetive Action Pathway out there now to help build capability for Disabled colleagues or recruit more neurodiverse people. DWP and HMRC have been running Autism work placement programmes, GCHQ has it’s “Positive About Disabled People” scheme and there’s the Summer Diversity Internship programme; Diversity and Inclusion networks across the Civil Service are working to help support Disabled colleagues, and schemes like the ‘Workplace Adjustment passport’ are a great tool for disabled colleagues and their managers.

A picture of a ‘noise -o-meter sometimes used to help people with Sensory Processing Disorder indicate how they are perceiving the sound around them.

But I still believe we need more visible neurodiverse senior leaders, and leaders with both visible and invisible disabilities. Figures from 2018 show that still only 5.4% of SCS colleagues have a disability. I couldn’t find any data on the percentage of those colleagues whose disability was visible, invisible or both, but it’s safe to say we need to normalise neurodiversity at all levels.

For those of us who are neurodiverse in the Senior Civil Service, we need to speak up and say to our colleagues that we are here. It is possible. We bring something to the table, and so do you.

WomenInDigi19

How we as leaders can keep supporting people

Women In Digital Logo

As I sat listening to the conversations happening at the Women in Digital event on Wednesday, it occurred to me that although the point of the day was around creating more opportunities and continuing to support women working within digital, so many of the things that we talked about are also applicable outside of the digital industry.

Creating opportunities

One of the main points of discussion was how we can create opportunities. Opportunities through recruitment, promotion, to step up or work in new areas, to train and learn new skills, chances to take part in development programmes, attend conferences or speak at events. Opportunities for mentoring, to be a mentor or even just to job shadow someone. Those opportunities can come in all shapes and sizes and one of our roles as leaders is to make sure we’re creating those opportunities for people.

At the start of the event @Aaronjaffery mentioned that within the last year, DWP Digital has recruited for 9 new Senior Civil Service roles. For those they had almost 300 applications from men, but only 60 applications from women. However, of those 9 roles, 6 were filled by women who had applied and only 3 went to male candidates. This shows that the opportunities are out there but we need to work on encouraging women to apply for opportunities when they do arise. So what else needs to be done?

The right culture

We need to create the right kind of culture: the kind of culture that allows you to ask for help, to challenge things that you think aren’t working right, to admit that you’re not doing ok and need more support. The kind of culture that encourages people to check in with each other. @CheryJStevens did a fantastic keynote speech about her return to work journey a few years ago, the help and support she needed and the practical steps she took to successfully reintegrate into the workplace. As she so perfectly said: “It’s ok to not be ok, and to ask for help.” This message from a senior leader is really important and something we need to hear and talk about more.

Photo of Cheryl Stevens speaking at the event

Paying it forward

No one gets where they are without help and support, so it’s important to create an environment where you can pay that forward. For leaders to make themselves more available, offer coaching and support – creating those opportunities. It’s been nice to hear what organisations have been doing to create opportunities and the right culture for women to thrive in digital. It was great to hear from @ReneeNo17, Director of Digital Platforms at Sky, about their Returners Programme aimed at helping women return to work after career breaks, and the work they’re doing to increase diversity and be more inclusive. I know things like Digital Voices and Crossing Thresholds exist in the public sector to help women develop their skills, but we need more of this.

Building confidence

Whether it’s following a promotion, helping someone progress in their career or supporting someone returning to work, one of the key themes of the day was around people who have had their confidence knocked and needed to rebuild their faith in themselves. Running sessions that bust myths about who makes a good programmer and what skills they need was a good start. Following that up with opportunities to learn the basics of code in work was even better. It was great to see @SarahInTalent at the event, taking about @WILD_igital, a community in Leeds that was set up to grow and retain women in digital roles in the city. Schemes like Digital Voices where women can support each other to learn new skills and take up new opportunities are a great example of how DWP Digital is helping build skills, but all the women today cited how, most importantly, it has helped them build their confidence.

Online resources to help people learn to code

Support networks

One of the reasons I love coming to events like Women in Digital is because they’re all about building support networks, and I think they are so critical to all of us. Good networks give you all of the things I’ve talked about here. They can support you, build your confidence and encourage you. They can help you access new opportunities.

The other positive about networks is you can belong to many – none of us only wear one label. Intersectionality is important when considering things like how we get more women in digital, as we don’t want to only get more white women, or straight women, or women who went to Oxford University. It was great today to hear from lots of different women about their journey, and it’s always good to be able to hear about and consider perceptions and experiences different to our own. I want to keep widening that circle. Our networks can work together to build each other up.

@YanYanMurray and @Zoe_On_the_Go at the event

For me, days like today let me check in with my ‘tribe’. Even when we’ve all been busy, events like this are an opportunity to set aside time to focus on yourself and your development and see what is happening in the wider world, to consider that wider bubble, to challenge your assumptions and keep adding to your network; and that is really important. We gain skills and develop ourselves the more we work together to share our knowledge and experiences.

Be Brave and Believe in yourself

A guest blog written for @DWPDigital originally posted here.  

Why am I going to be flying my Pride flag extra high this Pride Month

Looking round the news over the last 12 months and you could be mistaken for thinking in some places we’re back in the 80’s if not earlier.

This week has brought news of Nazi’s attending Pride marches in America, Russia has been rolling back LGBTQ* rights for over a year now. In the UK there have been protests and debates about the inclusion of LGBTQ* relationships within Primary School education. There are still multiple places in the world where it’s not safe for LGBTQ* individuals to live or travel, never mind be able to marry or adopt.

With Japan ruling that Trans people must be sterilized, Brunei introducing the death penalty for homosexuality (but saying it won’t enforce it after a public outcry), America re-banning Trans in the military and the hot topic of Trans peoples place in sports and bathrooms it has felt very much like our Trans friends and family especially have been bearing the brunt of a lot of unwanted attention.

Trans Flag

I know there are many people, both in this country, and all over the world who can not be out. Who have to hide a part of themselves and remain in the closet. Pride marches still have problems, they still struggle with accessibility and inclusion; be they too white, or not disability friendly. A number of Pride March’s last year had their message co-opted by TERF groups. There have been arguments about the inclusion of organisations like the police or government departments in Pride events in some cities this year, with the concern that having people in uniforms as part of Pride will put some members of the community off attending.

Pride Flag

I have only been out as Queer for a couple of years now, and as a Cis, white woman with a son I could be seen to have ‘passing privilege’, in that people make assumptions about my sexuality. But I have to deal with the typical invisibility that most Bisexual or Queer people face, especially those who have children, in that assumption that your sexuality is based on who you are currently dating. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m well aware I have been very lucky, as I have never had to face the discrimination or abuse that others have had. Nor have I ever had to deal with any overt problems from my family, friends or colleagues when I came out. I resisted coming out for a long time because of hearing comments about Bisexual people’s presumed promiscuity or ‘inability to choose’, but actually when I worked up the courage to finally come out, those around me were very supportive; and I appreciate how privileged that makes me.

Recently I have been trying to be both a more vocal ally and a more visible member of the LGBTQ* community. The LGBTQ* networks in the public sector that I have found have all been very welcoming. While there is definitely more that needs to be done in terms of awareness and providing support for those members of the community who are facing bullying, harassment or discrimination, things like the cross government LGBT community event last year which was jointly sponsored by #OneTeamGov and DWP was really lovely to be part of, and the cross government #OneTeamGov LGBT+ slack group is a fantastic safe space for members of the community to discuss issues and upcoming events.

I asked on Twitter and the Slack channel for some examples of lanyards from the LGBTQ* networks from across the Public Sector using the #ShowUsYourLanyard.

Left to Right: Care Quality Commission; Prison & Probation Service; a:Gender; Ministry of Justice; The Insolvency Service; Department of Heath & Social Care; and Departments for Works and Pensions.

As @HMPPS_PIPP says, lanyards are a way to show our everyday commitment and support for our community, a way to make a small gesture, but have a massive impact.

This year as some parts of the world begin to look more frightening, and with politics moving more to the right in many places I feel that I need to stand up and be counted now more than ever, to support those around me who can not come out and live there life in the open, to be an ally to those in our community who do face discrimination or attacks regularly.

This is doubly true as a Leader, I am trying my hardest to be an visible queer person within the Public Sector, while still be authentic and myself. Talking to others in the community about their issues, and working with networks to identify things we could do better, or seek opportunities to join up with others. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, trying to find the time to attend network meetings or attend events isn’t easy for any of us, and I’m well aware it’s something I could do better at. This year I feel like I’m letting myself and my community down because I’m struggling to attend my local Pride march.

So, as we here the debate for ‘straight pride’ rear is head again as it did every month; I’m reminding myself why Pride is important, not just for myself, but for others in the community; and a quick look on social media reminds me that I am not taking this stance alone.

While there might still be plenty of people who disapprove of us, who hate us, who want to deny our rights to love who we love, and be who we are; that isn’t true of everyone. As I wrote this blog my news alert pinged with the news that Botswana has decriminalized gay sex. Taiwan legalised gay marriage last month, and in Poland were there are fears of its ruling Conservative government party rolling back LGBTQ* rights, Warsaw had its biggest Pride March yet with it’s mayor in attendance.

So if you are reading this and facing discrimination, please know you are not alone either. We are all here with you. That for me is what Pride month is all about, standing together, supporting each other and letting the world know we are not going anywhere. We matter. You matter. Whether you are out or not, whether you can attend Pride or not ; I am proud of you.

Why it’s ok to recognise that not everyone is the same.

At our LGBT* AGM a few weeks ago there were some really good conversations about what we could do to keep growing our network and supporting both the LGBT* members of our organisation, and ensuring as an organisation we are recognising what good looks like in terms of care for LGBT* people, and how we can best collaborate with other networks to support each other.

One thing that came up, that I’ve heard a few times before, is that, when talking to people outside of the network, the answer “I treat everyone the same” is thought to be a good answer when we ask care providers about the services they offer people.

Is that good enough? Are everyone’s needs the same? How do we work with service providers to explain why treating everyone as if they are the same isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Do we understand why it isn’t?

Kylie Havelock does a great session on Equality vs. Equity that really helped me understand the issues we face when we strive to ‘treat everyone the same’.

The fundamental issue is that when we talk about treating everyone the same, we are often taking about treating everyone like what looks good to us. So, by deciding what good looks like for everyone else, we’re often approaching the problem from the point of view of our own privilege and what we think everyone needs based on our own assumptions and life experiences.

The intent is good, but the delivery is flawed. If we don’t take the effort to understand where someone else is starting from, and what they need, then we can never ensure we are treating them in the way that will most benefit them.

If you search online there’s a few pictures out there that help sum up the difference between Equality and Equity. To put it simply, Equality is where we treat everyone the same. Which assumes the same thing will benefit everyone in the same way. Equity is treating people fairly, looking at what they need to ensure they have access the same opportunities.

The photo below is fairly famous now, or at least the one you have probably seen the most if you’ve been following the conversation about Equality and Equity.

By treating everyone the same we ignore that the individuals in the picture are all different heights, so giving each a box to look over the fence isn’t actually very useful. The tallest person can already see fine and doesn’t need help. The middle person can now see with the aid of the box, but the smallest person still can’t see.

By treating them fairly we give each the help they need. So, we don’t give a box to the tallest individual, as they don’t need it. We give the middle individual one box, so they can see, but we then give the smallest individual two boxes, as they had the most height to make up, and they can also now see over the fence. Which is great.

Interestingly the above picture has its own issues, simply because it suggests that some people just need more of the same help than others, rather than the fact that for some people you need to think of a different approach to your solution.

To put it simply, not everyone can stand on a box, and ignoring that fact means we can spend a fortune investing in boxes to ensure everyone can see over that fence, but in reality we are still not recognising what people might need to ensure equal access. So yes, some people might not need a box at all; some might need one box; some might need two, but others might need a ramp, or if they are visually impaired they might need someone to describe what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

(Credit to: http://muslimgirl.com/46703/heres-care-equity-equality/ )

In a business setting, talking about fairness vs. sameness can be beneficial, especially where people have recognised there is a problem. But sometimes you need to go a step further and help people understand why what works for them isn’t what works for everyone, and that can be a little bit tougher, as that can take a conversation about understanding their own privilege.

In my experience, privilege seems to have become a dirty work, as soon as you try to talk to some people about it, they immediately become defensive, because they assumption is made that you are accusing them of intolerance of some kind.

But the truth is we all have some level of bias based on our own upbringing and experiences. Within the civil service and the public sector we have training to help us deal with unconscious bias, but I think we could go one step further with that training and get everyone to understand their own privilege, and where they are starting from in communications or day to day life in comparison to others.

In some areas we will have more privilege, in others we may have less. Understanding that helps us to understand where others are coming from and can then help us to treat people more fairly, rather than simply treating everyone the same.

If you’ve never examined your privilege there are some interesting tests out there, whatever score you get, the questions alone might help you consider things you’ve never considered as privilege before (be that your race, your ability to afford prescriptions or whether you’ve ever had to hide any elements of your identity.) While there are probably better ones out there, this one on buzzfeed is quite simple and easy to understand for a start.

I got 53%, which if I’m honest surprised me a little, I’d assumed I would get a slightly higher score. But the important thing for me is recognised those areas where I did score a point, and reflecting on those when I’m dealing with others to ensure I am being fair to them and not just treating them how I would expect to be treated because of my own privileges.

For those of us in diversity equality groups, when talking to others we need to check our own privilege, find common ground to start a conversation from, and recognise that as children we’re are often told to “be fair and treat everyone equally” now we just have to be able to help people recognise that Fairness and Equality are not the same thing, and it is important that we can all recognise that.

And when designing or delivering public services, it’s always worth us understanding our privilege, and why we need to ensure the services we delivery are fair and give equal opportunities to all those that may need them.

Originally posted on Medium

Changing perceptions of Women in Leadership

Originally published at digileaders.com on November 3, 2017.

Zoë Gould, Head of Product and Sue Griffin, Head of User Support Services; DWP Digital

Last month we delivered a breakout session at the Women into Leadership conference in Leeds.

The conference is about managing the challenges of modern leadership, recognising and rewarding female leaders, and enhancing leadership opportunities for women so they can build skills to become the leader they aspire to be.

Redressing the gender balance

In DWP Digital we’re changing lives by transforming the services we deliver, using new technologies and modern approaches to improve things for our users. DWP is huge — we’re the biggest government department — we support 22 million customers and release over £168 billion in payments each year. We’re working to solve important issues, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable; in order to transform our services we currently work on 50 million lines of code and have around ten thousand IT system changes per year.

However, there is gender imbalance in DWP Digital as we have a shortage of female specialists and leaders — a challenge we share with many large digital organisations where less than 25% of digital roles are filled by women.

We want to change this and improve the gender balance.

The size and scale of our work offers up a lot of scope for a career in digital technology — so how can we change perceptions to help women develop in a digital career?

Well, in DWP Digital, we’re making progress.

We have our Women in Technology group, with a pretty active core membership of people who are keen to maximise the value of being part of this community. People who want to improve gender equality and help members reach their full potential by encouraging personal and professional development. We’re working hard to avoid having all male panels at events, and we’ve developed a list of more than 350 women who work within digital and are able to speak at events.

We’re also developing a ‘Digital Voices’ programme initiative to build confidence and engagement skills in women in DWP Digital.

And in June we ran a Women in Digital event, which was open to delegates from across the sector, including cross-government and external private sector representatives.

Normalising, not diversifying

In DWP Digital we’re driving an ethos where a diverse organisation is seen as the norm; where it’s possible for women to be leaders and have our skills valued. One of the biggest hurdles isn’t the technology — its culture.

We’re aspiring to be an inclusive organisation where the outcome is the focus, and to get there we collaborate and develop together regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.

Being open and talking about the changes we need to make and why, is the first step, so we’re vocal on social media and through our blogposts. Taking action is the next step, so we’ve set up diversity groups and we have a diversity charter. We’re making sure our recruitment process is fair and that we have mixed panels at interview. We’re engaging our communities by telling our story.

But we know there is still work to do on breaking down the perceptions of digital and technology. We know the words themselves sometimes put women off from considering careers or roles within this area, and now we need to consider what we can do and how we help break down those perceptions. We need to talk more about the non-technology specialist roles, about the skills and characteristics we need within digital. We need to look hard at the language we use and consider how we be more inclusive with the words we use.

Why not check out Digital Leaders’ 2017 Attitudes Survey Results to see the key takeaways about view on Women in Tech.