I'm thinking about...
In our Christian tradition Easter is a time of death and resurrection — darkness and then joy. For me, Easter highlights "the shadow of our often unacknowledged biases about who is "in" and who is "out"" (quote from Richard Rohr's Meditation: The Wisdom of the Passion). It is a time of letting go and celebrating the new, and, of closing the divide and welcoming all. It is a time of hope.
So it seemed as good an opportunity as any to begin to write these thoughts. This is my somewhat clumsy effort to bring some thoughts on Diversity and Inclusion together. In truth, this is an uncomfortable conversation for me and there have been a number of iterations and versions of this blog. So please excuse my clumsiness and try to see the heart that sits behind the thoughts.
Wishing you and yours a blessed Easter.
The research showed...
In my research on the impediments to collaboration in the New Zealand public sector, almost all participants talked about the importance of diversity and cited lack of diversity as one of the impediments to collaboration.
One participant said, “…the more I think about collaboration, the more I think that at the heart of it is a diversity and inclusion agenda…”
In my thesis I noted that..."Commonly observed behaviours that thwart diversity include: the tall poppy syndrome; those that challenge the “status quo” being labelled as “troublemakers”; recruitment processes that enable managers to employ like-minded individuals; a misconception of collaboration, which promulgated bringing like-minded individuals together to drive an agenda; personal or organisational vulnerability being uncomfortable (the need to be brave and identify what you’re not good at and need help with); and egos getting in the way.
Collaboration and managing complexity require multiple skill sets and adaptive processes, with flexible teams; but there remains a “massive divide between the type of people needed and those invited in”. The key is to move the conversation from “I” to “we”. Sometimes we can “…wear our pants outside our trousers and be supermen or superwomen, but more often than not we need each other”. You can download the published paper "Working Towards Working Together" from the homepage of my website.
Since completing my research, even with political and legislative changes, whilst the talk is loud, walking the talk has been less visible and the real system shifts are yet to eventuate. The COVID related mahi notwithstanding, despite good intentions, there remains a general fear-of-failure that frequently impedes innovative approaches to collaboration and complexity thinking; and, a dominant culture that supports only good news stories. Failure is seen as bad, rather than something to be learnt from.
At our recent Apolitical panel discussion "Collaborative Problem Solving in Government" the issues pertaining to culture, blockages across the system, rewards and incentives, were again front and foremost in the conversation. If you missed the conversation, you can listen to it here.
Clearly the public service is designed for stability, so failure is less tolerable than in a corporate or product design environment. We need to think big and start small, with safe-to-fail pilots.
At the end of the day, the core of failed collaborations, be it within a team, across the organisation or across organisational boundaries, can usually be traced to a flawed diversity and inclusion agenda of some description. All too often "different" in any form, is still shut down or just not allowed a voice.
As manuhiri in my adopted land and as a middle-aged woman of colour, returning to paid work after a long absence on the other side of the world — I’ve had the misfortune to bear the brunt of this being lived out on many occasions. For me, it’s been a tough journey and I’ve been unfairly judged many times, called names, sent away in tears and repeatedly told I don’t “fit” (often in the unkindest of ways).
Sadly, I could list many examples but overall the message has been loud and clear: you're different, you don't fit and don't belong.
We all yearn to belong and living with rejection at the most personal levels is hard. After a recent incident, I actually felt a little physically sick and when I tried to unpack this conversation with my husband I said, "I feel as though someone has punched me really hard in the stomach, I'm badly winded and can't breathe. It may take me some time to catch my breath this time."
BUT I'm pretty resilient and today I am feeling a little stronger and I’m not ready to hang up my boots just yet. And despite it being really hard, I think we need to be talking about this stuff.
For the record, my work, born out of research and learnt experience, is practical, supportive and healing (across the system, for the collective and the individual).
Some things you may not know about me: I am a Persian Kiwi, a Persian by descent and a diaspora through circumstance; I am a bereaved parent; and, for the past 7+ years my volunteer work has been writing biographies for the dying. Everything I live and stand for is rooted in community, inclusion, deliberative democracy, collaboration and working together. I have invested significantly in understanding how to support leaders and organisations in this arena.
In contrast to many other experiences, last year I received a message from a young woman of colour working in the public service in New Zealand — she wanted to talk and needed help as she hit brick wall after brick wall in her team. When we talked, paraphrasing, she explained that she had reached out to me, because I am a woman of colour, who publicly talks about the stuff that matters. Apparently, she’d heard others talk in a similar vein — but they were usually white men. This conversation was deeply healing for me and I was thankful to be able to help too.
I don't think I'm alone, but my sense is there is still a gap. A gap in understanding the issues, knowing how to respond and the right people to talk into this space.
Living with hope...
I believe the key to unlocking untapped solutions and hope for mankind is for us to be willing to work collaboratively, across all kinds of differences — silos, sectors, cultures and disciplines. We urgently need leaders who will make space for others’ voices and catalyse the change that's needed.
I am on a mission to build a collaborative movement that delivers shared value for the most complex opportunities facing our nation. The future may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure — success is dependent on learning to work together!
So, when you’re ready, reach out, I’d welcome the opportunity to work with you and your team.
#catalysingchange #buildbackbetter #kinderfutures
Nazanin Jenkin is a Persian Kiwi - a Persian by descent and a diaspora by circumstance. She lives in New Zealand; along with her husband of thirty years and two surviving, adult children.