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  • Writer's pictureDr Shungu Hilda M’gadzah

We choose our politicians based on their identities and then adjust...

our interpretations of their policies to fit.

“We choose our politicians based on their identities and then adjust our interpretations of their policies to fit.”

What are the implications of this on recruitment and selection processes and on allowing the space for marginalised groups to speak in meetings?

We choose our politicians because of their identity and then adjust our political beliefs to fit. Whilst at a certain level I already knew this to be the case, it was great hearing it said aloud. Sometimes we need others to say and affirm what we already know and what we are thinking. So, if we choose politicians on the basis of their identities, do we make our recruitment decisions in the same way?

Politicians, identities and policies

Last week, I listened to Doug Pagitt, Executive Director, Vote Common Good, talking about politics, religion, identity and kindness.

He said: “People think that we vote for our politicians based on policy it’s really not the case. Whilst a lot of us want to believe that we vote for politicians because of their policies it’s really much more about identity, that we feel connected to a candidate. Very often the mistake people make and people think that policy goes first but that’s not the case. We vote for politicians because of their identity and then we adjust our policies and our political beliefs to fit that identity.

As voters pulled away from Trump, they were heard to say, “I don’t see myself in the Republican party and I can’t see myself supporting this president any longer.” Clearly, their choices of president were not just based on policy. [Just like for some organisations the decisions they make in the selection and recruitment process are not based on the candidates’ responses.]

They said, “I can’t stay with this president any longer because of the way he acts and what he’s doing. I just can’t see myself with him any longer. I don’t trust him.” Doug Pagitt, added that “many people want to have an administration or government that’s kind and supportive and for the common good.”

How does this translate to selection and recruitment processes?

Listening to him speak reminded me of my time in Local Authorities on interview panels and finding it difficult to understand why some colleagues had rated (often) black candidates as not appointable when I had rated them as good.

During these interviews, I would suggest that we try to understand each other’s ratings/scores and why some had given a candidate a score of 1/5 in one case and others like myself had given them a score of 4/5. On one occasion my panel colleague explained that the candidate appeared aggressive as he was constantly tapping his foot. She had read this particular behaviour by this black man as aggressive, whereas I had read it as nervousness.

My experience on interview panels is that, as we know and are often told, some interviewers decide within seconds of the person walking through the door whether they want to appoint them or not. They then spend the rest of their time gathering evidence to support their original decision i.e. the decision they made within seconds of the person walking in the room. I believe this is very similar to how we choose our politicians. On interview panels many of us decide first and foremost who we identify with and then we adjust our reading/interpretation of their answers to fit the candidate we identify with. We adjust our answers to fit with who we want to appoint. Sounds terrible, I know, when you say it out loud.

If this is true, then it raises concerns at all levels not just with regards to our choice of politicians but also our recruitment and decision making processes. I remember a friend of mine when her son had not made it into a top Conservatoire, someone said to her, they know what they’re looking for, you have to trust the process.

However, often this is exactly the problem; very often some organisations know what they’re looking for and it has nothing to do with the candidate’s performance, abilities or the interview criteria or process. The person’s performance and abilities are often irrelevant; it has more to do with identities and whether the candidate will fit into the institution or in the case of politicians, it has nothing to do with policies but identities and whether we fit in with them.

This makes it very difficult for those of us who are different to step into the interview room with a fair chance, as often our physical characteristics are immediately noted and some interviewers make their decisions on the basis of whether they identify with us or not. Worse still for some these decisions are made at the application stage when a name is immediately spotted as different and a decision made about suitability and fit at that point.

Is normalisation a solutions towards inclusion?

I recently attended a webinar seminar -More in Common? A conversation on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. During the discussion some talked about strategies for being included and fitting in and normalisation was put forward as an option. As a black woman I raised my concerns about normalisation. It is true that some can work at blending in whilst for others like myself (a Black African woman) this is not an option. We must not see normalisation and blending in as the solution to inclusion.

My point is that inclusion has to be more than just managing to normalise and fit in. Inclusion is about belonging and being fully accepted and welcomed into any orgnanisation or institution and having a real seat at the table where one has a full voice and can make a real contribution. This means one’s voice and contribution being given the time and space to make contribution and being valued.

Creating safe spaces and allowing space for different voices is key to diversity of thought.

Creating safe spaces and giving ethnic minorities the space to contribute is key in organisations. I remember many occasions where I would raise my hand to make a contribution in a meeting only for the chair to ignore and ask someone else to speak. When eventually I got an opportunity to speak the time available was often half of that of other participants in the meeting. Some reading this may think, you are just being sensitive, and how do you know it was because of your colour, but when this happens time and time again it becomes an issue and believe me you know. Many black and ethnic minorities will tell similar stories of their experiences in meetings and not being given the space to speak.

I recently experienced this very same thing in a webinar seminar where I raised my hand to ask a question and partway through my question and comment the person chairing informed me that we had run out of time and she needed to move onto other people. I found this interesting as the previous person who had raised a question had been given about 6 minutes to outline his question and comments made- he was white and male. My point is that the time made available in meetings for Black and ethnic minorities is often cut short and this is part of the problem of non-inclusive organisations.

Giving black and ethnic minorities space to contribute to discussions and meetings.

The space taken up by different individuals in a meeting is often an indication of how much we value different groups and ethnicities within a meeting. If as an organisation we are truly aiming to increase and promote diversity of thought we need to take care to focus on these seemingly small things and ensure that we allow the voices of marginalised groups to come to the fore and to provide these groups with the same amount of time and space as white colleagues within the meeting setting/ space. For this to happen those chairing the meetings need to be aware of their own biases.

As Megan Merkel said, it is not that we need to give black women their voice, they already have a voice. I agree, the real point is that we need to allow them to use their voices. I was stopped from using my voice in this particular webinar because a white man had been allowed to dominate and take up the space and the chair had felt unwilling or unable to assert herself with this white male. However when I spoke she felt empowered and able to assert herself and inform me that we had to give time to other participants when in fact her mistake was not to share out the time evenly for all to contribute and to have their voices heard.

Take time to notice and support others to be given the space they need to contribute fully.

Next time when you're in a meeting take time to notice how much time and space is given to different individuals within the meeting according to their gender, ethnicity etc. How is the chair conducting themselves in the meeting and how are they providing opportunities for different people to speak? Is there a bias towards white males or white females in the meeting and is more time being made for them to contribute, leaving very little time and space for others e.g. black and ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups to have a full voice within the meeting?

Also watch out for when contributions are made and for the scribers who are unable to hear certain voices, thus only scribing and making a note of contributions from certain members in the meeting. Often those members are male or white and the contribution of black and ethnic minorities and often females can fall on deaf ears.

I remember in one meeting a colleague saying bravely, I think Shungu wants to speak or you missed out the comment by Shungu.

It’s clear that others often notice these oppressive chairing styles and if brave enough they speak up and they allow the space for these marginalised voices to be heard. When this happens, let's be clear, these colleagues are not giving us a voice, because as I said before we already have a voice, we just need to be allowed to use it. We need chairs who make space for us to speak and who are willing and able to hear our contributions.

Help someone have the space to use their voice today and speak out when others are stopping them from doing so. Whether this is stopping them consciously or unconsciously, it really doesn’t matter, the people in the meeting need to stop being bystanders to these oppressive behaviours and to speak out and facilitate the carving out of time and space for all regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity or disability. When we all take responsibility for how time is used in meetings and when we speak out when the same voices are allowed to dominate we can achieve so much.

True inclusion is creating spaces where all voices can be heard and can make a contribution.

True inclusion starts with creating safe spaces and this includes in meetings. We need to create spaces where every voice can be heard and equal time is given for contributions. Chairs need to be supported to achieve this. Think how much richer the discussions can be when we allow the space for new voices; when we create meeting spaces where we truly listen, value and hear different contributions. The result is that diversity of thought increases and organisations fully embrace inclusivity. Individual employees have a sense of belonging, safe in the knowledge that their contributions are valued and listened to and they can make a difference to the organisation.

Dr Shungu Hilda M'gadzah Director & Lead Consultant Psychologist Inclusion Psychologists Ltd Email: Psychology today directory Podcast: Follow me on twitter twitter@inclusionpsychs twitter@edipsychs twitter@6stagesframewk Linkedin profile Linkedin Groups: Association of Psychologists on Boards Psychologists on Equality and Diversity Group Instagram Facebook Facebook Groups Facebook:Equality Diversity and Inclusion Psychologists Network Co-founder Psychologists on Boards Twitter: twitter @boardpsychs Facebook: Association of Psychologists on Boards

Published by Dr Shungu Hilda M'gadzah PSYCHOLOGY, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION CONSULTANT Doctorate in Emotional Intelligence. Director & Lead Consultant at Inclusion Psychologists ltd. Co-Founder of Psychologists on Boards Published • 14m 6 articles Check out my article on: We choose our politicians based on their identities and then adjust our interpretations of their policies to fit. What are the implications of this on recruitment and selection processes and on allowing the space for marginalised groups to speak in meetings? Creating space space for the voices of black and ethnic minorities to be heard. hashtag#diversityandinclusion hashtag#inclusiveleadership hashtag#politicstoday hashtag#corporategovernance hashtag#inclusiveboards hashtag#inclusionmatters hashtag#psychology hashtag#studentsuccess hashtag#universitystudents hashtag#identities hashtag#diversityequityandinclusion hashtag#blacklivesmatter hashtag#diversity hashtag#mentalhealth hashtag#disabilityinclusion hashtag#empathy hashtag#specialneeds hashtag#humanity hashtag#unconsiousbias hashtag#antiracism

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