Missed Connections

Written by B.J Woodstein, PhD

Have you ever seen someone across the room or on a bus and wanted to speak to them? You didn’t know them, but there was something that pulled you to them, and you felt a connection of some kind. Then the person leaves the room or disembarks from the bus and the moment ends and you never get to know them. Or perhaps you heard someone you didn’t know say something really interesting and you wanted to join the conversation, but you were too shy and you didn’t have the courage. Then the conversation moved on and you didn’t ever take part in it.

Similarly, at work, have you ever felt like you wanted to get to know a colleague and maybe work on a project together or even become friends but you didn’t know how to start the conversation? Or have you thought about how you had a skill that you knew would contribute to a task, but you were afraid of bragging about yourself? Or have you been in a meeting and wanted to speak up about an important issue, but couldn’t quite formulate the right words at the time? Later, you might mentally kick yourself and think you should have been brave enough to talk, to suggest, to question. But the moment is gone.

Or is it? Is that moment of possible connection truly past?

Well, we’d argue that it isn’t. In the world beyond the workplace, the concept of missed connections has long been a popular one. Sometimes people have felt a spark between themselves and someone else, whether romantically or otherwise, and didn’t act on it at the time, but later realised that they didn’t want to let it go. So they put an advert in a newspaper or online or they asked for help from friends, and they managed to connect with the person after all. Sure, in some cases, nothing came of it; maybe the other person didn’t feel what the person placing the ad felt, or perhaps there was no real spark after all. But sometimes it did lead on to something more: a creative partnership, a beautiful friendship, a short-term relationship, even marriage and kids.

If we’re willing to accept the idea of rectifying missed connections outside the workplace, then why not within a place of employment too? Maybe we can call this the “keep calm and speak up” approach; in other words, don’t assume you wasted the opportunity and that your chance is now over forever. Take some time, think about what you want to accomplish, and make it happen. How you do that, however, will depend in part on what the scenario is. We’ll cover a few common “missed workplace connections” in what follows.

 

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10 Women Who Have Inspired Inclusion

Today is International Women’s Day, falling on the 8th of March each year. The annual observation encourages people to recognise and strive for better rights for girls and women around the world, and build a more inclusive and equitable society. There are a lot of important women who have made a difference or who continue to do so today, and at PILAA, we thought we’d mention a few who have inspired us. As difficult as this was to round it down to ten, we had great fun coming together as a team and bringing you these names:

 

Caroline Criado Perez (1984-) – The 2019 book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez has been very influential in making people aware of how women have been ignored or disregarded in research, policy and more generally in society. There is an Invisible Women podcast and newsletter, which continues this advocacy work.

Gloria Steinem (1934-) – Activist and writer Gloria Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and has been an important figure in feminism, reminding people that the world will not be equitable or safe until all humans are treated with respect and fairness.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1959-) – In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw came up with the concept of “intersectionality”, which she used to explain that people are never just one thing (for example, their gender or educational level), but instead sit at the intersection of many different characteristics. How they are treated and how they feel about themselves depends on their own unique combination, and in EDI work, we need to remember that there are no homogenous groups. We’re all invidivuals and need to be treated as such.

Judy Singer (1951-) – Sociologist Judy Singer coined the term “neurodiversity,” which reflects the idea that all human brains work differently and that one type of brain is no better than another. She has been a pioneer in the disability-positive movement, particularly for her work on autism spectrum disorder.

Rosie Jones (1990-) – British comedian, writer and presenter is a staunch disability advocate. Being a woman with cerebral palsy, she incorporates this part of her identity into her stand-up comedy, thereby raising awareness about the condition. In 2023 she took the brave step to make a documentary based on the abusive language and the slur words used to describe disabled people. Her feelings of continuously being poked like a bear, due to peoples’ words, outweighed the controversy around her use of the ‘R-Word’ slur. 

Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916-2000) and Golda Meir (1898-1978) – Politicians Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Golda Meir were some of the first female leaders of contemporary times. Bandaranaike was the prime minister of Sri Lanka for three non-successive terms, while Meir was the first female head of state in the Middle East, serving as prime minister of Israel and then later as the country’s the secretary of labour and housing. While neither leader was without controversy, their strength and knowledge inspired other women.

India Willougby (1965-) – Broadcaster, Journalist and the World’s 1st Trans Newsreader, Willoughby was also the co-host Loose Women. She is a trans activist, fighting for the community and women’s rights, and due to her campaign work, she was nominated in 2023 for Woman of the Year. In February 2023 she was a panellist on Question Time, discussing trans women using single-sex spaces and the Scottish gender Recognition Reform Bill. Despite some hostile questions, Willoughby was praised by the community with how she handled the audience.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2010) – Poet and essayist Adrienne Rich has not only been important for her creative writing, but also because of her idea of “compulsory heterosexuality”. With this phrase, she suggested that girls and women were forced into the institution of heterosexuality, regardless of how they actually felt, and this then structured their lives. She made the concerns of women, especially lesbian/gay/queer ones, more visible.

bell hooks (1952-2021) – was the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins. hooks was a prominent thinker in unpacking representations of race, gender, feminism, love, class and overlapping ideologies of oppression. It was the essay The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators, which basically described black women’s experience of watching film, being the same as black men on the grounds of race, but separate at the intersections of gender, that is a reminder, that we all see differently.

Doubling Down: Why is it so hard for Leaders to say I’m sorry?

Written by Dr Ope Lori

One of the major talking points in last month’s news, was the controversy, surrounding MP Lee Anderson, the Conservative whip from Ashfield who was suspended from his post, following racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic comments made towards Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. Whilst what he said in our opinion was racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic, what this article puts into the spotlight, is the inability for leaders, now privy to such comments failing to recognise them as such and to offer an apology.

Why give an apology you might ask? Why was it so hard for leaders to call out his comments for what they were? Further, why was it so difficult for them to say sorry? Until now, despite multiple questions to top Conservative MPs, including the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, no apology has been issued, either by Anderson, or by Rishi, the head of the party and indeed our nation.

Whilst this case emerges from the political arena, it is not dissimilar to navigating workplace contexts, where senior figures or CEO’s speaking on behalf of their organisation, fail to recognise wrongdoing and offer apologies. As we will see from the BBC interview between Laura Kuenssberg and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, aired on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, the interaction gives us a blueprint for the dos and don’ts of how leaders should handle these situations, especially in order for them to build back trust and avoid further alienating their teams. It will look at good leadership behaviours and set the context for strategies that can be used when issuing an apology, for managers or anyone with leadership responsibilities. Even if you’re not in either of these categories, there is still the benefit of knowing how such messages would be received, especially by those on the other side of hearing the apology, for that is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

To start, let us go over what happened in the interview. Going straight for the jugular, Kuenssberg asks Dowden whether he agreed the comments made by Lee Anderson were racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic? These were the terms referenced by Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of ActionAid UK, when giving her opinion over the incident. Dowden, refraining from answering the question with a yes or no, goes on to say that it was right for the prime minister to have taken action, following Anderson refusing to offer an apology.

Dowden is then shown a clip of the comments made by Anderson. Without going into detail with what was said, the reasons why I agree that the comments are racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic, are because, firstly, it lumps Sadiq Khan in with terrorists, simply because he is Muslim. The comment reinforces racist tropes on Muslim identities. Secondly, the comments reinforce who is classed as British and others who are not, even though Khan himself was born and raised in South London. His comments echo the words of the former US President Donald Trump, when at a press conference in 2020, at the height of Covid-19, made an offensive anti-Asian comment to an Asian-American White House correspondent. 

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Questions on World Book Day with Dr B.J. Woodstein

Thursday 7th March

On 7 March 2024, people in the UK will be celebrating World Book Day. While some view the holiday as just a chance to dress up as their favourite character, in fact this is an important occasion run by a charity with the aim of encouraging people from all backgrounds and educational levels to read. Many schools and some workplaces use World Book Day as an opportunity to talk about literature and literacy more broadly. PILAA Research Associate Dr B.J. Woodstein is especially keen on World Book Day, so we asked her a few questions about it:

Q: B.J., what does World Book Day mean to you?

A: I love reading, and I also work as a writer and translator, so I absolutely believe in the importance of books. Some people might call me idealistic, but I truly think that if people read more, we’d have fewer problems in the world. If you read books about people from different cultures, religions and backgrounds than you have, you’ll learn about them, and they won’t feel as “other”. You’ll realise that actually we have more in common than we think. We’ll be slower to judge and to be prejudiced. From an EDI perspective, that is hugely beneficial. We should all read books about as many different types of people as we can. It’s educational and pleasurable at the same time.

Q: Can you say something about your work as a translator?

A: I translate from the Scandinavian languages, mostly Swedish, to English. I’m especially passionate about working on children’s literature, but I also translate adult literature, non-fiction, academic books, cookbooks and more. I’ve learned over time that people write differently and about different subjects in different languages, and I think translation is important because it enables us to bring new ideas and perspectives across into other languages. We’d be in a constricted echo-chamber if we only were able to read books in one or two languages. And think about how many great works of literature we’d miss out on! I’m privileged to be able to make Swedish literature available to audiences outside Sweden.

Q: How will you be celebrating World Book Day?

A: I have young children, so we’ll definitely be doing costumes. At the moment, one of my children is planning to dress up as a favourite character from Swedish lit, and the other has a Victorian-style costume to reflect a book that she really enjoyed. We read every day in our household as it is, but I expect that on 7 March, we’ll do some extra chatting about books and some shared reading. Storytime is one of the best parts of the day for us! I encourage everyone to read aloud, whether to kids, elderly relatives, partners or friends. It’s wonderful having that shared reading experience together.

To find out more about PILAA Research Associate Dr B.J. Woodstein, view her bio here and if you would like to work with her on your next project, get in touch with us!

Supporting and appreciating staff with ADHD

Written by B.J. Woodstein, PhD

Is ADHD a problem for the workplace? Or is it in fact an advantage, particularly if the employee with ADHD is properly supported? We’re going to strongly argue for the latter, even while acknowledging that it is true that this form of neurodivergence can of course be a struggle to handle at times.

A recent article in the BBC told the story of a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who has faced a number of challenging situations because of her neurodevelopmental difference. For example, she didn’t properly read the terms and conditions of a new credit card and ended up with lots of extra, unnecessary fees. And she also missed a flight due to not seeing the correct departure time on her boarding card. Other examples in the article were about people losing glasses, losing house keys, impulsively buying unneeded products and then not returning them even though they didn’t really want them, or struggling with budgeting. All of these situations can affect the workplace as well as impacting people on a personal and emotional level. For instance, that flight missed was for a work role, and someone losing keys or other supplies, or making unexpected purchases can cost a workplace significant sums of money along with increasing stress levels. And those who experience problems like this may beat themselves up or worry about how they are perceived by their colleagues.

For this reason, managers need to understand how to best support colleagues with ADHD. But it is also important for them to not view ADHD as a burden or an annoyance; instead, they need to remember how amazing the particular traits and skills that ADHD brings with it. Often, when people think of ADHD, they immediately use terms such as impulsive, inattentive, distractible, hyper, unfocused, and other negative phrases. And sometimes people with ADHD do struggle with some of those behaviours. But if you look at the other side of the coin, as it were, we could instead use phrases such as creative, hyper-focussed, energetic, enthusiast, multitasking, and problem-solving. It’s the same person, with the same type of neurodivergence, but rather than criticise them for being easily distracted, we could consider how much energy they have and how interested they are in the world. The world is such an exciting place, no wonder they want to shift gears regularly and to swiftly move from one topic to another.

It has even been posited that humans evolved as we did thanks in large part to ADHD. The thinking goes that it was those restless, impulsive people who we would now call ADHDers who moved out of Africa and went on to discover and adapt to other parts of the world. That is to say, that they weren’t satisfied with the status quo and so they pressed for change and exploration. In fact, there is some suggestion that genes related to ADHD are more common in regions of the world that were settled later, such as South America, which would imply that it was ADHDers who kept pushing to move and to discover new places and new ways of living.

 

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