Black History Month 2018 – My Black Sheroes

October is my favourite month. Not only does my birthday fall within its 31 days (yay me!), it’s also Black History Month in the UK.

For those who don’t know, Black History Month (BHM) is an annual celebration of the experiences and contributions of Black African and Caribbean people in the UK.

As a Black Briton of Caribbean descent, BHM is a sacred time for me. My people’s history isn’t part of the UK school curriculum nor is it typically depicted on TV or in the cinema.* Considering the increasing hostility towards minority groups in the UK and US, reversing the erasure of African-Caribbean history and present-day contributions from UK discourse is more important than ever.

So, to mark this year’s BHM, I’m giving a shout-out to four of my Black Sheroes – Black British and African American women who I admire and who give me hope that great things are possible if you believe in you.

1) My mum

**WARNING: if you don’t like family-based gushing, skip to the next Sheroe now**

Smiling mixed race mother with child crouched down in street

This is clearly a stock photo – my mum hates the limelight!

Why I love her: As a first-generation immigrant in the UK, my mum had the almost impossible task of navigating two opposing worlds: her traditional Jamaican home and the often hostile and alien British society. Despite these obstacles, she’s achieved so much – from raising two high-achieving daughters single-handedly to changing careers twice to performing her first dance show well into her 50s. I’ve learnt so much from her: how to be resilient and brave; the power of forgiveness; the importance of living a life filled with laughter, love and fun. Lessons to live by!

She says: “If you know better, do better.”

2) Diane Abbott MP

Portrait of Diane Abbott MP

Why I love her: Whether you love or hate her policies, you can’t deny that Diane Abbott MP is a political trailblazer. Not only did she go to Cambridge at a time when few like her were admitted (what’s new?), she was the first Black woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the UK in 1987.

Despite facing a torrent of racist and sexist abuse throughout her 30+ years in Westminster, Diane has carved out an impressive political career while serving her Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituents and the Black British community well.

As a recipient of the London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Awards – which Diane set up to recognise and improve academic achievement in Black students – I’ve seen how much she cares about inspiring and celebrating young Black people. And for that, she’ll always have a special place in my heart.

She says: “In the novels I read, people tended to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Nobody told me that working class or black children didn’t go. So I thought, why not me? Going to Cambridge gave me the sense that obstacles were there to be overcome.”

3) Serena Williams

Serena Williams playing tennis

Why I love her: Anyone who knows me, knows my love for Ms Serena Jameka Williams runs deep. She’s got it all – strength, grace, power, beauty and a career record that most can only dream of. To date, she’s won 97 career titles, including 39 Grand Slam titles, and is a four-time Olympic gold medallist. Yes, you read correctly.

I’m particularly inspired by Serena’s discipline and drive; her willingness to show her emotional side and her commitment to speaking out against injustice both on and off the courts. She has broken through several glass ceilings in the very white world of tennis, and in doing so has made the game more accessible to younger players (especially Black and Brown ones) and spectators. And that’s why she’s the GREATEST ATHLETE OF ALL TIME (aka GOAT). Period.

She says: “I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.”

4) Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes smiling while sat on chair on stage

Why I love her: Last, but by no means list is the creative badass that is Shonda Rhimes. When it comes to storytelling, she’s one the best, as evidenced by her runaway success as showrunner for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and as an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder. Through these shows, Shonda has gifted us with multi-dimensional characters who not only reflect the diversity found in real life but are defined by their personalities rather than their visible ‘otherness’.

Reading Shonda’s memoir, The Year of Yes, and listening to her Dartmouth Commencement Speech were two life-changing moments for me. Here was a highly influential Hollywood executive inviting you to laugh with her as she recalls memories of her geekier younger self and encouraging you to live your best life. And having recently announcing she’s the highestpaid showrunner on earth after years of dominating the coveted Thursday primetime TV slot in the US, Shonda is doing just that.

She says: “Cynicism is a choice. Optimism is a better choice.”

Which Black women would make your Shero list?

Leave a comment below or Tweet me @annique_simpson

For more info on Black History Month, visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/

*The two exceptions to this ‘rule’ are the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Civil Rights Era in the US which have been covered extensively in the arts but make up only a small fraction (less than 500 years) of African and Caribbean history.

5 easy ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators

inclusionDiversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of the hottest topics in business at the moment, thanks in part to recent high-profile initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting, #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement.

And with increased diversity in the workplace being linked to enhanced financial performance, team problem-solving power and employee engagement, it’s no wonder companies are keen to create environments where employees’ differences are respected and celebrated.

For many of us internal communicators, this shift has led to us doing more D&I comms. But does internal communications, as an industry, have a diversity problem?

The Diversity & Inclusion problem

A lack of D&I research focusing specifically on IC means we must look to PR for insight. According to the PRCA’s 2016 PR Census, men hold 64% of Board-level positions but women outnumber men 3:1 in more junior roles. Things look even worse when you consider other key D&I categories. A recent CIPR report suggests the UK PR industry is overwhelmingly white (93% on average), heterosexual (85%) and without any disabilities (93% without any physical disabilities/conditions; 80% without any mental-health conditions).

IC may not have any D&I data, but the importance of an inclusive mindset in IC is clear. We play a vital role in helping to create and convey company culture through internal messaging and activities. We listen to and elevate the voices of employees and help them understand how what they do contributes to their company’s strategy and future. To do this well, we need to reflect, or, at the very least, understand our employees.

Here are 5 ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators:

1. Listen to employees

Sounds simple enough, but when battling a #busybusyverybusy in-house role, employee research is often the first task to get dropped from the to-do-list. Try not to let it. After all, employees are often our key audience. If we don’t know who they are or understand their communication needs and preferences, how can we produce IC outputs that drive behavioural and emotional change?

The benefits far outweigh any time and financial costs, and with so many employee feedback channels now available – engagement surveys, focus groups, IC audits or champion networks – there’s really no excuse. Informal chats with colleagues before or after meetings, or in the kitchen area, can also provide invaluable insights if you’re low on budget or time.

2. Confront our biases

Tackling cognitive biases, especially unconscious biases, in the workplace is becoming a top business priority, and for good reason. A 2017 US study found that employees who feel negatively judged by their managers are more likely to withhold their ideas and solutions, talk negatively about their employers on social media, and quit their jobs within a year.

It’s important that we’re aware of and challenge our biases if we’re to be effective corporate storytellers, internal connectors and strategic advisors. One way to do this is to take our time when making key decisions – from the employees we choose to feature in our stories to the people we recruit into our teams – and ensure our choices are based on sound evidence and reasoning. I find it helpful to note my rationale for significant decisions when I write and update communication plans, in case I’m asked to explain my choices in the future.

There’s a wealth of learning resources available online, including some inspiring TED talks. You could also commit to spending time with colleagues you wouldn’t usually interact with (think Coffee Roulette). Not only will it help you gain a better understanding of different types of people in your organisation; you’ll also be expanding your internal network.

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge our stakeholders

I’ve heard a few internal comms pros refer to IC as the ‘corporate conscience’, and I couldn’t agree more. IC has evolved from exclusively serving as the managerial mouthpiece to a valuable strategic function capable of driving positive business outcomes. With this elevated position comes great responsibility, including challenging managers on behaviour, policies and practices which could alienate employees.

This can be a tough and thankless task, especially when you have to balance the needs and values of your employers with that of employees, including yourself. It’s the ultimate ethical dilemma but one that can be resolved, in part, through developing positive relationships with people in all layers of the business and having the confidence and mandate to challenge stakeholders when necessary.

4. Follow the news and public debate

We often hear the phrase “what’s internal is external” but the opposite is also true. Internal communication does not take place in a vacuum – political, economic, social, technological and legal factors external to an organisation can influence if and how employees process and respond to communication within it.

Take the #MeToo movement. The revelation of widespread sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood last October – and the resulting public outrage – forced many organisations to review their internal culture and reiterate their approach to sexual discrimination and gender equality. It’s likely that news stories such as these will be front-of-mind for many employees, so it’s worth keeping an eye on news and public opinion on popular topics (particularly around D&I issues) to prevent your internal communications from seeming out-of-touch.

5. Aim to represent and inspire

IC’s influence on D&I strategy is partly limited by the fact that it sits outside the function. One way we can really have impact is by ensuring our content and activities represent the majority and the minority groups within the employee base (however this is defined). It’s worth reviewing your teams’ outputs through a D&I lens when measuring the message or campaign impact. If you spot an unintentional trend (eg. senior leaders being over-represented in an around-the-company opinion article), challenge yourself or your team to include different people next time.

This won’t always be possible – sometimes content relates to specific people, or it may seem disingenuous to feature someone from a particular (often under-represented) social group. However, being open-minded about whose voices you elevate through your outputs can, at best, help employees to better identify with and feel supported by the organisation or, at worst, reflect D&I issues back to senior leaders spurring them into action.

Read more: 7 essential internal comms best practices every internal communicator needs to know

Recognising and catering for a diverse workforce is no easy feat, especially for internal communicators. Workplace D&I is a moral maze – no one has all the answers and we’ll all make mistakes along the way. The key is to keep talking, challenge your own thinking and be brave. And remember that despite our differences, we all want to be treated with kindness and respect.

This blog post was first published on H & H Agency’s website (5 September 2018) – https://handhcomms.co.uk/5-easy-ways-we-can-become-more-inclusive-internal-communicators/

 

The Big Yak 2018: what I learned connecting with other internal communicators

Like Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was one of 160 internal communication (IC) professionals lucky enough to bag a ticket to this year’s .

Run by comms veterans Rachel Miller, Jenni Field and Dana Leeson, the unconference brings together IC pros from different orgs, sectors and geographies to share best practices, views on the profession and, occasionally, war tales.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my first Big Yak in 2016, I had high hopes for this year’s edition – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my key takeaways from the breakout sessions I attended:

IC crowd intro

“There’s over 1,000 years of communications experience in the room today. Make the most of it.” – opening speech by Benjamin Ellis, tech expert and Big Yak advocate.

IC measurement

“Be kind to yourself – we can only pull some of the levers for action and change. The rest is up to employees.”

(Tip: some people suggested the AMEC Framework as a good way to help track how well you’re pulling said levers)

Getting ahead in your IC career

“Your career is distinct from your role or the company you work for. Don’t let your frustrations with the latter drain your passion for the former.”

Here’s some of my go-to resources for my IC questions and professional development:

How to cultivate champions

Comms champions: “It’s not just about the evangelists – you can learn from the naysayers, too.”

Employee advocates: “Let employees know they can share corporate news as they see fit, and trust they’ll do good.”

Working smarter in IC

“It’s about being more corporate connector and less corporate news hound.”

Managing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) community

“Don’t be thirsty (for users) and ignore the haters.”

IC and diversity

“We’re all learning and that’s OK.”

“IC may not own D&I but it is responsible for creating inclusive comms strategies and content.”

“How can orgs balance between the drive to create a ‘one-company’ culture and encouraging employees to ‘bring their whole selves to work’.”

I suggested this session (hence the multiple quotes), as I wanted to stimulate discussion on:

  • diversity in the IC profession and how this affects our IC approach and content
  • how different organisations are communicating their D&I strategy internally

It was an insightful session with honest debate which I’d love to continue online (and in person). What do you think about diversity in internal communications? I’d love to hear your views.

Big thanks to The IC Crowd (Rachel, Jenni and Dana) for organising such an inspiring and engaging event. The IC community are a great bunch and I had a blast catching up with old friends and making new ones. A special thanks go to the authors of the tweets I’ve borrowed – re-purposing is a truly a comms bods best friend!

Until next time!

For more information about the event and to catch up on all the Big Yak goss:

 

 

 

 

What Yoga Taught Me About Breathing, Sex and Everything Else

First published on Black Ballad (paywall) on 2 May 2018.

Image result for woman yoga

“Join our winter series of yoga and mindfulness classes, starting January 2018. £24 for a twelve-week course.”

Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s exactly what I thought when I saw this ad at my workplace last December.

Although I’d heard great things about yoga, it was never something I, or anyone close to me, had gotten into. This probably won’t surprise you, but there have been countless articles about the lack of diversity in the Western yoga community even though black women have noted its health and wellbeing benefits for decades.

But there was something about this ad…

To read the full article, you’ll need to become a Black Ballad member (trust me – it’s worth it!) or sign up for a free trial.

PictureThis_screenshot_20180506_172157

My article on Black Ballad

Losing my Lipstick Virginity Helped Me Find Self Love

First published on Black Ballad website (paywall) on 9 February 2018.

Annique wearing Fenty lipstickPhoto by Tom Wilkinson @TWilkins0n

Most of us remember when we lost our virginity. Perhaps you were 16-years-old in your boyfriend’s box room or a few years older in a nightclub toilet cubicle? You’ll probably be able to tell me about the lucky guy or lady – their name, how they smelt, how it ended.

But what about the first time you tried on lipstick? Can you recall who you were with, where you were standing, your chosen shade? It’s probably not as vivid as your first fling, right? Especially if, as research from 2014 suggests…

To read the full article, you’ll need to become a Black Ballad member (trust me – it’s worth it!) or sign up for a free trial.

Screenshot of Annique's article on Black Ballad website

My article on Black Ballad website

Employee engagement and personality: all for one and one for all?

As some of you know, I was recently awarded a distinction for my CIPR internal comms certificate course (yay!). For my final assignment, I explored the various tactics that internal communicators can use to help employees physically, cognitively and emotionally harness themselves to their individual roles and organisation (i.e employee engagement).

But what if some people are just un-engageable?

We each think, feel and act in our own unique way, so it seems logical that we’ll react differently to attempts to help us connect with our CEO or commit to organisational change. Emerging research suggests that our personality traits the ‘relatively stable cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics that help establish our individual identities’ – can predict our level of engagement at work. Here’s how…

Conscientiousness

Neuroticism

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Openness to Experience

 

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five basic personality traits – or factors – proposed by psychologists Robert McCrae and Paul Costa in their influential Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The other traits are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. According to FFM, these factors capture the essence of all human personalities; we differ only in terms of the amount/level of each factor, as determined by personality assessments.

Behaviours: the epitome of an ‘ideal employee’, people with high amounts of Conscientiousness are efficient, dutiful, deliberate and achievement-striving.

Evidence: Studies consistently show that employees with high levels of this trait are more likely to be engaged at work. For example, work psychologists Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr explored engagement levels in over 700 employees from several countries, including the UK, and found that Conscientiousness – particularly the achievement orientation subcomponent of the trait – was a better predictor of work engagement than the other Big Five factors, age and gender.

Underlying mechanism: One suggestion is that employees high on Conscientiousness are motivated by the need to achieve goals which is also a core component of the work engagement concept. It may also be that conscientious workers have a strong sense of responsibility and therefore are more likely to absorb themselves in their job tasks.

 

Neuroticism

Behaviours: people with high levels of Neuroticism tend to be tense, irritable, shy, and lack self-confidence.

Evidence: Researcher Saar Langelaan and colleagues analysed the personality and engagement survey scores of 205 Dutch employees, and found that those high in Neuroticism were low in work engagement. This finding has been replicated in several other studies.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan, work engagement is a positive affective-motivational state characterised by high pleasure and high energy use. Neuroticism is strongly linked to negative affect (NA), a short-term mental state characterised by fear, nervousness and anger (or low energy use). Highly engaged employees tend to report low levels of NA.

 

Extraversion

Behaviours: people high on Extraversion are generally sociable, enthusiastic, energetic, adventurous and outgoing

Evidence: Studies exploring the link between Extraversion and engagement has produced mixed results, with some showing Extraversion to be as good a predictor of engagement or weaker. However, researchers Stephen Woods and Juilitta Sofat found that the Assertiveness sub-factor of Extraversion – characterised by being driven, competitive and energetic – was more strongly associated with engagement than the Gregariousness sub-factor (being sociable and chatty) and the broader Extraversion trait.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan and colleagues, people high on Extraversion are more likely to experience positive emotions and are therefore more likely to experience the positive state that is engagement. Another explanation centres on the psychological condition of meaningfulness, an important predictor of engagement defined as the positive feeling that one’s work is worthwhile and important. According to Woods and Sofat, employees high on the Assertiveness sub-factor are more likely to be engaged because their high energy and ambitiousness leads them to attach greater meaning to their efforts at work.

 

Agreeableness

Behaviours: people high on Agreeableness tend to be forgiving, warm and flexible.

Evidence: Along with Openness to Experience, this trait has been found to be a weaker predictor of engagement than the other three factors. However, leadership expert Andrew Wefald and colleagues tested several personality-engagement statistical models using survey data, and found Agreeableness and two other personality traits – Conscientiousness and Extraversion – were linked to engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to business psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, and colleagues, engaged employees tend to be efficient task-completers. Since most work tasks require teamwork and agreeable employees encourage teamwork, they’re more likely to be engaged.

 

Openness to Experience

Behaviours: the quintessential creative, people high on Openness are intellectually curious, imaginative, artistic and excitable.

Evidence: Pakastani economist Nayyar Zaidi and colleagues found that employees with high levels of Openness were more likely to be engaged than their conscientious counterparts. Likewise, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic and colleagues (2015) found that openness was the second best predictor of engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to Zaidi, William Kahn, the so-called ‘godfather of employee engagement’, saw engaged employees as innovators within their organisation; therefore, employees high on Openness – who are naturally innovative – are more likely to be engaged.

 

Implications for internal communicators

At first glance, it’s not good news for us IC bods. If, as the abovementioned research suggests, an employee’s unique and enduring personal characteristics significantly influences their level of work engagement, the task of driving up employee engagement (a staple in many IC job descriptions) may be trickier than we thought. Personality traits are thought to be consistent across time, and so if people who are low on Conscientiousness or high on Neuroticism are recruited into an organisation and then become disengaged, attempts by internal communicators to help them connect with their roles and the organisation may prove futile.

However, before we all tear up our engagement strategies and go on a well-deserved holiday, it’s important to note that while the findings presented suggest that some personality traits are better predictors of engagement than others, none of the studies concluded that having high levels of one trait would prevent you from being engaged full stop. That’s because, even though our personalities cause us to view our work, colleagues and employer in a unique way, we’re all capable of being engaged at work.

Professor Brad Shuck and colleagues propose that communication within an organisation can help engagement develop in each employee, irrespective of their personality make-up – via two routes:

  • It can motivate employees to be engaged by aligning their values with the organisation values
  • It can give employees the freedom to engage, achieved by creating trust and integrity within the organisation through transparent and consistent communication.

This cuts to the heart of what we do as internal communicators. We live for providing line of sight to employees and removing communication barriers between senior leaders and employees.

So there you have it. We’re all engageable. But we’re also brilliantly unique, with our own life experiences, views and set of personal characteristics which influence our behaviour at work. As internal communicators, it’s important that we remember this when trying to help our people engage with our organisation.