More on Allyship

The National Stephen Lawrence Day official image

As Director of Inclusion at the Royal Institute of British Architects, I wrote a version of this blog for their website.

It was in the context of marking Stephen Lawrence Day on 22nd April 2022. The kind of work that supports the efforts of the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation require huge amounts of allyship.

Previously, I’ve quoted Tom Ilube and his ALLIES acronym, but I’ve thought more about that, and come up with a slightly different take.

How do we acknowledge our own identities and take action to break down barriers, without taking up space, and listening to lived experiences?  

This is what allyship is all about. So, pick up your CAMERA©. 

Courage 

Saying you are an ally is far easier than being one. Recently in the RIBA video with Danni Kerr for International Transgender Day of Visibility, she said:  

“People often say to me the courage to be out as a trans person is amazing. Well, I think we’re at a time in our society which actually takes more courage to be a trans ally.  So trans people are incredibly grateful. We need your support if you’re prepared to be visible as a trans ally, that’s fantastic. You’re prepared to be heard as a trans ally. And, if you’re prepared to be seen in the same space as transgender people, that speaks volumes.” 

This is also true of other issues, such as race and disability. To stand up and use your position, privilege, and voice for others is powerful for those who do not have that. 

You need to be prepared for the hurtful and challenging pushback, and do it anyway. You need courage.  

Acknowledge privilege 

Privilege is about unearned advantage. It’s not about money, or elitism necessarily. It’s not about what you have had to do to get where you are. It’s about understanding, seeing, and acknowledging what you’ve not had to do or navigate. Structural, institutional, and societal racial discrimination is real. Some of us from racialised groups still don’t see or feel it. Sometimes that’s because the scales have yet to fall from our eyes, sometimes it’s because we’ve not yet faced these barriers, because of our own access and ability to hold white spaces. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in heavier doses for others.  

If you’re white, you’ve not had to face racism. Racism is a system. It plays out in discrimination based on not being white. Whiteness is a power position. So, as a white individual, you may have faced prejudice because of what you look like, but overall in societal structures, whiteness holds power, racialised people do not. 

So, whatever our background, if we’re white or non-white but still have privilege, we need to allow others to benefit from ours. 

Manage mistakes well 

We all make mistakes, it’s how we handle them that matters. Being an ally doesn’t mean you’ll always get it right. But when you don’t, acknowledge the mistake. Listen to how you can do things differently. Learn from the experience, reflect on the feedback, and move forward differently, ever conscious of how to be better. 

Saying sorry, meaning it, and moving forward differently is an inclusion muscle that requires much exercise in order to strengthen; and like any exercise you’re not used to, it’s very uncomfortable at first, and it’s never truly easy, but it does get better the more you do it.  

And, remember as an ally, the struggle for social and racial justice is not about you. 

Educate yourself 

It’s not up to others to educate you about race and racism.  

Take responsibility for reading, learning, being in spaces with those from racialised backgrounds, and listening and reflecting.  There are a number of different RIBA Radio episodes to help with this, and this podcast episode on white shame and discomfort is challenging listening at times, but is very useful. 

Recognise and believe 

Making behavioural changes to support others and being vocal about issues of social and racial justice doesn’t necessarily mean being an activist and campaigning. It’s about being cognisant that it’s endemic in our society, and therefore, in our organisations there are structural biases. We must look to dismantle these. Therefore, the likelihood that a non-white person saying to you “I’ve experienced racism” and that experience being real, is extremely high. So, believe them. 

Remember, it’s not about intention, it’s about impact. Not many organisations or individuals set out to be discriminatory, but if the impact is discrimination we cannot deny this, and must create procedural changes to mitigate it. 

Advocate for others 

Amplifying the voices and needs of others, especially when they’re not in the room, and before sharing your own, is a powerful tool of the ally. 

Think about those perspectives not apparent and share some of your knowledge based on your learning about the issues at play. Support those with lived experiences other than your own and vocally challenge those who shared prejudiced or biased thinking or behaviours. 

It’s not easy being an ally. It requires daily conscious work, and this is where Cultural Intelligence (CQ) – helps you to process the discomfort of these moments and work towards behaving more inclusively and vocally for others. 

This is your choice: pick up your CAMERA, apply your CQ lens, and take a deep look into the image of society you need to influence, remove the filters that have been shrouding your vision, open the aperture, and let the light flood in; or don’t. 

Emeli Sande sings in Professor Green’s Read All About it Part III: 

You’ve got a heart as loud as lions 
So why let your voice be tamed? 
Maybe we’re a little different 
There’s no need to be ashamed 
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows 
So stop hiding it away 
Come on, come on… 

Yeah, we’re all wonderful, wonderful people 
So when did we all get so fearful? 
Now we’re finally finding our voices 
So take a chance, come help me sing this 

Find your courage. Use your voice. Take the struggle as your own. Bear your mistakes. Take up the mantle. Hold up others.  

And, come on. Come help me sing this, for yourselves. For society. For Stephen.  

 Useful resources: 

  • RIBA Radio – a series of podcasts focused on promoting diversity and inclusion within the architecture profession, underpinned by the key themes of CQ.
  • What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition, Emma Dabiri, Penguin Books 2021 
  • We Wish We Knew What to Say: Talking with Children about Race, Pragya Agarwal, Dialogue Books 2020 
  • Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion don’t happen and what you can do about it, Sheree Atcheson, Kogan Page 2021 
  • Forbes article: Allyship – The Key To Unlocking The Power Of Diversity by Sheree Atchseon  
  • Harvard Business Review: Be A Better Ally  

(A version of this blog was first published on architecture.com on 21st April 2022. CAMERA as an acronym for the traits of allyship is Marsha Ramroop’s original work, and I assert copyright over the term in this usage).

STREAM your EDI

The waterfall and stream at Leap, Co Cork, Ireland

I’m concerned about the number of companies STILL expecting staff networks, volunteer groups and hobbyists to fix the issues of racism, discrimination and social injustice in their organisations.

If you actually want EDI efforts to succeed in your company you need these six elements; I say you need to STREAM© your EDI:-

Support, Time, Resource, Effort, Agency, Money.

✅️ Support: Leadership demonstrative and vocal about EDI in thought, behaviour and practice;

This means:
❗️Recognising diversity: valuing all people intrinsically, individually and as groups, appreciating how different diversity dimensions intersect, and acknowledging that demographic and other personal characteristics can possibly be protected by law and regulation.

❗️Governing effectively: exemplifying and promoting leadership commitment to EDI through the use of inclusive organisational governance systems, policies, processes, practices and operations.

❗️Acting accountably: acting in an ethical and socially responsible manner, promoting productive employment and decent work for all.

❗️Working inclusively: enabling and developing an accessible and respectful workplace environment that fosters inclusion and a sense of belonging, for those who wish to belong at work.

❗️Communicating inclusively: recognising and responding to the needs of people who access, understand and relate to communications in different ways.

❗️Advocating and championing EDI: actively influencing and promoting inclusive organisational practices and stakeholder relationships.

✅️ Time: People given the opportunity to change and EDI team given the time to reflect and support comprehensively;

✅️ Resource: Facilities made available to allow for the full implementation of inclusive changes;

✅️ Effort: Proper expertise and enough people on the EDI team to manage the workload effectively;

✅️ Agency: Most senior EDI colleague to have the unmediated ear of the CEO and full influencing access to the Executive and Board/ decision making leaders;

✅️ Money: Budget expectations met and sustained as the EDI work grows and develops.

Without this you’ll not be successful and the underrepresented who you’ve been relying on will be frustrated and despondent.

To get a proper return, requires proper investment.

(This blog was first published on LinkedIn on 28th April 2022. STREAM as an acronym for prerequistes in organisational EDI is Marsha Ramroop’s original work, and I assert copyright over the term in this usage).

Reopening Unheard Voice Consultancy Ltd

In my final blog, before closing UVC Ltd to go to the RIBA, I said:

“Working with the RIBA, those unheard voices in the built environment will, not only have a place to speak, but will be listened to, as, together, we work to build a better world.

“There will be more challenge. There will be more strife. But there is also hope. And step-by-step, there will be change.”

I am exceptionally pleased with what I achieved whilst at the RIBA. The feedback and, subsequent to my resignation announcement, acknowledgement for the impact of the work I was leading, has been overwhelming.

I wish I felt I could have stayed there and continued doing the work. There were so many amazing colleagues, a small handful of truly lovely friends made, and one, so special, actually, it’s breaking my heart to go.

Needless to say then, to feel I’m not only going back on my words, but also turning my back on these people, has left me conflicted and, at times, quite confused.

The process of looking forward and remembering why it is that I closed UVC Ltd in the first place to work at the RIBA has helped me focus.

I continue to believe that if I can influence the creation of inclusive spaces, I can influence the creation of an inclusive society. And so, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’d love to stay working in the built environment sector and associated professions, like engineering, to help with all sides of the EDI conundrum: how we help attract and support a diversity of people into these vocations; how we treat, retain and progress them; how we bake inclusivity into the products and services; and, how we reach out to all to engage as customers, clients, members… I can still do all of that.

I can still give the under-represented a voice. I can still work to help you build a better world. I can still be with you holding that flame of hope. I take responsibilty for my role in what needs to be done here.

The only question is, do you want me to hand YOUR hand?

Creating useful, successful, tangibly actionable EDI strategies that suit you, is what I do. So, I’d love to hear from you, and talk about how we can do this, together.

Working within Unheard Voice, those unheard voices in the built environment will, not only have a place to speak, but will be listened to, as, together, we work to build a better world.

There will be more challenge. There will be more strife. But there is also hope. And step-by-step, there will be more change.

A final blog post for now…

I am truly thrilled to have been chosen to take on the role of Director of Inclusion for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

I think it shows great foresight by the RIBA to think about inclusion from an overarching perspective, acknowledging the benefits I can bring with skills in Cultural Intelligence (CQ).

Inspired by the post by Gloria Ataa Sekyere on the impact of these kinds of posts on LinkedIn, I will share some of my personal journey to reach this point.

***

It has been a long and sometimes difficult road for me to get here. There have been moments of real personal challenge, heartache and strife to overcome.

I remember, many years ago now, sitting in a meeting with a senior leader. I had come second – again – in a job interview but I’d impressed this person so he’d asked for a chat. I tried to assert how we needed to be more inclusive in the way news/broadcast agendas are set, reaching out to communities and allowing them to tell their stories, their way: “We need to give the unheard voice a place to speak!” I announced. “That’s a great line”, he replied. “It’s not a line”, I said, “it’s what I believe”.

But having articulated it, I knew it had been the motto I’d been living my whole career, and I needed to remember it.

Coming second in job interviews became the in-joke in the family. It’s how I ended up in one organisation which had a process called “also-suitable”, which meant I came second, but if a similar role came up within six months, I could be appointed with no further interview. And a job came up!

On at least four other occasions whether I went for roles (internally and externally), and I was even the best candidate! But a decision was made not to appoint.

Feedback appeared to have no consistency and on one occasion I was simply told, “you had the best strategy, the best approach and the best presentation, but we just had this niggle…”.

At another point, a wonderful moment at the time, I was headhunted, by those who knew I had a lot to give. But when my sponsor moved on, those around me ominously closed in, claiming publicly, “Marsha’s never going to live up to the way she was recruited” and my working life became unbearable. And thus, The Painful Years began.

I couldn’t rule myself out though. So, I made a plan to work for myself, and with the help and support of my husband, friends, family and particular colleagues, I executed it, despite all the challenges laid around me. I continued to develop myself, my knowledge, my expertise and my skills in order to ensure I was giving the unheard voice a place to speak.

Making the plan was important, because, as I often tell myself, and my girls, whatever you believe becomes your reality.

Working for myself has been so rewarding. To watch the light bulb moments, and to see others discover the real change that CQ can create in bringing about inclusion, has been brilliant.

Developing my own Inclusive Culture Pyramid™ tool and putting it to work has been so transformative.

However, working for myself has demonstrated to me where my own strengths lie. Unheard Voice Consultancy Ltd was always about doing inclusion work, rather than because I had particular ambition for the business or was particularly entrepreneurial, and it has well-served its purpose, to position me for this role.

I can now put all that accumulated learning to work, in one direction.

***

Working with the RIBA, those unheard voices in the built environment will not only have a place to speak, but will be listened to, as, together, we work to build a better world.

There will be more challenge. There will be more strife. But there is also hope. And step-by-step, there will be change.

It’s inclusion for all, or it’s not inclusion at all.

As I close it down for now, I say thank you, to all of you, who have supported me with Unheard Voice Consultancy Ltd.

Allyship

A short while ago, I posted on Twitter about privilege and the impact on me as racism, and I received a lot of challenge on that.

I – absolutely – understand the challenge, which is why the conversation is so important. What are our different perspectives? And how do we come together?

When I was threatened with legal action (despite my post being anonymised) my heart was, quite literally, jumping out of my chest. I looked down at my fitbit which registered 140bpm.

It was then I saw a message from an ally. She reached out to me to ask how I was and demonstrated solidarity.

If it wasn’t for THAT message at THAT moment from Robin Stevens, I know I would have crumpled, run away and withdrawn, and those who wish to shut-up the conversation about these matters would have won.

Allyship is so important now, to people of colour (POC*) who are trying to open up anti-racism and to be heard about next steps. The thing is, next steps are impossible if we need to tackle inherent issues of privilege and fragility. Black people and other POC will keep on receiving this, sometimes very hurtful, kick back when they try.

So, potential allies, Tom Ilube CBE suggests the following 6 things:

A – Advocate; use your privilege and give up your opportunity to speak, to give a platform to underrepresented voices.

LL – Listen and Learn; (do the work first) and with people of colour with whom you have a trusted relationship, ask them about their experiences

I – Intervene; whether or not there are POC in the “room”, call out inappropriate behaviours or language. It has greater impact if there are no POC present.

E – Engage; look out for and support those pushing the case for equality.

S – Sponsorship; actively fight for individuals of colour whose personal outcomes you can assist.

Thanks so much, Robin, for allyship when I needed it most.

With help like that we can keep the conversations going.

(*Terms to describe Black and minority ethnic people, or those non-white, are all problematic. I prefer POC).

Don’t “Treat Others as You Wish to be Treated”

It’s a primary principle, isn’t it? In terms of treating people with dignity and respect?

Matthew 7:12 – “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you…”

It’s also known as The Golden Rule.

There’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to it and its references across world religions.

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as you want to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures.[1] It can be considered an ethic of reciprocity in some religions, although other religions treat it differently. The maxim may appear as a positive or negative injunction governing conduct:

  • Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive or directive form)
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form)[1]
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathic or responsive form)[1]

So, who am I to come along to say “don’t bother, it is, in fact, a misguided thing to do”?

Well, I know I’m not the first person to say it, but it seems like the message isn’t, really, being received.

The issue is that to “treat others as you wish to be treated” has at its core a shaky presumption: that I wish to be treated in the same way as you wish to be treated.

How do you know how I wish to be treated? Are my values the same as yours? Are you not, in fact, assuming, and imposing your ideas upon me, if you treat me the way you wish to be treated?

I understand, at its core, the idea is that to deal with others with humanity, dignity and respect, but if you don’t know what dignity and respect are for me, aren’t you in danger of not actually following the ideal behind The Golden Rule?

And so, we need a revision.

We ought to treat others as they wish to be treated.

We need to understand what others consider to be dignity and respect, and show that to them.

We must treat others as they would wish to be treated, because to do so through our own lens is to not take into account what they consider to be respect, dignity and humanity, it would be our own view of it. Understanding someone else’s values is tough, but ultimately totally worthwhile.

So how do we understand someone else’s values?

The good news is, there’s a way. This is where we need CQ™: Cultural Intelligence.

CQ™ is the ability to relate and work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. Based on more than twenty years of research across over 100 countries, we know that there are four capabilities that need to be developed in order to relate and work effectively with people from different backgrounds.

Cultural Intelligence begins with CQ Drive—the curiosity and motivation needed to work well with others. Next is CQ Knowledge—understanding the kinds of differences that describe one group versus the next, without resorting to stereotyping specific cultures. Third is CQ Strategy—learning how to plan effectively in light of cultural differences. And finally, is CQ Action—being able to adapt behaviour when the situation requires it.[2]

The even better news is, CQ is measurable, with an assessment.

Incorporated into this is the concept of 10 Cultural Value preferences, which describe basic tendencies in the way that people prefer to work and live.

By understanding your own preferences in this area and comparing them with typical norms for other groups you will develop insights that can help you understand other people’s actions and improve your interpersonal effectiveness.[2]

The best news is, CQ is an improvable skill.

By taking these steps to understand yourself and then the preferences of others, and then using CQ as a framework of behaviour to act differently, and continually learn, you can treat others as they wish to be treated and truly fulfil the sentiment of The Golden Rule.

1.      Antony Flew, ed. (1979). “golden rule”. A Dictionary of Philosophy. London: Pan Books in association with The MacMillan Press. p. 134.

2.      Cultural Intelligence Center Culturalq.com

A Letter to Everyone I Know

I need your help. 

I was going to post this a while ago, but I was worried about reactions, so I didn’t. 

But now, people I know are hurting so badly, I must.

The last few years have caused me to examine myself, who I am and my place in the world. I consider myself a hard worker and a decent, reasonable person. I don’t intentionally hurt others and I am generally law abiding. When I behave against any of that, I try to look at myself and my actions and try to adjust. I am of reasonable intelligence and I am always studying to get more qualifications in order to prove what I have learned. 

However, my experiences and ambition have been marred by something, and every day I see life damaged by it.

Something ugly.

I wanted to understand that ugliness rather than just be angry and despondent about it, and so over the last couple of years or so, I have committed to reading a number of books, reports and accessing resources to see what is the background to it. 

What I found dismayed me even more. I came to realise my own complicity in it but also my powerlessness.

Two ideas have lodged with me: one, to paraphrase Dr Robin DiAngelo, if it had been only up to women to do so, they would have achieved the right to vote without the need for the suffragette movement; they needed men to make the change, and support it.

And another quote stuck out, so clearly, so brightly, that it is imprinted itself on me as an explanation for everything. 

“…if all you’ve known is privilege, then equality feels like oppression.” – Dr Adam Rutherford 

This, together with Rihanna accepting an award at the NAACP asking her friends, who are not people of colour, to “pull up”, because our struggle is yours too, has prompted this article.

The help I refer to, is I need to ask you to be anti-racist.

I am! I hear you cry.

I’m sure you are against racism as an idea, but can you see it for what it really is? Do you continually act against it?

Well, if you can answer yes to these four questions then, you are indeed, anti-racist. 

If not, I’d really like you to consider doing the work, so you can act in future. 

– Have you read Dr Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Reni Eddo Lodge, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race?

– Do you understand the role of whiteness (and, for those of us who are people of colour, being socialised as white) in maintaining racial oppression in today’s world?

– Do you engage in real conversations within trusted relationships about race with people of colour knowing they can cause you discomfort?

– Do/Can you call out systemic and institutional racism? Not just obvious overt examples?

Please be assured, I am not directing this post at any individual. I know I’ve hardly had any conversations about race, real ones, with anyone except my husband.

It’s really important to understand, it’s not just up to people of colour to educate you, you have to want to find the info and do it for yourself. 

So many of us are tired.

Racism is about impact, not intention; that’s why calling out the bias in systems is so important and the thought processes that get them there.

It means overturning the core of yourself and seeing what’s there and observing all systems, institutions, processes and people around you. 

The veil will be lifted, the scales will fall from your eyes, and then, only then, will we have a chance of beating this ugliness, called racism.

Understanding Cultural Values

BBC News story

There are two sides to this story…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-51295225

Denmark’s freedom of expression. China’s right to have their culture and flag respected.

Depending on your perspective, you may have a view which falls on one side or another. However, there is no ultimate right or wrong, they are just different perspectives.

The question is, do both sides understand why the other side feels the way it does about it? Have either side referenced the other’s right to react in the way they have, in making their point? Or has it become a matter of right and wrong?

If we are to live in a peaceful and collaborative, prosperous society, we must understand our own values, how they compare with other people’s and be willing to stretch to understand those other perspectives.

We don’t have to agree, we simply have to understand, and, then, if possible, try to find a collaborative solution. Or agree to disagree.

This requires CQ (TM): Cultural Intelligence.

The CQC, Cultural Intelligence Center, has done a great deal of academic research and determined there are 10 Cultural Values which are spectra upon which we all have a preference. Whether we are e.g. short-term or long termist, expressive or neutral, multi-taskers or focus-taskers.

The way we perceive freedom and respect differs across cultural norms, globally. Where we are in the world, our personal socialisation, education etc. determines how we would view the disagreement in this article.

How we would manage such a disagreement is down to our level of CQ.

Coming to an understanding of this kind needn’t bring a place into a state of anarchy where no one knows what’s right or wrong, or what our values are. We retain our core values and preferences, whilst gaining insight.

By truly being able to acknowledge someone else’s point of view we can enter the space for real consensus building, the secret to every successful relationship. Whether we’re a country, or an individual.

Compromise has become a dirty word, as if it’s come kind of concession or condescension. It’s a realistic approach to bring about a world where bridges are built, borders are removed and walls come tumbling down.

The question then remains – do they want to?

And that’s one of the core capabilities of CQ, wanting to. Having the motivation – CQ Drive – to push through the discomfort of facing difference, and coming out all the better for having and grown and learnt from it.

What should Denmark do? How should China respond?

The magazine needn’t do anything, but the politicians weighing in ought to acknowledge the slight. They can open up a conversation about satire and what is and isn’t acceptable in both cultures. And ultimately, I expect, agree to disagree. But with cordial recognition of the different perspectives.

No doubt the magazine would then post a satirical cartoon of the meetings, but at least then, those commenting would know how to handle it.

Inclusion vs Belonging

inclusion /ɪnˈkluːʒ(ə)n/

noun the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

belonging /bɪˈlɒŋɪŋ/

noun an affinity for a place or situation.

I wish to open the debate into the use of terms in our space regarding the replacement of Diversity and, specifically, Inclusion, for the term Belonging, in job titles, department names and thinking.

My concern about this, is the term Belonging is about how a person might feel, whereas Inclusion is about what people, structures and systems need to do. This is an important distinction.

The term Belonging, I argue, absolves people and organisations from taking responsibility for what needs to be done and places the onus on the individual regards to their interaction with where they work.

Some people are quite happy to go along to their workplace and be productive in a space where they feel included but they don’t feel the need to Belong at work. They may prefer to Belong at home with family, friends or even Belong in a solitary space. However, whatever their preference about Belonging, everyone should feel their values, difference and perspectives are respected in an Inclusive environment. A responsibility that lies with leadership.

As with all movements in Political Correctness, the move is normally around changing language in order to change our thought processes and subsequently modifying our behaviour. I worry that the phase to change the emphasis from Inclusion to Belonging is actually a subversive one, possibly unconsciously motivated, to undermine the work of D&I. As it’s not possible to call out something we might do unconsciously, I’m taking this opportunity to be the diverse voice and to call it out for what I believe it to be.

Whether D&I fatigue is setting in at your organisation or not, I would urge people not to be sucked into this change to using ‘Belonging’ instead of D&I, for the reasons I outlined.

I would suggest you shouldn’t look for a name change that will not only do very little but actually may detract from the core of the work we’re trying to achieve, instead, look at what might be causing fatigue and address that. D&I has enough trend-setting motivations inherent in the work itself, when done effectively, without the need for a rebrand.

Of course, as always, I advocate Cultural Intelligence, CQ (TM), as the academically proven way to move forward from awareness to successful tangible action with Inclusion. And if the people who wish to Belong can then feel that they do so, that’s great, equally, those who don’t want to, but are still valued, that’s the ideal outcome.

So, I say Inclusion, not Belonging, is the priority and that should remain the focus of job titles, department names and thinking.

As always, I invite your thoughts.

For more information on CQ (TM) check out my other blogs, my website unheardvoice.co.uk or culturalq.com

The “Problem” with Immigrants

Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking

This is my new favourite book: Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking. It highlights everything I have ever thought about Diversity and Inclusion and backs it up with empirical evidence.

It came to my attention after listening to this excellent programme: Start the Week on BBC Radio 4, Monday 7th October. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000935s

I recommend you get a copy of the book immediately and enjoy the insight and clarity Syed brings to the arena. It’s 11 hours well spent listening to as an audio book too.

As you will, no doubt, be aware, immigration has been the subject of some of the most vitriolic exchanges in the political narrative recently – across the world.

The problems that immigration causes. The issues immigration raises. The concerns immigration leaves.

As the child of immigrants who did nothing but contribute to the society in which we live, indeed my mum must have saved thousands of lives in her 41 years with the NHS, and my father was proactive in saving the diminishing trade of bespoke tailoring in the UK training and employing scores of people, and my being married to an immigrant, I know the above narrative to be a hurtful fallacy.

I wish to share the following extracts of Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas as they’re rooted in research and academia and put to bed some of the myths around immigration.

First of all, a definition from the book. The term ‘recombination’ refers to the smashing together of disparate ideas to give birth to innovation.

A study published in December 2017 revealed that 43 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded or co-founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants, rising to 57 percent in the top thirty-five companies. These companies produced $5.3 trillion in global revenue and employed 12.1 million workers worldwide in everything from tech to retail and finance to insurance. This is not an isolated finding. Immigrants make disproportionate contributions to technology, to patent production and to academic science. A 2016 paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives showed that US-based researchers had been awarded 65 percent of Nobel Prizes over the preceding few decades. Who were these innovators? More than half were born abroad.

[Immigrants] have experienced a different culture, a different way of doing things. When they see the business ideas in a new country, or a particular technology, they do not see something immutable. Irrevocable. Set in stone. They see something that could potentially be changed. Reformed. Amended, adapted, or subject to recombination. The very experience of seeing different place seems to offer psychological latitude to question conventions and assumptions. Let us call this the outsider mindset. Immigrants are not outsiders in the literal sense of physically standing outside a particular convention or paradigm. Rather, they are outsiders in the conceptual sense of being able to reframe the paradigm. To see it with fresh eye. This provides them with the latitude to come up with rebel ideas.

Immigrants have another advantage, too, inextricably linked with the notion of recombination. They have experience of two cultures so have greater scope to bring ideas together. They act as bridges, facilitators for ‘idea sex’. If the outsider perspective confers the ability to question the status quo, diversity of experience helps to provide the recombinant answers.

This is why the outsider mindset is set to become such a powerful asset. That is not to say that we don’t need insider expertise; quite the reverse. We need both conceptual depth and conceptual distance. We need to be insiders and outsiders, conceptual natives and recombinant immigrants. We need to be able to understand the status quo, but also to question it. We need to be strategically rebellious. To return to immigrants, there are doubtless additional reasons to explain their outsize contribution to innovation. The kinds of people who choose to migrate are likely to be comfortable with risk-taking. Given the barriers they often face, they are likely to develop resilience. But while these traits are important, they should not obscure the significance of being able to question the status quo and step beyond convention.

Those passages are taken from Chapter 4: Innovation, between pages 137- 143, and all claims are referenced in the book’s notes.

Immigrants are part of the solution, however, the impact of being a person of colour, and – likely – an immigrant or child of an immigrant, is that often, when we do point out issues with organisations and we try to work on them and push for accountability, the organisation turns on us and we then are termed the problem. This is the issue where diversity of thought – the rebel ideas – exists, but that is not, actually, welcomed.

Some organisations want to look diverse, but not take on the challenge and opportunity of doing so – so where does that leave immigrants?

Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion, or putting up and shutting up. And that’s the sadness of it.

More about Matthew Syed here: https://www.matthewsyed.co.uk/