How can we create a workplace where everyone feels included, valued, and empowered to be their authentic selves?
In this thought-provoking podcast episode, host Aoife O’Brien engages in an inspiring conversation with Donna O’Connor, an Event & Communications Specialist working to create transformative conversations for business leaders across workplace wellbeing, mental health, culture change and inclusive leadership. Together, they explore the crucial components of building a happier and more inclusive work environment by championing diversity and fostering meaningful connections. Donna shares valuable insights on driving positive change, breaking down barriers, and promoting equity at the workplace. They discuss the significance of understanding intentions and behaviours to bridge gaps in communication and create a culture of empathy. Delve into the world of inclusion and discover how innovative approaches can shape a work culture where each individual thrives, regardless of background or identity.
The main points throughout this podcast include:
– Emphasising the role of intention and behaviour in creating genuine connections among team members.
– Understanding the challenges faced in achieving equal and equitable opportunities for all employees.
– Rethinking traditional practices and design to eliminate exclusion and prioritise inclusion.
– The importance of diverse perspectives at leadership levels for inclusive decision-making.
– Promoting a work culture that celebrates the unique qualities of each individual and values their contributions.
“ Inclusion is hard. Inclusion involves hearing something you don’t really want to hear. And if it’s somebody’s lived experience that they would prefer, if you didn’t use that word, you can’t say, I’m sorry, you’re wrong about that. Excuse me. Actually sometimes having somebody point out something to you that you say, well, that’s not my intention, but that doesn’t actually cover the topic entirely.
Maybe you need to have a conversation and maybe you need to change your vocabulary, or maybe you just need to be a bit more aware. The assumption is this is easy, that it’s something lovely and it’s inclusive. We all want to do it so it’s going to be very straightforward. But actually areas of it are going to be challenging because there are things that you’re going to be asked to do or stop doing that you don’t see as being offensive.”
Episode 88 with Seònaid Ó Murchadha – https://happieratwork.ie/88-why-disability-inclusion-in-the-workplace-is-important-with-seonaid-o-murchadha/
Connect with Donna O’Connor:
Do you have any feedback or thoughts on this discussion? If so, please connect with Aoife via the links below and let her know. Aoife would love to hear from you!
Connect with Happier at Work host Aoife O’Brien:
Imposter Syndrome: https://www.impostersyndrome.ie/
Aoife O’Brien: Donna, you’re so welcome to the Happier Work Podcast. I’m delighted to have you as my guest today. We’ve been talking about this for a while, so finally, no, we have indeed. Closing day. Indeed. Yes. Um, do you want to give people a little bit of history, you know, who you are, your career journey to date, and then we’ll get started.
Aoife O’Brien: Perfect.
Donna O’Connor: Um, well, I should say my name is Donna. Um, I’m Donna O’Connor. Um, I think my quick synopsis is that I would describe myself as an event organizer, but that’s probably too short. Um, a description, I’m more of an event curator. Um, I believe I put HR and business leaders in the middle of really interesting conversations around topics such as workplace wellbeing, d n i, um, CSS or purpose, culture change management.
Aoife O’Brien: Brilliant. Love it.
Donna O’Connor: That probably, yeah. And I, I, I, I look after everything from picking the topics to finding the sponsors, to creating the event and getting the delegates. So that’s a bit of a long description. So I summarize it with event
Aoife O’Brien: organizer. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Doing absolutely everything in relation to that, basically.
Aoife O’Brien: See all of the above. Um, so I suppose the reason that I wanted to talk to you today is like this. Podcast is targeted at HR and business leaders, and I suppose from my perspective, you would really have your finger on the pulse of what people are talking about, what the hot topics are. So what are the kind of things that you’re seeing out there at the moment?
Aoife O’Brien: Like what are people talking about?
Donna O’Connor: Um, I think, I suppose first of all, HR has evolved so much in the last 10, 15 years. I mean, previously, you know, you talk to HR people and they were purely concentrating on, on sourcing talent and retaining talent, and now that role has become so much more complex, so it’s around culture.
Donna O’Connor: Around. Um, there’s a huge amount, um, coming in, in the, around the topics of diversity and inclusion and ensuring that there’s a really, a diverse talent pool, um, culture and maintaining the sense of culture in, in a very, very changing world of work. Now that we’ve moved to more of a hybrid model. So it’s the, the HR role really touches off so many topics now, and it’s moved so far beyond the, the sourcing and the management of talent to something that’s much more strategic.
Donna O’Connor: And I think HR people are really, Are really focused on making sure that their role is strategic and that they are bringing to board level the key topics that are really impacting, um, culture and employer, brand and general workplace wellbeing.
Aoife O’Brien: Brilliant. Love that. And I, I’ve seen that shift myself. Like again, you know, I have, I don’t have a HR background.
Aoife O’Brien: I come from a commercial background, so I suppose I’m bringing that lens is like, what are the important things to the business and therefore how do we get HR to have that voice at that leadership level, at that board level, but having the voice from a. From that commercial perspective as well. So what are the important things to the business?
Aoife O’Brien: Not just what are the important things to hr? How can you bring the two together? Is that a kind of a trend that you’re seeing that hr, you mentioned that they’re becoming more strategic. I.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, HR is really impacting the bottom line now. Mm-hmm. And, and, you know, culture and brand have become such a big part of the employee value proposition.
Donna O’Connor: So you cannot get the right people to join your organization and to stay in your organization if they’re understanding and later their experience of your, of your culture and employer brand is not positive. Um, You know, you will lose good people if their experience of working for you is not enriching.
Donna O’Connor: And we didn’t have, I mean, I’m, I was thinking recently, you know, I’m, I’m talking to my children about work. My, my children are kind of age 19 to 24. And I was thinking, God, you know, when did I start working that years ago? And I thought, no, no, it was 34 years ago. Um, and the, the workplace that, that, that I entered was.
Donna O’Connor: Unrecognizable to the workplace. Now, the expectation, um, of what you, of what you want from your employer and what, what the, the, the journey of employment should bring to you is, is transformed, um, and only in a positive way. But, um, you know, the expectation from employees as to what they’re going to get when they come and give their time and their talent to your organization is completely different.
Donna O’Connor: I definitely entered a workplace in 1989 where, where employment is very transactional. You gave your time and they gave you money, and if you wanted to have more impact, you probably gave more of your time. Um, you know, you never brought yourself to work, you never told them what else was happening in your life.
Donna O’Connor: Um, you know, the expectation now is that I should be able to, I should feel safe to bring my. Authentic full self to the workplace. Mm. And I should find that you, you know, develop me as a person, as well as, as an employee. And, you know, that that’s, that’s a huge pressure on, on the, on the employer, but it’s also, it’s also so valuable and rewarding if you get it right.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. ’cause, um, your experience, um, of, of working with your employee employees is going to be so much more positive.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I suppose if I can relate that to my own situation, I did leave two organizations where I just, I love how you described it as work should be an enriching experience.
Aoife O’Brien: It definitely was not an enriching experience for me, and I decided to leave, and I know there’s a lot of people who don’t do that, but there are still a lot of people who do, you know, if they don’t find value in the work that they’re doing, if they’re not being recognized or if it’s just not a good. Fit.
Aoife O’Brien: I love how you talk about this idea of culture and the values that we bring to the organization as well. So like, do you see that as becoming maybe something that is increasingly important for attracting the right talent and, and having that employer brand do the work for you? Essentially?
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, I mean, you know, I suppose the pressure is also that the employer, the experience, the employer brand has to feel authentic.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. It can’t just be, we put, we put things on our website about valuing X, Y, Z and you know, we have a positive culture and whatever, and then you go in and your experience of that is not the same. Um, I think sometimes, you know, as I say, I, I put people at the, at the heart of an interesting conversation.
Donna O’Connor: I think a lot of my events are things like round table dinner discussions or there awards where people share. Elements of their winning strategy when they win the award. So you’re, you’re constantly hearing stories. And I think for me, I’ve often heard stories from kind of particularly leaders who say they brought their personal experience to their employer in some capacity and their employer made a change in terms of how they, how they delivered something as a result of that.
Donna O’Connor: And, and so in that instance, that person feels seen. They feel that their experience is valued. You know, that’s, that’s. That’s seen culture at work. You know what I mean? And I think, I think it’s something like that that people are hoping for. Yeah. So, you know, I, I know I was talking to, to one leader one time, and she had had two very premature babies.
Donna O’Connor: And previously maternity leave was essentially started when you had the child, when you went, you went on maternity leave, the expectation was you had the child within two or three weeks and then, you know, you, you used up your maternity leave with obviously at home with that child. Her experience was that her children were born very premature, so a lot of her maternity leave was consumed with her babies being in hospital.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. Um, so she, she became part of a lobby group to change government policy around, around maternity leave and, and, and, and when it was recognized as a officially starting. Mm-hmm. And, and she brought that to her employer as well, and they changed their implementation of the company policy on maternity leave.
Donna O’Connor: Um, I’m sorry, probably. Better referred to now as parental leave, but they, they, they changed their policy around when that leave was offic officially started. Mm-hmm. So that if, for example, you had a child, a young baby, um, premature in hospital, you weren’t consuming that leave on hospital visits. Yeah. So, you know, that’s bringing your experience to your employer and being heard.
Donna O’Connor: Um, you know, I have. Talked to, um, leader, one leader in particular who had a very difficult journey to fertility and she shared with her employer about her, her failed attempts at fertility with I V F, and, and they changed their offering in terms of their supports again, around leave to include people who were going through the I V F process.
Donna O’Connor: Mm-hmm. Do you know what I mean? So that’s bringing your story to the workplace and saying, this is my life outside of work. Yeah. You know, and that’s, that’s that, that’s, that’s culture in action. Yeah. You know, when, when, when you hear somebody, I had, um, a HR dinner recently and we were talking about, um, the new, the new build, the um, the.
Donna O’Connor: Forgotten the name, but now it’ll come back to me in a second. The, the, the, the bill that allows for employers to give, um, discretionary leave for victims of domestic abuse. Okay. The workplace balance of miscellaneous bill. And, um, so this, the, somebody was sharing their story and they said, you know, they, they encourage their team to share life stories, um, at different times, kind of sort of employee engagement exercises.
Donna O’Connor: So they had one person who sort of turned was, and, and the, the, the woman in question. Um, was from the traveler community. So they believed that the story she would share would be about her life as, as a, as a woman from, from the traveler tradition. And instead of that, she talked about her experience as a victim of domestic abuse and her, her experience as an employee who was experiencing domestic abuse at home and how she felt she, she couldn’t talk about it, you know, due to personal feelings of shame and, you know, and isolation.
Donna O’Connor: And they, I mean, they had, they have an open themselves to, to, you know, Bringing that, bringing that discretionary leave to employees if they were experiencing domestic abuse. But that sharing of that story brought that conversation forward for them and they thought, actually, now we can think of a person for whom we benefit from this.
Donna O’Connor: You know, as I say, I add to the workplace in 1989, we would never have shared those stories. You know what I mean? We would not, it would never have felt. Safe to share that story, you would’ve always felt that that was a limiting decision to share what was going on in your personal life to that extent.
Donna O’Connor: And I think that’s where the workplace and the role of HR has changed so dramatically that we are now encouraging people that by no means, you know, is any workplace perfect. It’s all a work in progress. But the fact that this is the hope that people would bring these kind of stories to the workplace and that you will, you’ll change policies to, um, To, you know, enrich the experience of these people in the workplace is, is really encouraging.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah, I mean there’s, so, there’s so much to kind of say on that. It’s the use of stories in that employer brand and that’s kind of more from the internal perspective and using people as role models. And I love how you described it as now we have a person in mind when we’re thinking about that policy.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. Or we’re thinking about implementing. It’s a human, it’s not just a. Statistic. It’s not just, uh, you know, it’s not just something that’s kind of detached from us and oh, maybe it’s a policy that will be used by someone and you, you, but you don’t have anyone in mind in particular. Um, so I absolutely love that.
Aoife O’Brien: And, and how the role of HR has changed and how. You know, using those stories at work does bring the culture alive essentially. Now there’s a, there’s a few things I’d love to drill in a little bit further. Like, do you, do you see anything at the moment, and I have a couple of ideas in mind and I just, I’d love to get your perspective as well, but do you see anything where it’s still not really safe to talk about these things?
Aoife O’Brien: So you mentioned when you entered the workforce, you wouldn’t talk about things like domestic violence and the impact that that’s had. Are there any of those topics or, or is there anything that we can learn maybe from encouraging employees to open up about those things?
Donna O’Connor: I don’t think there’s a no-go area anymore.
Donna O’Connor: I think people are open to all conversations. Can every requirement be matched? Not. Do you know what I mean? Um, you know, and I know sometimes things like, you know, that whole or the, the work life balances and miscellaneous, some HR leaders are, are concerned about that, about what pressure it puts that puts on them, um, in terms of, of giving unplanned leave.
Donna O’Connor: You know what I mean? Yeah. And how far the role of HR should step into to engaging people in terms of their personal life and, and, and when can you, when can the demands of the business. You know, I suppose supersede the demands of, of, of, of, of what’s happening, um, in somebody’s life. But I think that, I suppose the lesson is people have been taking this leave all along.
Donna O’Connor: They’ve just been calling it different things. Yeah. Now we’re maybe free to go into the employer share what’s going on in the background. And ask for the support we need. When people were unable to come to work because of things that were going on in their personal life, they still took that leave. Mm.
Donna O’Connor: They just perhaps weren’t honest about why they needed it. Yeah. Um, and as I say, you know, it’s a work in progress for many people. I don’t think there’s anything that’s a no-go area. I love to see the facts that people are talking about menopause leave and, and, and menopause support. Very encouraging, um, not just because I’m of a certain age, but it’s, it’s, you know, it is unimaginable that people could go in and share something personal like that.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. I think that, um, I saw recently that Vodafone have introduced, um, carers leave and, and I think that’s so important because I think that, and particularly for maintaining great women in the workforce, so often women move from minding their children. Um, a short window of freedom and then they move into minding their parents.
Donna O’Connor: You know what I mean? And, and I think if anything, covid probably also, um, you know, a lot of, uh, you know, Elderly parents having to, having to cocoon sadly, you know, loss of life actually, you know, created an awareness of, of our responsibility to support the older generation and, and, and brought those conversations into the workplace.
Donna O’Connor: And I think that prior to this, people didn’t really get a huge amount of support if they were, if they were having to, to, to support a parent. And sometimes it’s, it’s, it’s easier to say, I have, I have a child that needs to go to the doctor, or I have a special day, see my child. ’cause people, people think of children as being special.
Donna O’Connor: You know what I mean? Mm-hmm. It’s something we should nurture and it can be, it can be quite isolating. I think. It perhaps, you know what’s, what’s, what’s, what’s consuming your spare time is bringing a beloved aging parent to doctor appointments. Yeah. But it’s no less important. So it’s great to see those things coming onto the agenda.
Donna O’Connor: Mm-hmm. I don’t think there’s a no go area. I think there’s, I think there’s a challenge perhaps around things like disability inclusion mm-hmm. To, um, to really meet the requirement, um, of, of, uh, of what people need in order for an organization to be truly inclusive. Yeah. Um, I personally, I think in terms of d and i, I feel that disability inclusion is probably the next great journey.
Donna O’Connor: We’ll see HR go on.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah, and I had shown at KU on, uh, probably about 18 months ago or so, and she was talking about disability inclusion and mentioned it as kind of the poor cousin in DE and I. It’s not something that people necessarily talk about. People don’t, they kind of shy away from it. They don’t really know what to say.
Aoife O’Brien: So if anyone hasn’t listened to that episode, definitely
Donna O’Connor: go and check that. Yeah, I listened to it myself. It was great because I, I. Year actually myself anyway. And she’s such an impressive and lovely individual. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Um, and I have, I have a good friend, um, Sasha Dacker, who has, who speaks on disability, and Sasha, um, um, has hemiplegia.
Donna O’Connor: So she, she’s paralyzed on one side and a stellar career, both before and after, um, was ultimately a medical accident. So, you know, and I think she has, you know, and Shona does the same. They, they, they highlight, you know, the great. Fantastic individuals that could be part of your, um, you know, workforce with, with, with, with minor accommodations in some cases.
Donna O’Connor: Exactly. Yeah. But I think, yeah, I think sometimes employers have been slightly nervous of that. Um, you know, they’ve, they’ve certainly embraced it maybe in terms of neurodiversity. Mm. Um, so, you know, and with a s d or an A D H D diagnosis is, is. Much more likely to have employment now with, with, with the necessary supports.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. Um, you know, physical disability is, is, you know, they’re, they’re accommodations for employees, you know, who are blind or deaf is, is a challenge. I’m saying that. I had the great pleasure last year and I’m doing it again this year, organizing the first National Diversity and Inclusion Awards. Um, I worked with the Honor Center for Diversity last year and I’m, I’m working with ‘EM again this year on it.
Donna O’Connor: And, um, they look at excellence in diversity and inclusion across areas such as race and ethnicity, um, disability, gender, L G B T Q I, you know, um, and they’ve added social inclusion this year. And, you know, diversity leaders and. One of the, one of the most exciting categories I found last year was the area of disability inclusion.
Donna O’Connor: And we were, we were hearing stories from organizations that had brought in sign language classes because they had two deaf employees and they, they, you know, for every Friday, for three months, they gave employees the option of doing a three hour, um, sign language class, and they brought them to certification level.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. And this is the public sector body. They did that purely with, purely with the intention of making the workplace a more enriching place for the two employees they had who were deaf. It was a fantastic story. Yeah. And um, we, we, we heard from, actually the winner in the category was, was Mr. Price branded Bargains and their retail.
Donna O’Connor: And they’ve 60, um, 60 outlets, I think around Ireland. And they have 64 disabled employees across 60 outlets. Wow. And you know, they talked about things like, You know, how you remove the barriers to those people applying for jobs? Yeah. So they, you know, particularly with people with, as say an autism diagnosis, you know, they, in one instance, they allowed somebody to make an application via a poem, you know, so they were, they were removing the, the, the traditional barriers.
Donna O’Connor: So, I, I, I, For people to be truly inclusive with it. Um, but I think, and I think it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s definitely the next, the next area that HR is looking for. Mm. Um, to have true diversity in the town pool and to make sure that your organization is tapping into, you know, the best possible pool of people.
Donna O’Connor: Um, one has to work harder at the Yeah. But I think, but I.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. And it goes back to what you mentioned earlier about that talent pool and really focusing on that. It’s not just kind of a numbers game anymore, it’s about getting the right people in. Having that correct employer branding, making sure that the employer brand lives up to what, what your expectations are as an outsider.
Aoife O’Brien: ’cause I know that’s certainly happened to me and I’ve heard lots of other stories where. The website says one thing or you know, during the interview process you’re promised one thing and then you enter the organization. And it’s a completely different story, um, all too often. But, uh, coming back to this idea of A D H D and a s d, I’m seeing certainly a lot more talk about that and, you know, following a couple of people on social media and seeing their perspectives of, this is the strength that I can bring as someone who has a D H D.
Aoife O’Brien: So I might get distracted at times, but then I’ll go into hyper focus mode. And I can see the connections between certain things that other people maybe don’t see the connections necessarily. So it’s thinking about all of these different strengths that people bring, whether it’s neurodiversity or whether it’s other types of, uh, disabilities as well.
Aoife O’Brien: Um, I’d love to kind of touch on, on this area of, um, culture kind of coming back to culture and how to foster that great culture.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, and I think, you know, I think a length of it is probably, you know, an element of leadership development as well, because we have, you know, leaders that are now required to do so much more than they were ever required in their roles before.
Donna O’Connor: Um, and so an element of. Mentorship or coaching and, and investment in that from an organizational perspective is definitely, is definitely necessary. I think where you see organizations doing it successfully, it’s leadership led, but then your leaders themselves need to be. Open to the change. And you know, we all have, I mean, even before I started working on the Now Diversity and Inclusion Awards, they asked me to do sort of unconscious bias training just to, because we all do have a level of unconscious bias.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, yeah. You know, and I found it really interesting to kind of explore what my assumptions are. And, and I, I, you know, I think that, I think we could all benefit from it. You know what I mean? Yeah, yeah. And also, I suppose is, is you know, that safety, we talk about safety and being safe to bring your authentic self to work.
Donna O’Connor: And I think there’s also, you know, there’s, I think with the rise of social media and that there’s a lack of nuance now. So people are afraid to ask questions where their question will show either, either a lack of understanding or a lack of empathy. Um, And, and I’m sure that, you know, it does happen at leadership level as well.
Donna O’Connor: So you, you close down because, you know, you, this is, this is not an area I’m an expert in. I don’t know if I’m going to be comfortable with that. So I, I dunno if I’m going to, you know, address this properly. So, you know, it’s, it’s, there’s a lot of pressure on leaders to be all things to all people and to have that as a say.
Donna O’Connor: You know, compassion and empathy and understanding of such a broad range of topics. And I think, I think that, you know, coaching and development is, is, is really needed. Yeah. At all levels.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. You’re so right. Um, sorry, I’m just making a note there of what you’ve just said. Uh, really interesting, like there is this pressure now, like the role of leader has changed.
Aoife O’Brien: So previously it would be manager and it was very much managing the work and not necessarily the person, although probably still having to deal with whatever personal issues people have going on as well. Um, but this idea of leadership development and having mentorship and coaching, I suppose, excuse me.
Aoife O’Brien: It provides the opportunity for, um, it provides the opportunity for HR to kind of provide that guidance and that structure that people can use. So the understanding is that, that the, the leaders or the managers carry out the work, but they have the support there in the form of training or development areas or resources that they can use to deal with their team, because you can’t be expected to know how to handle every single situation.
Aoife O’Brien: Um, I wanted to touch on this, uh, unconscious bias training as well. I took a test for, you know, testing my unconscious bias, and I was particularly interested in gender, being a woman and wanting to, to kind of help support women in the workplace. In particular, I. And I found that I was biased against women.
Aoife O’Brien: And I think that’s fairly typical. I think that’s typical because the society that we live in, that we tend to be, you know, everything that we’ve grown up with. Everything that we’ve learned. And I read, I can’t remember exactly where the stat comes from, but I did read something recently that said nine out of 10 women are biased against other women.
Aoife O’Brien: Um, I know, I
Donna O’Connor: think I read that recently. It was on, it was on LinkedIn or something. Yeah, yeah,
Aoife O’Brien: yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, but I love this idea then of, you know, creating a. Psychologically safe environment so people are free to speak up and that it’s okay to ask questions even if you’re afraid of coming across as not being empathetic or afraid of coming across as not having the answer.
Aoife O’Brien: Because maybe the expectation is that we don’t have all the answers, but we can seek out the answers because we know where to find them and there are resources available to be able to get them. And if HR don’t have those answers again, they can, you know, tap into their pool of, of external resources and try and.
Aoife O’Brien: Find the answers or try and find the appropriate guidelines or or guidance
Donna O’Connor: around that. Yeah, and I think, I think you’re seeing a rise as well in the importance of strong employee resource groups. You know, so that whole E or G culture. Yeah. Um, so that organized because sometimes, you know, you have to have lived and experience before you can really appreciate, um, what’s needed.
Donna O’Connor: And not everybody can have lived every. So, you know, if you have ERGs within an organization that concentrate on things like disability, but concentrate on things like L G B T Q I, you know, and can maybe, and you have leaders who are saying, well, you know, they, they will openly, um, you know, share that they’re part of the L G B T community themselves.
Donna O’Connor: That kind of empowers other people to say similarly. But you know, you also, you still find that organizations are a little bit nervous around topics like transgender expression in ca, or sorry, in terms of gender expression in case they get it wrong. Do you know what I mean? Use of pronouns. So you know, you have to, you have to maybe invite somebody in who’s lived experience this is for them to share.
Donna O’Connor: What they would find to be a support. You know what I mean? And then you need people to be able to say, I understand this, but I don’t understand that. Can you explain your experience of that so that I can better understand that? And you know, and then once it’s demystified, I think a lot of people are very naturally inclusive and compassionate, but we shut down when we don’t understand things.
Donna O’Connor: Mm-hmm. And, and, and we don’t. Topics that make us feel uncomfortable. And, you know, leaders are, To, to be definite and direct and you know, so, so if I’m not comfortable with a topic, I may avoid it in order to not appear weaker than other people on it. Um, and that’s not, that is not the way to drive change.
Donna O’Connor: So it’s, it’s, but I, I, we are seeing. The rise of, of, of importance within organizations, um, of ERGs and that more leaders themselves are participating in them and that they’re giving them budget to run either events or culture type events to create a greater understanding in the organization of the different areas.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I, I’ve seen that even, you know, when I was, um, still working in corporate, I. Set up the Ireland branch of the global ERGs that we had in the company I worked in. Um, but it’s really great to see those being rolled out a lot more. And I love that you said budget as well, because oftentimes when I am dealing with ERGs who kind of approach me to, to come in and speak to their teams, they don’t necessarily have the budget to be able to get an external speaker in.
Aoife O’Brien: Or there may be a bit clueless about how much it’s. It’s actually gonna cost. So having budget and having that, that kind of leadership support behind that, I think is, is really, really important as well. Um, I love what you said as well about avoiding topics. When we’re uncomfortable, we’re unsure about things, um, we just avoid the topics rather than actually being open about it.
Aoife O’Brien: And again, I think it comes. Back to creating this psychologically safe environment where we can show up as ourselves and we’re not necessarily expected to have all the answers. Um, there was one thing actually. Uh, I attended a, a meeting. Um, the other week and they were using some jargon and I didn’t really understand what they were talking about.
Aoife O’Brien: And I said it to the person beside me, I said, you know, what does this thing mean that they’re saying, you know, am I the only person who doesn’t know what that means? ’cause they’re just using it as if everyone might understand. And she was like, oh, I don’t know. So I was like, okay, I’m gonna stick up my hand because there’s at least one other person that doesn’t know, and maybe the whole room doesn’t know because it’s, it’s quite nuanced jargon that they’re using.
Aoife O’Brien: Maybe it’s specific to their organization. So, um, yeah, stuck the, stuck the old hand up and asked the question in anyway about that. And I think it’s really important to create that space that it is. Okay. So there’s not people walking outta the room thinking, oh my God, I wish I had asked that question. Or, you know, what does that actually mean?
Aoife O’Brien: I’m not really clear on what the next steps are or what the, the application of this is. Or, you know, what, what does this mean for me?
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s, as you say, it’s your authentic self. Sometimes your authentic self is just a bit clueless on something and you need to be able to, to, to, to, to, to say that.
Donna O’Connor: I think it’s that, you know, feigning understanding and as I say, you know, openness on every topic is in itself misleading. And a lot of it comes from, I think with social media, you have to be very, For everything or very against something. Do you know what I mean? Mm. And there’s no, there’s no gray area.
Donna O’Connor: And I think the majority of us on, on most topics have an element of, of gray lack of understanding, curiosity about different options, personal reservations about some of it. And, and there isn’t really necessarily a forum to share that. Yeah. Um, you know, language has become quite extreme. Um, You know, so we’re, you know, we have zero tolerance for we’re, you know, we’re a hundred percent inclusive in, you know what I mean?
Donna O’Connor: And it’s, it doesn’t really necessarily allow for people whose, whose management style is perhaps evolving because they’re, you know, they’re at this a while, or they’ve come from very one very definite perspective on things. And they’re, you know, they’re, and they have one very definite skill set and they’re, you know, evolving as a leader.
Donna O’Connor: But they, they, they’re not quite at the, where they would align with perhaps all the language that that’s, that’s, that’s now being used within the workplace. I mean, it has it, you know, it’s changed immeasurably. Yeah. As I say from, from, from, from when I started, but only to the positive. But I think that we have tolerant of those that are on a journey to get there and not put them off, but yeah.
Donna O’Connor: And I do think, I think inclusion is difficult. Yeah. Uh, you know, I think that it’s funny. Something came up there recently. It was on, on social media. Um, so one of the singers used in an interview used a term just by being extremely tired and a member of the traveler community, um, actually central whom I’ve worked with on topics, raise the fact that this is.
Donna O’Connor: You know, a, a negative and offensive term to the traveler community. And so many people came back and they were like, oh, for God’s sake. You know what I mean? Like, are you going take offense at everything? Huh? This is in normal, this is our regular, you know, vocabulary and lexicons in the uk, blah, blah. And you know, they think, do you know inclusion is hard?
Donna O’Connor: Inclusion hearing something you don’t really want to hear? And if it’s somebody’s lived experience that they would prefer, if you didn’t use that word, you can’t say. I’m sorry you’re wrong about that. Exactly. Me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s actually sometimes having somebody point out something to you that you say, well, that’s not my intention, but that doesn’t actually cover the topic entirely.
Donna O’Connor: Do you know what I mean? Yeah. And, and, and maybe you need to have a conversation and maybe you need to change your vocabulary or maybe just need to be a bit more aware, you know, the. Assumption is this is easy, that it’s, it’s something lovely and it’s inclusive. We all want to do it. So it’s going to be very straightforward, but actually areas of it are going to be challenging.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, because there are things that you’re going to be asked to do or stop doing that you don’t see. As being offensive. Yeah. Do you know what I mean?
Aoife O’Brien: That you don’t see that there’s a problem there? And then, you know, that kind of brings us back to this gray area. Yeah. There are a lot of gray areas where maybe we don’t have that full understanding.
Aoife O’Brien: Um, this idea that you said about zero tolerance for, and the little note that I made was that makes things. Exclusive. So you’re either one thing or the other, and it’s not inclusive to everyone, then it’s that, you know, what about the people in the, in the gray who don’t fully understand they’re kind of being excluded because of that extreme language?
Aoife O’Brien: Um, and this just the general idea, I suppose, that inclusion, it’s difficult and it’s about education and it’s about having these conversations, I suppose.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, I think, I think, I think we love the idea of it for all the right reasons. Yeah. But I think that, You know, we roll our eyes at some of the stuff that we think is, you know, difficult for us to do, or unnecessary, or it’s gone to the other extreme, or everybody takes offense now, you know?
Donna O’Connor: And. And, and it, that, that’s just avoiding hearing other people’s lived experience. Yeah. Where they say, this is why I have an issue with that. Let’s have a conversation about it. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. It’s very, it’s very interesting. My sister, um, who’s done leadership coaching quote, said something to me one time.
Donna O’Connor: She’s that, um, you know, we judge other people by their behavior, but we judge ourselves by our intention. Exactly.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Donna O’Connor: And it resonates so much. Mm-hmm. You know, when you, sometimes when you find offense because of somebody’s behavior, you don’t ask yourself what their intention is. Yeah. Yeah. And similarly, when you justify your own intent, you don’t think about how other people have experienced your behavior.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah. Yeah. This is absolutely it. And I’ve heard that myself before and I love it because we do, we jump to judge mode and think, I would never do something like that. But actually we think about what our intention is and we don’t think. As much about how our behavior comes across. And equally, we’re looking at how peop, how other people’s behavior comes across.
Aoife O’Brien: But we’re not thinking about, well, what did they, what did they, why did they do that? Or what was the intention behind that? And I know I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of some of that. I’ve been a little bit misunderstood about what my intention was for doing certain things and you know, been called out on it.
Aoife O’Brien: But when you get that chance to explain, I think it makes, it definitely makes a huge difference. Um, And the, well, the other thing I was gonna say, inclusion, we could probably have a whole other podcast episode about that. Like, it’s, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a nuanced topic and trying to make sure that everyone feels included is hard, especially in this day.
Aoife O’Brien: If you just think of, um, even just random things like having WhatsApp groups at work and who’s in the WhatsApp group and who’s not in the WhatsApp group and what’s being said in the WhatsApp group. So little things like that that didn’t really exist even when I was in corporate, uh, you know, five years ago.
Aoife O’Brien: Um, so just, you know, it’s, it, it can become quite a, you know, quite a bit of a nightmare trying to make sure that everyone feels included all at the same time. I think and,
Donna O’Connor: and, and, and I suppose the use as well, that whole term equity, you know what I mean? Mm-hmm. And, and, and, and making sure that you are giving people.
Donna O’Connor: And equitable opportunity to be included. You know what I mean? Yeah. There’s one thing about saying we’re open to all, but if, if, if, if the roots you require people to go in order to avail of that inclusion are not equal, then you’re not really open
Aoife O’Brien: to all. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I suppose again, it’s, it ties in with this idea of the mismatch between what you’re saying and what you’re putting out there saying we’re, you know, we’re a fair employer.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah, we’re equal opportunities. And then what actually happens on the ground? And it’s not really that way at all. It’s a bit more political and it’s it, you know, rather than creating a meritocracy where people are recognized for the work that they do, even if they’re quieter, even if they’re.
Aoife O’Brien: Underrepresented, even if people don’t necessarily know who they are. So, um, yeah, I think it’s really, really important to, to get that balance right as well.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, and I think it’s, I’d say people’s experience of an organization, particularly from, from the outset. It’s funny, I have, I have, um, experienced, they have a, a son going to do, um, a, a placement and I was talking to other moms about kind of placements, grad, graduate placements, um, in, in sort of the very corporate, um, scenario.
Donna O’Connor: And, you know, they were great. They were great placements and they were open to, you know, kids coming from all types of colleges and whatever. But when you went on the placement, um, you know, they were required in those cases to socialize in the evening with, with, with partners or, or, or senior members. In order to get to know them better, they, there was a certain, there was a dress code.
Donna O’Connor: Um, so, and, and then the dress code kind of changed. So they had said to me kind of, they’d all gone in sort of, Quite suited and booted. And then they said, no, you can kind of, you can just wear chee shirts, which obviously also then required going out and buying a new set of whatever, because usually that age bracket dress and t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms and, you know, they were, they were paid after the four weeks or whatever, but they.
Donna O’Connor: Quite a lot spent in the first four weeks and, you know, just in terms of going for lunches and going out in the evenings and that. Mm-hmm. And obviously then they also had to give up their part-time jobs to do it for the four weeks because they were, they were fairly full-time. And based on that, placements were offered, um, for after graduation.
Donna O’Connor: And I thought, gosh, and I was speaking to my own son who didn’t see it this way at all, and I said, you know this, that really, that’s not that inclusive, really. You know what I mean? I mean, if you had. A young single mother, for example, or a young single parent or anybody with caring responsibilities, they would not have been able to do as many of those evenings.
Donna O’Connor: Do you know what I mean? Yeah. That, that, that, that you did. Um, if you had somebody who lived outside of Dublin, they may not have been able to source accommodation for themselves for the four weeks. You know what I mean? Yeah. And so there were various things that meant that only a certain type of individual.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. Will be successful. Yeah. At those internships. Mm-hmm. Even though they’re very inclusive, and this is, I mean, this is right across the board. This is not one organization or another. So many organizations, you know, have have s in third year and fourth year in that, and. That really favor a certain background.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. Um, no matter how occlusive they are in terms of what they set out to do. Yeah. You would need, you could change it, you know, so that even you gave all interns, you know, four or five great t-shirts that they were to wear, um, just with their choice of jeans or whatever. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. For the duration.
Donna O’Connor: And that would take the wardrobe expense out. Yeah. Or you could pay 50% of what you’re going to pay them for the time upfront. So the people who have upfront expenses mm-hmm. Don’t need to go into this with budget. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. And so you, you, you could make some of the evening stuff virtual so that if I have to go home because I’m helping support a mom with MS or something, or I have a child or whatever, then I can still engage, but just from home.
Donna O’Connor: Do you know what I mean? Mm-hmm. So, you know, if, if that’s, if your experience at. Introduction or the onboarding favors a certain profile, then when you become a leader, you’re going to repeat that. Do you know what I mean? So it’s, it’s, the challenge is to rethink how we do lots of things.
Aoife O’Brien: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Aoife O’Brien: Well, it, I mean, to me it ties in with what you were saying earlier in terms of the recruitment in the first place and having that wider talent pool. So where is it that you’re getting it from? And again, it’s a learning. Experience and it’s, it’s about calling people out and sharing your perspectives about these things and why maybe it’s not as inclusive as it could be, and some suggestions, practical suggestions, which you’ve just shared as to how it can be improved.
Aoife O’Brien: Because I think if you don’t have, again, this, the whole topic of diversity and inclusion, if you don’t have that diverse level of where decisions are being made, then people aren’t thinking about these things or they haven’t, yeah. Experience that firsthand, and they’re not necessarily thinking about it.
Aoife O’Brien: So it’s really important, I think, to have that at those senior levels or at the levels that decisions are being made so that those perspectives can be shared and so people can understand, uh, maybe a bit more about the challenges that certain people would have when it comes to that, or if you don’t have those people just.
Aoife O’Brien: Devil’s advocate, who might we be excluding by providing this type of service or, or by sharing this type of job at like, what is this language telling us? Um, you know, and, and who are we excluding because of this?
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. And I was, I was at a very interesting event, um, last year, youth leadership program organized through common purpose called Legacy and, um, Uh, Jessica Magic Doley, who is with Accenture, was one of the, the first speakers, and she was incredible, but she talked about all design favors somebody, do you know what I mean?
Donna O’Connor: Mm-hmm. So when we, when we design any process or any, anything, there’s always somebody in mind Yeah. Who’s gonna benefit from this, and therefore there’s somebody that’s going to be excluded. Mm-hmm. So she shared this very interesting example of, um, she, she, because she was talking to a young group, so she said, anybody, anybody here?
Donna O’Connor: And used a pedestrian traffic lights recently. And of course everybody put up their hand ’cause they’d all walked. We were an i d A and they’d all walked there and she said, okay, in the uk. So she’s a traffic lights, favor drivers. Do you know what I mean? So you walk up to a traffic light, you press the lights.
Donna O’Connor: And it, it, it chooses when to, to slow down to allow you, you know, to stop the traffic for Huge cross. Yeah. And in the UK across 15 sets of traffic lights. So it wasn’t a very big sample group. They changed it so that the, um, the traffic lights favored the pedestrian so that when the pedestrian went to the lights, that pretty much stopped them immediately to allow the pedestrian cross.
Donna O’Connor: So it wasn’t favoring. The, it wasn’t favoring making the pedestrian wait in preference to the car. So anyway, they did this for a period of time and they discovered that it saved pedestrians on their average commute to and from work an hour a day by favoring the pedestrian at the traffic lights right, and it did not impact the drivers at all.
Donna O’Connor: It still took us long to drive to work. It would’ve took the pedestrian an hour, an average of an hour, a day less to commute by just making that design change by thinking, who does this design favor? And therefore who does it exclude and flipping it so that it favored a different, a different demographic.
Donna O’Connor: And what does that do? Yeah. And we can apply that to so
Aoife O’Brien: much, but it’s a, yeah, and it’s, but it’s a really solid example and one that I think a lot of people can relate to because, you know, who hasn’t ever used that and. You know, one thing that I heard before is that those, the button makes you feel like you’re taking action and that you’re in control of when the light is gonna change, but it’s actually just a placebo.
Aoife O’Brien: It’s just there to make you think like you have more control than you actually do. And the lights
Donna O’Connor: are gonna change. Favors the flow of the traffic.
Aoife O’Brien: Exactly.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, exactly. It favors the flow of the
Aoife O’Brien: traffic. That’s it. Uh, Donna, we’ve covered so many topics today. I absolutely love this conversation. The question I ask everyone who comes on the podcast, what does being happier at work mean to you?
Donna O’Connor: I. Well, I, I’ve had to think about this before I started my, my career. As I say, in 1989, I set up my first small enterprise recruiting Irish graduates back from overseas. I had graduated with a degree in English and French from U C D, and after three weeks of looking for a job, I decided I might be as well to create something for perfect.
Donna O’Connor: Then I got a huge amount of patients, so I. I didn’t have the language at the time. People didn’t talk about Happier at Work. But I think what I was looking for at that time was a level of, um, connection, um, a level of making an impact and um, an opportunity to innovate. And I think I’ve carried that through with me.
Donna O’Connor: So I think for me, that’s what, that’s what Happiness at Work always has it and has, has elements of connection. Um, impact and, and a potential to innovate, I think within broader, where people are within employment and larger organizations and those that, that I interact with. I think, I think happiness at Work is being able to show up as your whole flawed, um, complex self.
Donna O’Connor: Yeah. Um, and, and, and feeling, and feeling seen and heard and, you know, impact and connection as well continues for, for, for, for, for.
Aoife O’Brien: Brilliant. Love it. And you mentioned earlier that you have an event coming up later in the year, and is there anything else that you’d like to share around how people can connect with you or find out more about the events that you have coming up?
Donna O’Connor: Yeah, I’m on LinkedIn, uh, Donna O’Connor. I’m the, uh, my email address is Donna at Black Square, ie. So, um, I do a lot of stuff in the, the HR and awards. My very next one is the Early Career Awards. So if people want to, um, recognize the fantastic younger employee in their organization, um, that, that there, there’s an outlet for them there.
Donna O’Connor: But as I say, always. Talk to people who have, who have, who have an interest in improving the workplace and want to be part of a great
Aoife O’Brien: conversation around it. Brilliant. Love it. Thank you so much for your time today, Donna. I really, really Donna O’Connor: enjoyed that conversation and thank.