What unconscious racial bias in the workplace looks like in 2021 and what we can do about it

Listen up. If you’re a decent-sized organisation that prides itself on building a diverse and inclusive culture, and interacts with a similarly diverse contractor pool, you may need to reflect on not only your internal interactions but your external ones as well. Being an organisation that people take pleasure in doing business with is something to aspire to because this reputation helps you build a robust, mutually beneficial, and reliable supply chain. So let’s begin…

If you’ve ever spent any time as part of a minority group in any society, chances are you’ll already know what unconscious bias is, and likely even experienced it yourself. I’m applying an Asian-Australian lens to this article to reflect my own cultural background.

The concept of unconscious bias, or implicit bias in the workplace is not new. SBS wrote a fantastic piece back in 2017 on reducing unconscious bias, noting that the brain’s amygdala is the main controller of our sub-conscious actions and that we tend to feel less empathy for those who are different to ourselves.

I first encountered unconscious bias training in the workplace in 2015 and it made me stop and think – was it possible that people I encountered in my professional life had a subconscious tendency to prefer working with those who they felt were most like themselves? What unconscious biases did I have?

What is the Bamboo ceiling

An article by the ABC that interviewed several Asian Australians identifies cultural biases, stereotypes, and systemic barriers as factors preventing many of them from leveling-up in their professional fields. Understanding workplace behaviors and viewing cultural differences as an asset is therefore crucial in order to break the bamboo ceiling.

To be fair, at that point in my career I had done fairly well for myself – after relocating from Australia to work for Thames Water in the UK in 2006, I had worked hard to attain Chartered Engineer status there, and had been nominated by my organisation for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Young Engineer of the Year Award. Within 4 years of arriving in the UK as a young female in a male-dominated sector, I was managing my own projects and leading multi-disciplinary teams, working closely with different parts of the business on other strategic initiatives. When I joined Atkins, a consultancy which at the time had 17,000 employees globally, I was deemed a good choice to be given line management responsibilities and to be one of the first cohorts to attend the Women in Leadership course being offered.

We can safely say that as a foreign, female engineer and emerging leader, I was well-supported and would not be held back by some of the issues we discuss today.

And yet in 2021, in modern-day Australia, I hear that niggling thought in the back of my mind during the numerous interactions I’ve had with a particular client: Is this implicit racism? Is this person having a bad day? Is there an excuse for this attitude and behaviour that tends to only emerge behind closed doors when we are alone? Or… could it possibly be… because I’m different?

We have made so much progress. But how much progress have we made in reality? The UK government scrapped unconscious bias training for civil servants, claiming that it hasn’t changed attitudes – a move described as short-sighted by Forbes amongst others.

The employment rate for ethnic minority workers compared to white workers versus the cultural diversity in modern Australian society also tells a story. The Human Rights Commission pinpointed unconscious racial bias as the reason that only 1.9% of Asian Australians attain executive management positions compared to the 9.6% of the community who identified with having an Asian cultural background. Asian Australians consistently achieve academic success and still miss out on leadership opportunities despite often coming from disadvantaged schools when compared to white peers.

Walk through the offices of any water utility organisation in Australia and you’ll see ethnic and gender diversity, yet when you look at their leadership teams, their Boards, and their senior managers, this diversity is not reflected.

We know enough to understand that this is not deliberate – long term cultural change takes time, but leaderships would do well to recognise that organisational culture starts from above, and that being a company that walks the walk will lead to greater success – which also means taking intersectionality into account.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Long term cultural change takes time, but leaderships would do well to recognise that organisational culture starts from above, and that being a company that walks the walk will lead to greater success.

Intersectionality – racism, sexism, and other isms.

The Diversity Council of Australia defines intersectionality as “the way that multiple aspects of diversity (e.g., our age, care-giving responsibilities, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity) come together or ‘intersect’ to form part of our identity – and therefore our experience of inclusion at work”. It is increasingly recognised that it is important to consider intersectionality to dismantle systems and structures that result in inequality.

There’s been so much attention paid to levelling the playing field for women in the workplace in the past few decades – Gloria Steinem challenged the idea of gender-specific roles, whilst more recently Sheryl Sandberg inspired women to be unapologetic in seeking career advancement.

Yet when we look at the intersection of gender and race in the corporate pipeline, we can see that not only do men outnumber women at entry level, but this marginal difference (52% men to 48% women) becomes strikingly more apparent amongst C-Suite executes (77% male to 23% female). Introduce race into the equation and we can see that at entry level, there are half as many men and half as many women of colour compared to white men and white women, and you can forget about equal representation at C-Suite level, with only 9% men of colour and 4% women of colour.

The DCA undertook a study of culturally diverse LGBTQ talent and reported on the numerous often intersecting issues experienced in the workplace by the respondents.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Why should businesses care?

“Because it’s the right thing to do” would be too easy, wouldn’t it? So here are 5 reasons to consider:

  1. Performance culture

A culturally diverse workplace is often a high-performing and profitable workplace. And why not? When employees feel respectfully empowered, morale improves and creating an environment that nurtures a more innovative, performance-driven, and productive human capital, and resulting in improved retention of talent.

The DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index, surveyed over 3,000 working Australians and showed that inclusive organisations have improved performance and innovation, better customer service, more satisfied and secure staff, and less harassment and discrimination. 

  1. Mental health of employees.

Mental health issues are estimated to cost the Australian economy up to $60 billion dollars per year in healthcare and lost productivity so there is a strong economic case for early prevention. We know that unconscious bias is a contributor to anxiety and stress in the workforce, so addressing these issues is key to improving employee mental health outcomes. Human Resource organisation APM identifies the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace to employees and employers as:

For Employees:

  • Greater sense of safety and belonging
  • Stronger resilience and ability to adapt to change
  • More open to discuss and manage mental health issues
  • Improved conflict resolution and problem-solving skills
  • Increased empathy and understanding of customer needs

For Employers:

  1. Increasingly diverse client and customer base.

The Diversity council of Australia conducted research on our ability to interact effectively in Asian countries and cultures, and with people from Asian cultural backgrounds, to achieve work goals (“Asia Capability”) and found that a third of Australia’s workforce has very little or no overall Asia Capability. This is despite the fact that the fastest growing immigrant group in Australia are Asian-born.

If we are to claim a place amongst our geographical neighbours and share a playground with the Asian economic powerhouses, we must embrace cultural diversity in the workplace and not be afraid of it.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
  1. Your employees are a reflection of your brand

Businesses spend a lot of time and effort in ensuring that employees reflect the culture and values of an organisation. If you are failing to call-out seemingly minor instances of racial bias, you may be doing your brand a disservice. You can be sure that if you’ve noticed, your clients, contractors, and regulators will notice too.

  1. Racism is bad for business

If the above reasons weren’t enough for you, according to research by Deakin University, funded by Vic Health and the AHRC, the cost of racism in the workplace is costing the Australian economy up to $45bn/annum. Of course, it’s hard to evaluate within an individual workplace what impact the unconscious behaviour of your staff is in monetary terms, but considering what is at stake – loss of productivity, greater turn-over and negative brand association, can you really afford to not pay attention to discrimination in the workplace? The answer should be a resounding No.

What can businesses do?

If we know we can’t eliminate unconscious bias, perhaps as businesses, we should instead be planning for it.

Tamanna, Bank employee

We all want to do the morally and ethically commendable thing, but put simply and more brutally, racism is bad for business. The first step to tackling it is to understand how unconscious bias can negatively affects your team.

And once we know better, we need to do better.

Here are 8 ways to start.

  1. Recognise racial bias and have the conversation

Only by recognising that it exists and its impact on people and businesses can we address it. Moving beyond paying lip service.

Examples of racial bias:

There are many examples of racial bias, with much evidence-based research into the intersection between race and other factors. I’ve only just touched on a few of these below.

Affinity bias – this occurs when people feel a stronger connection to those who have had similar life experiences to you. Without realising, you are creating an “in group” and an “out group”. A particularly acute example I experienced on more than one occasion during the NSW lockdown was when in a friendly conversation I asked a Client how they were coping. Her response was that her part of town was not problematic, despite being the epicentre of an initial outbreak, because those living in her suburb were (and I quote) “quite hygienic … and following the rules” – the context being that the worst hit suburbs happened to be the most ethnically diverse and home to large numbers of essential workers.

In the workplace, this type of bias can lead to bad hiring decisions, good ideas being dismissed, and employees feeling undervalued. In a separate conversation with the same Client, she questioned why a particular hire was chosen from overseas, when she believed that there should be a perfectly suitable local candidate – as much as a local hire would have been easier, unfortunately in this instance they were not the best candidates, and the new recruit went on the make valuable contributions.

Of course, as with many cases of implicit discrimination, these things are easily dismissed – we generally want to assume that people are always acting appropriately – even if they are not kind, that they are at least politically correct. However, when someone is always questioning why a person of colour, who is well-respected in their field and presents well is being put forward instead of someone else of a similar standing, you can’t but help raise an eyebrow.

Micro-aggressions – During a meeting that I had recently, the Client, without apology or any attempt to correct herself once she stumbled, failed to pronounce the name of the person who had been the project lead for months, and instead of taking the time to learn it, moved on. An unpronounceable name in itself would not be unusual – unfamiliar names across any culture can be difficult to read or say out loud; but to dismiss someone’s name as too difficult, particularly given that it was a short, two-syllable phonetic name, speaks to an inherent indifference and a disrespect for cultures other than one’s own.

Confirmation bias – Another conversation in the workplace revolved around undertaking a review of similar work that had been undertaken in the international space. The Client automatically dismissed certain countries, stating that work from said countries could not be reliable. If you are currently running through countries in your mind that this could relate to, you are probably leaning in to some confirmation bias, which can result in blind spots and missed opportunities. Another example is when male lawyers are believed to want partnership more than their female counterparts and are then given more support or assistance to achieve their goals, further confirming that they “had what it takes” to begin with.

Attribution bias and attribution error – This occurs when we ascribe certain beliefs about groups of people in such a way that results in a less favourable assessments of that group, and/or a more favourable assessment of ourselves. I’ve come across one example of this throughout my career, and even been blinded by it myself as a young Client (inexperience can do that) – attribution error is applied regularly to contractors. I’ve seen it stifle opportunities for real collaborative thinking – the assumption that a contractor or someone external to your organisation wants something different to you can mean that you aren’t having honest conversations with someone who can not only ease your workload and strengthen your team, but will drive your goals when they have a clear understanding of what they are.

  1. Power dynamics

Studies on the interaction between gender, race, and workplace power have shown that greater inequality is experienced the higher the organisational level. There is an unequal power between Employers and Employees or between Clients and Contractors and not recognising this stifles collaboration and creates an environment where teamwork suffers. Instead, recognise that being in a position of power means that you may also need to make space to hear, recognise, and explore other peoples’ realities. In this way you lead the collaboration as a Client-partner, not merely as a master being attended to by a servant in a transactional relationship.

  1. Show leadership

Tamanna, who works as a manager in a leading Australian bank, believes that organisational culture is key; “If your organisation teaches leaders to leap into legal risk management instead of engaging in meaningful conversation to understand a situation when an issue raised, then no amount of training is going to improve your culture”, adding that soft skills can achieve progress where a more legalistic route may result in both parties taking more firmly entrenched positions.

“Leaders should not be afraid to review and reconsider decisions that have been made and make new ones where appropriate – it’s OK to make mistakes as long as we are brave enough to address them”. If I ever saw a call for CEO’s and senior executives to acknowledge and challenge their own inherent unconscious bias, this is it.

  1. Review your team

Does the diversity of your team reflect the diversity of your customer base? If not, why not? Benefits to business of diversity have been well studied. You can do a quick review of how diverse and inclusive your organisation is by using some of the tools such as this one from the Australian Human Rights Commission and read this for some tips on developing your own scorecard. There is also the APM’s Disability Diverse and Inclusion Checklist here if you’d like to add another dimension to your assessment.

Tamanna adds “If we know we can’t eliminate unconscious bias, perhaps as businesses, we should instead be planning for it” – this might seem revolutionary, but business plan for all sorts of real and perceived risks all the time. Not recognising racial or other biases is a business risk in itself.

  1. Internal dialogue

Check in with yourself. Are you making excuses for your behaviour or is the decision/judgement that you’re making really fair?

  1. Training

Skills4 includes key topics such as conscious inclusionmicro-aggressions and allyship to bolster its Unconscious Bias Training package to maximise the chance for real and lasting effect on the workforce. Be selective in the type of diversity and inclusion training you roll out make sure to address implicit bias.

  1. Recognise Intersectionality

Australian researchers developed an educational package called the Intersectionality Walk (IW) in order to help organisations attract and retain minorities of diverse backgrounds. In a pilot study applying the IW package, they found that participants had an improved understanding of intersectionality and over the course of the study had learned ways to bring about institutional and structural change.

The researchers state that “An individual is more than the sum of the
identifiable ‘demographic’ categories. The IW aims to demonstrate that two people sharing a common demographic or even two or three characteristics do not translate into experiencing the workplace (and indeed the world) in a similar way” – this means that managers with strong interpersonal skills are required to bring out the best in their employees.

  1. Get to know the people you work with – as fellow human beings

Lastly, get to know the people you work with. This does not really need to be said, but you’d be surprised at how many sites there are supplying “Questions to get to know your staff/co-workers”. When you get to know people, you see them as more similar to yourself, and you learn about what drives them and how they work best. This leads to better rapport, greater efficiency, and better outcomes, not to mention you’ll be known as someone that others want to work with.

It’s only then that we can begin to manage our unconscious biases and become the leaders of tomorrow.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Featured image courtesy of Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash


Life after Covid-19: Remote working in a post lock-down world

Exhausted. Despondent. Unrelenting. Pessimistic. Uncertain. Failure… these are some of the adjectives that a friend of mine gave me when I asked her to describe what her experience has been as a parent working from home during this Covid-19 isolation period. It is a sentiment that has been echoed by many a working parent across the globe as they adjust to new demands and additional pressures of wearing multiple hats throughout the day.

Unsurprisingly this period of social distancing and isolation has produced higher levels of stress, anxiety and general sadness. I imagine that the process of getting used to this new, albeit temporary way of life follows a typical Kubler-Ross change process with the same emotional lows, but sitting on the verge of easing Covid-19 restrictions, have we integrated this new way of working into our lives and are feeling more positive now? Have organisations filled the infrastructure gaps to better handle teams of remote workers?

I posed the following questions to a variety of different water industry professionals from around the world and the responses were varied:

As a working parent in the water industry, what degree of work-life balance did you have before lockdown?

What have been the main advantages and disadvantages of completing your job from home in the current climate?

In future, do you think your employer or organisation will have a better ability to allow remote working?

For me personally, putting the brakes on restarting my career was definitely disheartening, but in the context of daily lock-down struggles – the infamous toilet paper shortages, and anxiety over staying safe during a pandemic – I realized that having the choice to stay home with loved ones, and without ignoring all the struggles of the working parents who are wearing multiple hats at this time, was a privilege. Having this privilege doesn’t negate the stresses of the current situation, but at the very least you have more tools at your disposal to deal with it. Here is what else I found:

Some companies are better equipped than others to allow remote working

“It’s interesting to see that – despite years of being told it wasn’t possible – flexible and remote working is not only possible, it also levels the playing field by removing possible barriers for those with caring responsibilities and disabilities – giving organisations access to the well documented benefits of diversity”.

Jayne Little, CEO Skills 4 Ltd.

“My work is amazing in terms of flexibility and we thankfully had moved to agile working at the end of last year”, says Sinead who works in Project Communications for a water utility, “We already had all the structures we needed in place for it. Post-Isolation I’ll still be working from home a few days a week … [I’m] getting out for walks way more than pre-covid too”. Certainly finding time for exercise has always been a problem for many workers and governments have promoted staying active during this period of lock-down.

The internet is full of newly uploaded articles and videos on how to work remotely, from easy Zoom tips and tricks, to the best ways to manage remote meetings, and videos to stay active. It gives one the impression that the workplace will never be the same again post Covid-19.

As a single parent, Hana, a senior technical author in the construction industry, had the flexibility to work from home a few days a week, attending only important meetings in the office and using the time she would otherwise be commuting to work more productively at home. During lock-down, she has had to start earlier in the morning and finish late at night, but has found that her 6 year old, Max, has developed in his independence and imagination as she works to complete her tasks during the day.

However, site based roles require a great deal of in-person collaboration, and the water industry functions most effectively as a partnership between numerous entities, from public-private partnerships to exclusively private sector engagements between consultant, contractor, and water retailer. Site based construction work, conceptual planning, and successful stakeholder engagement has always happened in the flesh, and whilst this period has introduced new ways of engaging, some roles will always require a degree of in-person presence.

Working from home during lock-down has changed family routines

Brian, a director, says that in a sense he has a better work-life balance now, but also says that educating his kids from home means slicing up the day, “which leaves work to be done [in the] late arvo/early evening … So that cuts into family time”. Adrian, a manager in water maintenance whose role is split between office and site-based responsibilities points out that the constant interruptions that arise naturally from homeschooling young children is one of the largest drains on mental energy, and feels that the extra time spent together is not necessarily quality time.

In early January this year, I signed off the paperwork to confirm the start date for my youngest child’s daycare placement. Within weeks, on the 30th of January, the World Health Organisation had classified the Novel Coronavirus pandemic as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, leading to closure of borders and the eventual shut down of nations worldwide.

In March the NSW government issued a Public Order under the Public Health Act restricting gatherings and movement outside of the home. Faced with dreaded uncertainty the roles that I had been seeking got shelved. The world of business hates uncertainty and one recruiter for a Business Sustainability role that I was due to interview for explained it to me simply as “Businesses have other priorities at the moment”. All of this was akin to having the rug pulled out from under me just as I was getting back on my feet after maternity absence, but I also realized that in a perverse way it was a blessing.

Image by Daniel Lee

When schools closed, I began homeschooling my eldest (I’ve realised that teachers prefer it if we called it “online learning”). My baby was out of the daycare system, and I depressingly had no idea if and when I would ever have a career again. Having a career and being a parent in Coronavirus times is a whole different ballgame, with many struggling parents realizing that juggling worklife and family life is simply impossible.

My friend Farhana, an engineer in Integrated Water Management, said to me “Life definitely doesn’t get easier for working parents. Kids will add new challenges … Some days, there will be uncertainties and other days you will feel proud of yourself. It will need a shift in mindset to accept the changes and to set your career path according to what’s suitable”. Farhana has loved aspects of being at home with her two young children despite the additional challenges, finding her colleagues to be very understanding of each other’s circumstances, or of her toddler sitting on her lap during a Zoom call.

The amount of support you have greatly impacts how well you get through this

“My hubby is still going to work everyday, so it’s just me at home”, says Delia, a Water Utility worker. “Pre-covid I had great work life balance and usually worked 1-2 days a week from home – yes I get to see my kids more but I don’t feel like it’s quality time”. Throughout March, absenteeism rose dramatically as parents were urged to keep their kids home. In April $1.6b worth of government initiatives were introduced to help parents who were essential workers, but this did not ease parenting pressures for most people. Maria, a research consultant working in Uganda says “Life at home with all the daily life chores and active time with toddler and baby just doesn’t allow for much more without preschool or other help at home”.

Karen, a freelance consultant who lives and works in France says “Work-life balance is its own beast when you have three small kids … I have fewer hours to get as much done work-wise and much more to do in managing the household”. However, Karen, whose work involved extensive international travel prior to lock-down has also used this time to improve the space at home for her family, working with her husband to re-do the garden.

A career shift from the roles I’d held previously was my aim when I first decided to return to work – one that still allowed me to work flexibly in order to balance the needs of my young family with my own desire to get paid doing something I was good at. This period in lock-down only further emphasized to me how much easier life is when employees have flexibility to be at home and feel supported whilst still fulfilling their contractually agreed duties.

This period has highlighted any gaps in infrastructure required for longer term remote working

Pre lock-down, my own experience of water industry organisations, both public and private, was that until the recent years that saw a big push to innovate, the industry has been slower to adopt new technologies. By nature, the industry is conservative but has had to adapt to the more rapidly changing demands of clients and stakeholders in recent times, in part due to climate change pressures; but if we are to innovate the industry, we must also innovate our ways of working and engaging.

“If we are to innovate the industry, we must also innovate our ways of working and engaging”.

The last few months have seen an increase in the use of technologies like GIS (geographical information system) and GoAigua, helping water companies to adapt to changes in supply and demand, and novel methods to analyse wastewater for virus fragments – allowing the water sector to assist government in making public health decisions.

Traditional engineering designs are often completed by multidisciplinary engineers sketching out design concepts on a paper together, before passing it on to a draftsman to convert into a CAD drawing or 3D model. The value of 3D modelling, from completing successful bids, to estimation, to stakeholder engagement is now known and we cannot underestimate the amount of collaboration that goes into the creation of these models – learning to do so successfully from remote locations is crucial.

However, Neil, a CAD Leader for a Water Utility in the UK points out that many people who are working at home are doing so in make-shift environments, which would not be suitable for longer-term remote working. Organisations also have a responsibility to ensure that employees have an ergonomic work-station set-up to minimize physical strain on the body from constant sitting and working with screens, which would still be applicable when employees are working from home.

Jason, a CAD manager working in Sydney also highlights data and information networks as an issue, stating, “Our drawings, electronic resources and even schedules all reside on central computers which were not set up for the volume of data to be transferred externally. This has led to excessive load times and often computer failures”. He also points out that drafting teams often need access to large format printers, and design manuals which are often not available electronically. He adds, “the physical copies are heavily annotated by a dozen designers … helping to ensure that key learnings from past projects are implemented”. As a team leader he also spends large portions of his day assisting with minor technique improvements or trouble shooting simple issues, sitting side-by-side with a colleague.

Perhaps in addition to highlighting existing limitations of working from home, this period has also caused many to adapt to a different way of working. Frederick, a Water Researcher who also recently completed his PhD noted that “Studying/working from home was an adjustment at first … I’m now much better at digital tasking than before, even doing martial arts training that way!”

Having tested the limits and capabilities of our existing IT infrastructure – arguably what is left to do in order for remote working to work seamlessly for businesses is to address current infrastructure shortcomings and continue the shift in cultural work practices. This would allow the sector to continue addressing the upcoming challenges we face. However, businesses must also consider their human capital.

Many organisations are woefully equipped to ensure the ongoing mental well-being of their employees

Despite the leaps that the engineering sector has taken in the past decade, from providing access to Employee Assistance Programmes to engineering firms working to normalize discussions around mental health, many engineering organisations are still falling short in their efforts to support their employees, particularly for FIFO workers, women, and other minorities, potentially due to outdated beliefs that employers are only responsible for an employee’s physical well-being.

In relation to remote working post Covid-19 and the inherent isolation this brings, many companies are simply not ready. “You can give people phones, Skype, instant messaging apps … these don’t replace the need to be amongst others [for our own] mental health”, says Neil, who has advocated for a greater awareness of the mental health impacts of prolonged working from home. The value of break times around the water-cooler should not be underestimated, in addition to the informal project-related chats that occur during these breaks.

Adrian highlighted that being remote from colleagues and clients removes the ability to read non-verbal cues, and requiring a far greater awareness of what others are communicating in order to minimise the stress that arises from miscommunications.

Given the rise in mental health impacts that we have seen in recent months, there is reason to believe that ongoing isolation leads to decreased mental and physical well-being, which organisations should care about because, apart from the obvious moral responsibilities, it will ultimately will affect business performance and continuity.

Australian businesses reportedly lose up to $6.5billion each year by failing to provide early mental health services/treatment to their employees. There are also legal obligations of employers under Australian legislation to recognize and promote mental health as part of part of creating “a safe and healthy workplace … [and] building a safe work environment, one that will not create or exacerbate mental health problems and where workers with mental illness are properly supported”.

Where do we go from here?

I have been grateful that I don’t also have to fulfill the crazy trifecta of paid employment as well as parenting and teaching right now. Here’s what I’ve found in interviewing my fellow water sector colleagues who have:

  1. Spending more time at home with the children has had both positive and negative outcomes depending on how much support you have and the quality the time spent together;
  2. Working from home with kids requires work to be split up into blocks, sometimes late at night;
  3. No commuting means more time for exercise, work, or to spend with family;
  4. Remote working has led many people and organizations to work more effectively in the digital world, but limitations still exist;
  5. Despite this, organizations have a long way to go to safeguard the mental health of all their employees, particularly those working remotely;
  6. Face-to-face meetings are good, but in future perhaps we will have learned to spend this time more meaningfully.

As we emerge from lock-down, governments continue to encourage safe social distancing on public transport and working from home until a more permanent solution can be developed. The size of our office-based workforce may change forever.

I can imagine that many managers will feel more confident managing remote teams and we will see a workforce that comes into the office only for meetings, workshops, or collaboration exercises. Will this lead to more quality time spent together as a family? My roots are grey and I haven’t been to the gym in what feels like forever. As I ask my 6 year old (still in his pyjamas because I ran out of energy to make him get changed) for the umpteenth time to complete his writing task for the day, whilst bouncing my toddler on my knee and swatting away her attempts to type on my keyboard, I can only say – maybe?

On being authentic and inspiring change


Too often I come across people who try too hard to be what they’re not. We all do it sometimes – put an exceptional person or idea up on a pedestal and aspire to be more like them.

One thing to remember though is that every person has that unique spark that makes them an inspiration to others. Some might call it your “talent”, or in the corporate world, your “USP” (unique selling point). I like to think of it as the best version of yourself.

We all have a set of values and guiding principles that we live by. We all have something that excites us and sparks joy. We all want to do well in our everyday lives, recognising that every person has their own paramateres for defining this, and to feel proud of what we do.

I say bring that spark to the forefront – wear it like a badge of honour, and cast off the carefully crafted and cultivated outer layer of organisational culture – you know the one, it makes you say things like “we need to do more with less”, and “do I have your buy-in on this?”, or “We need to empower our staff to make better decisions”…. No. Just don’t.

Be your authentic self and you will not only be respected as an authentic and trusted member of your team, but believe it or not, you will also sound smarter and be a more pleasant person to work with. You will then be the one who others look to for leadership, even if you’re not in a leadership position.

Then you can crack on with changing the world!

Why business leaders should sign up to the CEO Water Mandate

What is the CEO water mandate?

The CEO Water Mandate calls on business leaders globally to take action on water stewardship.

The endorsing companies recognize that much more can be done to reduce water risks to businesses, seize water-related opportunities, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Doing so places a value on shared water resources; sustainability of water usage is interwoven into business strategy. The CEO Water Mandate works to “address challenges related to water scarcity, water quality, water governance, and access to water and sanitation”.

What benefit does signing up to the CEO water mandate bring to businesses?

The private sector recognizes that there is a need to understand the risks posed by climate change, and plan for future uncertainties. The Business Alliance for Water and Climate calls for collaboration between companies to :

  • Share and analyse water-related risks in order to develop response strategies.
  • Measure and report water use data
  • Reduce impacts on water supplies in operations and throughout the value chain.

In addition to collaborating with others to better understand the water-related risks to your business (a benefit that is in itself a reason to join such a movement), the CEO water mandate also allows you to:

  • Strengthen your brand by reaffirming your commitment to sustainable business practices
  • Optimize your supply chain and operations, by identifying where these areas may be exposed to water-related risks
  • Build relationships with key partners who share your values
  • Access the experience and expertise of other like-minded organisations
  • Increase your ability to affect public policy, as a thought leader in your field, and as part of a partnership of leading organisations
  • Engage with your customers and community through working groups, collective action, and meaningful corporate and social responsibility strategies.

Many businesses have risen to the challenge of reviewing and improving their water usage to create a more sustainable relationship with local waterways. The Business for Water platform has been working with corporations to do just this for the last 20 years, using verifiable metrics.

Business water risks infographic:

Water-risk infographic

Who has signed up to it so far?

The current list of endorsing companies is expected to grow as more and more businesses come to understand the importance of water stewardship to their future success.

The Innovation diffusion model tells us that behavioral change broadly follows 5 phases – the innovators are the first to embrace new concepts or products, followed by the early adopters, early majority, late majority, then the laggards.

The names of the innovators and early adopters who signed up in the early days of the CEO Water Mandate are hardly a surprise – many are known for progressive workplace policies, work done to create sustainable supply chains, or authentic and high profile corporate and social responsibility activities.

In more recent times, we’ve seen personal products company Colgate Palmolive, Japanese food products maker Kikkoman, the Ford motor company, and educational research institutions such as the International Water Centre also endorse the mandate.

They are diverse in the products and services they offer, yet the one thing these organisations have in common is that they are leaders in their respective industries – Because water stewardship is for everyone.

Don’t be a laggard. Read this article to see if your business may be at risk, and consider signing up to the CEO Water Mandate if your organisation has not already done so. Take action and follow the business alliance for water and climate, or join a working group to develop tools and resources that will help your business tackle water-related challenges and needs.

Finally the words of the highly successful CEO of Pernod Ricard, Alexandre Ricard states: We are a business, first of all. In today’s world, every single business has a duty of giving back to society.

Your career does not define you but your actions do

I started this website when I was at a cross-road in my life. Some of you might know the one. You realize that you’ve done reasonably well so far in your career, but you’ve spent the last 15 years of your career chasing one opportunity after the other, balancing someone else’s P&Ls, and helping someone else to manage their business. Running on the hamster wheel. You have more or less enjoyed your work (or not!), and have met some great people along the way, but now there’s this gnawing feeling of “what else is there?”. You may even have an existential crisis or two. If you’re a millennial, you probably already know that this is not an uncommon phenomenon for your generation. If you’re a Xennial like me, you’ve probably still got a handful of friends who’ve been at the same company for the last 15 years, but also friends who keep jumping at the next big opportunity. I don’t know the secret formula to a long, successful and fulfilling career.

What I do know is that there’s no right or wrong way of doing things. You are not defined by your career.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

This one cup can save the world

The quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is often wrongly attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, but this convenient bumper sticker slogan holds a certain amount of truth. It is aspirational and excitingly laden with hope.

There are some great TED talks out there on making a difference while making a living. I’m going to leave you with one that I listened to today by Audrey Choi – I’m totally that person who hopes that my one reusable cup may inspire others to use one too, and that this one cup may just cause some kind of ripple effect to save the world.

Today, we’ll do better

If you’re an individual, you can choose any time to find your true north in your career. Do it today. Do it now.

If you’re a business executive, now is the time to build your business case for better environmental stewardship in your organisation. Business heavyweights like Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are investing in sustainable innovation, greener supply chains and clean technology. Not to mention other household names like Ikea , Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Marks and Spencer and other companies on the Forbes World’s Most Sustainable Companies List – and it’s not just greenwashing, it’s an investment in the future.