In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, Graham Whiley is joined by Normandie Wragg, CEO at Nugent; the largest third-sector health and social care provider in the UK to discuss the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace. Normandie's responsibilities as CEO include leading the strategic direction, reputation and public profile of the organisation, as well as leading a staff of approximately 450 together with over 300 volunteers. Normandie has implemented pioneering inclusion programs within her organisation so who better to lead our discussion?
Chief Executive officer
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Graham: Welcome to this edition of The Coaching Conversation, and today I'm joined by my very good friend, Normandie Wragg, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Nugent Care in Merseyside in North Western England. Our subject today is the often sensitive issue of diversity, equality and inclusion. Before we go very much further, Normandie, could you let the audience know a bit more about yourself, please?
Normandie: Hello. My name is Normandie. I'm Canadian, and I've been living here and working in the UK since 2001. I'm a charity leader and a social dancer as a hobbyist.
Graham: Your role is the Chief Executive Officer of Nugent. First of all, please tell us a bit more about Nugent, and then tell me about what you do as the Chief Executive.
Normandie: Nugent is a charity based in Merseyside here in the UK, and we are a large charity that provides health and social care, and education from the beginning of life to the end of life. We have approximately 450 staff, and we have approximately a turnover of about £17 million. So, we're a large and significant charity.
My role within the organisation is to set the vision and the culture and adhere to our mission and values across the organisation and keep trying to inspire people in all the work that they do - and it's absolutely amazing what our teams do every single day. In recent years since 2020, one of my large focuses has been equality, diversity, and inclusion. So, right now my keen focus is to make sure that's embedded across everything that we do as an organisation.
Graham: I was curious about this because as a Chief Executive, you're essentially the boss of a very diverse - in terms of a service provider - organisation, and you've got plenty of things to be worrying about. I was curious as to where diversity, equality and inclusion sit in that rank of priorities. Where would you put it?
Normandie: Absolutely right at the top. When I think about the cash and finances of the organisation - which I'm totally accountable for - because we're a people business and because we help people; as a charity, we help people and we rely on the people who work with us and alongside us. To be able to do that most important work, equality, diversity, and inclusion have to be really right up there because we need staff to be engaged. We need them to feel included in the work that they do, inspired by the work that they do so that the beneficiaries have the best possible experience that we can possibly give them.
Without that being held right at the top -and I mean beyond me, right at the very top of the pyramid with the trustees - If we didn't have the support of the trustees to do that important work across the organisation, there would be a keyman risk on the CEO. So, it's important that the trustees incorporate that into their strategic thinking alongside sustainability for the future, safeguarding, development of our goals and our aspirations and fulfilment of mission - it needs to be right up there because it is about people and their experiences.
Graham: You've been chief executive for a number of years now. Has this importance or the identification of diversity, equality and inclusion as a subject changed in that time for you?
Normandie: That's a really good question. Absolutely it did. In 2020 when George Floyd was murdered over in the states, the world entered into a period of reflection and advocacy, and at the same time, as I said earlier in my introduction, I am a dancer. I dance a style called Lindy Hop, which was born in the States through the African-American community. I was attending a lot of seminars and monologue sessions about the experience of the artists and the culture of the people who started this dance form, and there were a lot of discussions around appropriation versus appreciation. During that time I was attending on behalf of my company, and I started to look back over my shoulder and I was thinking about the charity that I am responsible for, which is a large charity with lots of staff and lots of people having different types of experiences, and I was thinking 'Are we doing enough with regards to EDI?' And I think the honest answer was no, we're not.
Because one, I didn't know the answer because I hadn't been diligent enough to be hearing the voices of the people below me in a way that would be meaningful in changing our strategic focus. So, I continued and went deeper into a period of reflection. Whilst most organisations were putting up some really well-meaning symbolic gestures on their social media and saying 'We stand by...', I really needed to have a greater, deeper understanding of what EDI meant in the current context, myself. So, I continued going to seminars. I continued reading. It took me, I think about six months before I put together our first anti-racism pledge and our commitment to the future because for me, it needed to be real and meaningful and I really needed to understand it.
It's not just about the icing on the cake that says, this is what we'll do because it's the right thing to do. It had to be - for me to be able to lead this - something that absolutely resonated with me, and I came to accept that I don't know the answers, that we are nowhere near where we need to be on our finished journey and to be able to feel comfortable with that and say, 'yeah, you know what we have a lot of learning to do, we have a lot of reflection to do'. But if we don't start now putting one foot in front of the other, we won't get there ever. We will just keep continuously perpetuating the structures that have been passed down through decades and decades, and those structures, as we come to know them, could be reflected in colonialist thinking, it could be built on structures that may not be pertinent or relevant or resonating in today's world.
The way I describe it is that it is a journey and I know I'm going to make mistakes. Our organisation is going to make mistakes. We're going to be doing some great work as well. And when we have not got the thinking right, or we've not done the best that we could possibly do, or that the people in the lived experience from the people we work with or alongside speak up to us and say, or show us, or create a conversation that shows us a different way, then we need to be responsive and reflective on that. Because I think there's a risk of organisations becoming paralysed with inactivity for the fear of doing something wrong, at the expense of doing anything at all. The short answer is we have significantly changed our outlook since 2020.
Graham: It's very interesting as a coach, the subject of EDI comes up increasingly often in my coaching sessions with business leaders, and the first point is awareness - actually saying this is important, but I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go from here? You can Google HR policies, and you can go on and create training programs that are valuable and important and they need to be done, but they don't change the culture. They don't change the inner essence of how the people and the organisation feels. That's where it's such a difficult journey, isn't it? And it's why it's such an uncharted journey.
I feel, as a coach, I try to find - I won't say encouragement, that would be totally the wrong word -but I try to encourage people to think differently about what it all means and try to give them different perspectives. I recently watched a training video around this subject, and they used a different vocabulary - they used vocabulary about advantaged groups and disadvantaged groups, and they talked about unconscious bias and things like everybody has unconscious bias. Everybody is in a disadvantaged group and everybody is in an advantaged group and multiples of those. As individuals, if you can recognise bias in yourself as well as other people's - if as an individual you can recognise where you sit in an advantaged group and how that will make you behave and how that will affect others. - if you can recognise when you're in a disadvantaged group, how that will make you behave and how that would affect others, you start to get towards the core of what you're trying to change. Because you're changing understandings and awareness.
If you think about unconscious bias, is that something that you've built into your programs? Is that part of what you are doing at Nugent?
Normandie: Yes, absolutely. When we started making the anti-racism pledge, part of that pledge included inclusive leadership training and coaching, and training around unconscious bias. That started with the trustees of the organisation because if I was going to ask the trustees to come along on this journey that I had been on, and that I was encouraging the organisation to go on, there needed to be some clarity and awareness raising for a group of individuals, collective and individually as to what unconscious bias was and is.
It was really interesting because the person who we had come into the organisation was very astute in the way that unconscious bias was discussed. In Liverpool, we have two football teams; Liverpool Football Club and Everton Football Club, and being able to discuss the differences in the unconscious bias that supporters from one football club had towards the fans of another football club was really interesting. It was a very interesting way to talk about unconscious bias and take it away from maybe some of the more sensitive topics of EDI in terms of race and other culturally sensitive topics. The talk about football, which everybody or at least most people could relate to, even if they're not football fans, they could understand the dynamic because it was so intrinsic in everything. People could recognise if someone was wearing a blue shirt and what kind of unconscious bias and assumptions they made about that individual.
So, we definitely were bringing thoughts and talking about unconscious bias and in particular in terms of the organisational operation we talked about. And we really spent a lot of time in the last two years focusing on affinity bias. One of the pledges that we signed up for was a pledge called Show the Salary, which was focused on charitable sectors, which was if you're going to advertise a role within the charitable sector, show the salary. Show how much you are willing to pay for the work that you are asking to be done in that role. And that gave people clarity and transparency about what that role entailed and what the remuneration would be.
The second piece of that which I found really, really interesting was that traditionally we would've asked people what their salary was in their current or previous role. Asking for that information creates an unconscious bias because you're judging that person's worth, ability and skills based on the salary they made previously. And that has some challenges to it. So for example, when I first came to the UK from Canada I was looking for work within the job market; I had a master's degree. I have a counselling degree. I'd been to university. I've been working in high-level counselling roles. I was trying to find work within the UK and I needed to take a minimum wage role within the UK as my first role so I had UK experience on my CV.
Because most people say what do you know about the UK, you person from another country? The next employer could have looked potentially at my CV, seen that I was making minimum wage and made a judgment or an assumption on my level of skill. I might not have made it through to an interview process because I might have been sifted out because of that. So, the Show the Salary campaign allowed us to ensure that in every role that we advertise, we show the salary. We also have a statement about inclusivity within the organisation, diversity and inequity. But also we don't ask for the salary prior because it removes that bias and we add that to the other pieces that we have within our group recruitment processes that try to remove that affinity bias.
I still think affinity bias is something that people will struggle with because we try to find people that look like ourselves. We engage with people that look like ourselves or sound like ourselves or act like ourselves or behave like ourselves. That's something that we're actively working on. Unconscious bias will be an ongoing reflection, I think, for many years to come. It does exist.
When I spoke about the pledge to the organisation, one of the key topics that I came to it with was my own level of privilege within the organisation. My position affords me a level of power that maybe some other people do not have. In fact, it's clear not everybody has the power that comes with a CEO position within an organisation. It's up to me to be able to use my privilege and the power, the privileges and the other benefits that come with that to be able to influence the change in our organisation. If I had been perhaps a frontline carer, would I have had the ability as I do in my current role to be able to implement an anti-racism pledge? Would I have the ability to sign up for the Show the Salary campaign? Well, I wouldn't have, so I choose to use the privilege that I have and the voice that I have to amplify the lived experience of other people as shared with me, or as I have learned about because I'm trying to be responsible for my own learning rather than putting my learning on the shoulders of other people. There's so much an unconscious bias and privilege and being able to see the world through a particular lens.
I have this adage when I think about unconscious bias, and that is don't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. So, if you're judging the fish on its ability to climb a tree, you're not, you're not actually appreciating all the skills that a fish has, and in the environment that they are most likely going to thrive in and live in and be able to breathe in. You're expecting it to climb a tree, and that's setting your own standards for someone who's probably not going to thrive on a tree. It's the one thing that keeps going through my mind all the time when I talk about unconscious bias.
Graham: It's interesting because there are lots of these different vocabularies that get used around this, and I think because of the sensitivities of the subject and the potential sensitivities of the subject, people do get very shy, and they use strange words. And you used a very simple word privilege. You could have used another word, underprivileged, and I used advantaged and disadvantaged. And the reality is, am I in an advantaged privileged position? And if so, how do I behave with that? Or am I in a disadvantaged or an underprivileged position and how do I behave within that?
In many ways, on many different occasions, recognising where you are or your organisation is and how you or they are behaving gives you some clues as to what you can do next to make the change that you are looking to make. So, for example, I am a very advantaged person. I have had a great education and a great career and I have a degree of financial success. I'm a very disadvantaged person because I'm not in my twenties and all of that is going on all at the same time. And my reflection on that is the way that I deal with that personally impacts others. Do I get bitter and twisted about the fact that I can't get the young CEO's job? No. because I don't want one. But I could do, I could get very, very upset by the fact I don't get past the submission of CV stage. And if I look at it the other way, if I don't recognise that through my lens of advantage, my lens of privilege, I don't understand how people who don't have my opportunity suffer. I think part of the work of a coach, and certainly the way you are working through Nugent is to get this awareness into a vocabulary that people can respond to with confidence and not be frightened by these sensitivities.
You said a little while ago about being frightened of doing it wrong because you feel you could get into trouble. I think if you can distil it down to very simple basics; people know what they're doing and they know that it's right. They can find their own way. As a foreign national working here, have you personally directly experienced bias?
Normandie: Yes, I think so. I've got two examples that I would probably share. One was after the Brexit vote - I remember I went to a barbecue at a friend's house. It was the day after the vote so everybody at the barbecue was talking about it. I come in, and as soon as I start talking to anyone clearly I'm not British, my Canadian accent gives me away every time, and so one of the things that were said to me at that time was 'Why don't you go home? Why are you here?' And part of it would've been me being sensitive about the vote, but there was also, at the time, this huge surge of foreign nationals not feeling welcome within the country. And many of my friends and colleagues who were EU nationals, professional academics and professionals within the Merseyside region got up and went home. I felt that there was just this huge swell of not feeling welcome. That's only from my perspective, as a middle-aged white woman who lives with some areas of privilege in my life. That felt really shocking to me, you know, that I wasn't welcome and I can only imagine what some of my friends and colleagues who may have different life experiences have experienced throughout their own lives.
The second example is again, about inclusivity because inclusivity is about being accepted, and welcomed, but also expected. So, if you are truly inclusive and thinking inclusively, you are expecting people with different life experiences than your own, who behave differently, maybe look differently, and come from different areas of life than you do, you expect them to be at the table. When I was applying for the CEO role, part of the assessment centre was to attend a dinner with high-ranking members of our diocese, our bishops within the archdiocese, and members of the trustees who were watching the interaction. There were five of us at the time, and I was the only female in that group. During the dinner, which was absolutely lovely, I was having some really great conversations about politics. Then one of the other male candidates leaned over to me and said, 'You know, love, I thought you were the secretary'. So, the expectation was that if I was in a room full of male candidates, I was the secretary, which is an example of not being expected in that environment. It's a really interesting piece because I've heard stories and I've listened to lived experiences of other female leaders, female leaders with disabilities, and female leaders who are from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds that have far more horrendous stories about not being expected or included than that. That was my experience and the unconscious bias that's included within that is just so prevalent.
There was a phrase to describe diversity inclusion which was that "diversity is in being invited and inclusion is being asked to dance". Not my quote, but I thought it just resonated so greatly with me. I have had experiences and I've heard other stories from other people who have had great stories, not great stories, but greater stories of impact. This reminds me, this is the piece I was trying to come to. Dr Kimberlè Crenshaw from the United States coined the phrase, Intersectional intersectionality. What she speaks about is where different elements of privilege and underprivileged or life experiences intersect with each other and create different nuances. So, you might have an individual who is a newcomer to a country, who is also disabled and might be experiencing social and economic hardship, and all those three intersecting roads of those experiences will create a different experience for someone who is experiencing three or four other intersecting experiences.
There's a risk of individuals putting experiences in a hierarchy of what's more important or less important. And the intersectionality conversation actually realises that it's different webs interconnecting with each other that create multiple variances of experiences. The ability to sit back and just accept that one person's experiences (because of all those intersecting, ideas and experiences) are something to be listened to and reflected on rather than thinking "my experience is better than yours and my experience was worse than yours". They will be different experiences and all of them are important to be recognised, heard, expected and accepted.
Graham: It is interesting to see this. One of the nuances of increasing this kind of awareness amongst people, amongst groups of people within an organisation, is you begin to bump into the "not like me" bit. When you bump into the, "not like me" bit you get to "and therefore I behave like this". So, if they're not like me, they must be different. I'm clearly right, et cetera, et cetera. It's that changing of that particular behaviour where they bump into each other that is at the heart of making this work.
For me, I think it's understanding at a very base level where, as you've just described, intersections occur for other people and seeing them for the other people and making your behaviour adapted to accommodate that as best you can. But it is a very complex matrix of understandings and recognising differences, that goes on almost in real time everywhere. That makes this such a challenge.
I want to just move the conversation on now. As part of the program of change that you've built in, you've talked about your learning. Where did you go for that learning? Did you get coaches in? Was it education? Was it reading? What did you do?
Normandie: All of those and more. It started off with attending monologue sessions by people who would identify themselves as a black, African American community out in the United States, talking about dancing. There was a group that put together some really effective learning sessions within the dance community. Then there was another group in the UK and Europe that did something similar. So, that's where it all started, which led me into reading books on people's perspectives.
Why I don't talk to white people about racism anymore was one of the books that I read early on. Then I started reading even more deeply about unconscious bias and leadership inclusiveness. Talking to people. Then we started to roll it out within the organisation and we created monologue sessions within our own staff's experience of working within Nugent. For example, we had one individual who was part of the LGBTQIA+ community, speaking about how this individual had to feel like they had to 'come out' every single time that they spoke to a new person. And what that felt like as a staff member within the organisation. It really changed the perspectives of people who had assumed, in hindsight, that they knew much about the lived experience of individuals through EDI. And these monologues were so profound. We had a series of monologues -I think we had four or five people speak - where they spoke to the camera and the rest of the leadership team turned off their cameras, so this person could just speak their own truth with no reflections from the audience.
It profoundly affected members of our leadership team. Some people were talking about it weeks later and reflecting on it. Some people had really emotional responses through tears at the moment and just realised how much unconscious bias they had actually experienced themselves and when they heard it from a different perspective; from somebody who had that lived experience, how that changed and they realised that their thinking, without them even being aware of it, was in a different place and that wasn't helpful to their friends and colleagues. That was the difference. These weren't individuals that they didn't know, these were individuals that they worked alongside day in and day out for years and were unaware of the different thinking that was going on.
I think it's really important as a leader to go on your own journey of understanding so that you know what that feels like within yourself because when you start being a part of the group in your own organisation, you are going to see the emotional reactions coming out - and that could be fear, that could be anger, that could be remorse, it could be a range of emotions that you're not expecting. But to be grounded, you need to have already processed. In my opinion, you need to have already started that journey yourself so that you know where you stand as an individual because you're going to have a lot of emotions come your way that are presented in different ways, and played out in different ways throughout the organisation. It's about courage because sometimes it feels really uncomfortable, especially if you're coming from a position of privilege and realising what that privilege or advantage could have afforded you and what it's led to the detriment of experience around you.
Also, the ability to realise you won't always get it. You are going to make mistakes and you will be corrected, but hopefully, by doing that with the greatest of integrity at the forefront and not letting your primitive brain hijack that moment - where it becomes a fear response - rather it's a "what can I learn from this" response? How can I be appreciative of this feedback? Because feedback is an absolute gift because it took that person, whoever's giving that feedback, a whole lot of emotional investment that you may not even be aware of to be able to speak up to you. So, being able to sit back and say, this isn't about me. I need to recognise that this person just had an enormous amount of courage and a whole lot of maybe negative experiences in their life that led them to a position where they felt this way of courage to be able to speak up to someone, especially a person in, in a position of power. To give that feedback is a gift. It is a real gift.
Graham: This is an incredibly difficult, complex subject as we've just explored, I'm going bring the conversation to an end in a moment, and thank you very much for your time and for sharing your experiences in this. I really appreciate it, and I know the audience will too.
One final thing, as someone who came here from Canada, someone who's lived amongst us for 20 years, and you're about to go home to Canada this spring; what will be the abiding memories of living amongst us when you go back to Canada?
Normandie: I think it will be the people I've met along the way. That is the greatest gift. The people I've met along the way, and the experiences that I have had both good and bad. I regret nothing because everything, every single one of those experiences has made me who I am today and I am extremely grateful for the people who have held my hand, laughed with me, had a dance with me, drank with me, shared moments of angst and celebration with me. It is the people that I will always, always remember. And the most amazing thing about having that is that people know how to work Zoom and they know how to work teams and WhatsApp so those people that I've connected with and resonated with over the last 20-plus years, I will remain in contact with because the world is so easily accessible by some individuals. Again, acknowledging privilege - because I'm privileged to have an internet connection and technology to be able to do that.
Graham: Thank you very much. If any of our audience wanted to reach out to you or to reach out to you, Nugent to just discuss this further or get more advice and help, how can they reach out to you?
Normandie: If anyone wants to reach out to me on LinkedIn, you can find me Normandie Wragg. If you wanna find out more about the charity that I'm working with Nugent Care, we are nugent.org.uk and we're doing some wonderful work. We're always looking to partner with like-minded organisations and like-minded people who want to continue on our journey alongside us, charitable Partners, charities of the year or even just to support and buy Christmas cards from us if you celebrate Christmas.
Graham: Thank you very much and I'll see you all next time. Bye.
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