Celebrating LGBT History Month – An Interview with Simon Monger SCMP®

Simon Monger, SCMP® is an Internal Communication, Change and Engagement Consultant. Since 2007 he’s worked with a diverse range of global and multinational organisations in 19 countries across three continents. Simon has been a Board Member of the UK & Ireland Chapter of IABC since June 2020.

 

To mark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month, Pooja Kamat, Employment Engagement Intern at the University of Leeds and IABC UK&I Student Board Member asked Simon to share his personal experiences of working in the communication industry as an openly gay man.

 

So Simon, tell us about how you found your path into a career in the communication industry?

Like a lot of people who started working in communications in the noughties, I fell into it almost completely by accident. I was working in customer service for E.ON UK straight out of university, where I’d studied English. I wanted a job that allowed me to be creative and write, so when I heard about the magical world of internal communication, I found my way into an entry-level position. From the first day I was completely hooked. That was almost 14 years ago.

 

What has been your experience of working in the communications field as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?

Overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been openly gay throughout my communications career and it’s never been an issue. I was fortunate early on to work with a brilliant head of communications who was gay, married and very open about his life and husband. It gave me the confidence to be myself at work. Role models are extremely important – being able to see someone “like you” who has been incredibly successful shows that it’s possible.

 

Do you feel the industry has changed and is now more inclusive in nature?

As I say, I’ve been very fortunate to have a good experience, so it’s difficult for me to say if the industry has changed. But if we were to speak in a broader sense about inclusivity, I do think there is lots more to do. It’s no secret that our industry is predominantly female, and once you get beyond gender there isn’t enough diversity. But I believe it’s a work in progress and what’s pleasing is that there is more pressure on us to change, a groundswell that is saying we don’t accept how it’s been, we need to change. We all have a role to play in ensuring things continue to improve and we are inclusive of everyone.

 

Have you ever faced discrimination on the grounds of your sexuality? Has being gay made it more difficult to do your job?

I don’t think I’ve ever been discriminated against based on my sexuality, no. The second part of your question is interesting, though. Being gay hasn’t made it more difficult to do my job, but there are differences. On an almost daily basis I find myself having to come out to someone. I’m pretty used to it after all this time, but it was difficult at first and can get a bit tiresome. It can also depend on the industry you work in. My clients are varied and in some I feel more comfortable than others. But that is more about me than anything, because I’ve never had any problems working in more masculine or ‘macho’ industries like transport or construction, where perhaps I might have expected it to be a bit more difficult. We can all help our LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues by never assuming sexual orientation or gender identity. Don’t assume a man is married to a woman. You’d be surprised how often someone asks about my girlfriend or wife! Use inclusive language. Ask about someone’s partner, not their wife or husband. Add your preferred pronouns to your LinkedIn profile and other social media. It really makes a difference and takes such little effort to do.

An image of Simon Monger SCMP in London, UK

Inclusion and diversity are very much buzzwords of business. What are your thoughts?

I think they’re so much more than buzzwords. Yes, you could be cynical and say that companies are just looking to tick the boxes; and in some cases, that’s probably true. But I’ve seen some wonderful organisations doing really great work in inclusion and diversity. Increasingly, organisations understand how crucial diversity and inclusion are to their success – whether that’s attracting the right talent, representing the communities and customers they serve, or simply understanding that employees who can be themselves at work are more productive and engaged. It makes good business sense. In recent years we’ve seen a shift more towards inclusivity, rather than diversity. And that’s good. Diversity is about representation. Inclusion is about integration, collaboration, perspectives and presence. We will never be “finished” when it comes to inclusion and diversity. There isn’t an end to this work and we all have a role to play.

 

Do you think the LGBTQ+ community have equal opportunities?

Within the communications industry? Well, I’m very conscious that I can’t speak for an entire community! Particularly one so varied and where there is so much lived experience that is very different to my own. I would like to say that there are equal opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community – and in my experience that has been the case – but sadly, I think I can say with certainty that it isn’t always the case. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin, which I’m sure has helped me. If I was less confident and comfortable, then perhaps it would be different. When it comes to wider society, I don’t think we have 100% equality yet. Things are so much better than they were when I was at school – when it was illegal to talk about homosexuality in lessons for fear of ‘promoting’ it, leading to generations of LGBT kids growing up with little or no sex education – but there is more work to be done.

 

What would you say to LGBTQ+ people who are considering a career in communications?

I would absolutely say do it. I’ve found the communications industry to be incredibly welcoming and supportive. And being a member of the IABC has been incredibly helpful, too. I have connections all around the world, people who are so lovely and supportive and welcoming of people from so many different backgrounds, with different experiences. The global reach of IABC means there’s always something new to experience, and inclusivity is at the heart of everything we do.

Brewdog — Strategic Stunt or Caring Company?

By Board Member Georgia Eather

(Twitter @gmay_)

 

Brewdog’s CEO and Co-Founder James Watt recently posted some open letters to Nicola Sturgeon and Matt Hancock on LinkedIn and Twitter. He has offered Brewdog venues to support the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine, describing the venues as ideal settings with refrigerators, rooms and teams to assist if needed.

Screenshot of James Watt's post on LinkedIn

James Watts’ open letter on LinkedIn

The public response has been mixed from his followers, some comments have ranged from “brilliant initiative” and “lovely gesture” to “big PR stunt” and a ploy to ensure Brewdog is operational before competitors with vaccinated staff.

Whatever the motivation, this seems consistent with Brewdog’s ‘punk reputation’ of thinking outside the box with creative strategies that may seem forward thinking to old-school competitors. Previous examples include moving quickly to manufacture and donate hand sanitiser at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, becoming the world’s first carbon negative beer business and planting the Brewdog Forest in the Scottish Highlands. And they move fast. This, and more, has all happened in the past 12 months.

Image for post

Forbes article detailing Brewdog’s carbon negative status

Whether the open letters are a PR campaign or if Brewdog intend to follow through on their promise, we may not know right now. But one thing is clear, the power of PR and communications is real. With this extension of goodwill and offer to support a national health scheme, it’s clear where Brewdog’s priorities lie. Brewdog cares about people.

Brewdog is not alone in this. Ben and Jerry’s is a vocal supporter of LGBTQI+ rights. Fenty Beauty is a leader in the beauty market through their inclusive and diverse shades of make-up, prompting other brands to follow suit. Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign championed gender equality and women empowerment.

The idea of a PR ‘stunt’ is not new, but perhaps with good intentions, brands can follow the example set by Brewdog and others. I believe in the power of brands doing good. Maybe the world can be a better place if stories are told and change is made. There is much more at stake than reputations.

Gazing into the crystal ball

By Simon Monger, SCMP®

Predicting what’s going to happen in 2021 might seem even more of a laughable prospect than usual. You might well ask yourself why anyone would even want to.

Jenni Field recently posed a question on Twitter: ‘What do you think will be the big trends for communications and business in 2021 #internalcomms #business #trends.’ There’s some interesting thoughts in the thread, so I recommend taking a look.

It got me thinking. And three things very quickly came to mind:

  • Employer brand and organisational culture.
  • Employee listening.
  • Human communication.

Employer brand and organisational culture

Every organisation has an employer brand, whether it knows it or not. You only have to look on Glassdoor to see the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in their 2008 guide, ‘Employer branding: a no-nonsense approach’, define employer brand as ‘a set of attributes and qualities, often intangible, that [make] an organisation distinctive, [promise] a particular kind of employment experience, and [appeal] to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture’.

Of course, employer brand is closely connected to organisational culture and values. Which is all well and good when you’re in a working environment. But how do you foster the right culture with people working remotely?

As we begin to vaccinate against COVID-19, we may well see some companies returning to their workplaces. But this isn’t going to happen overnight, and many organisations are very unlikely to return to the old ways of working.

So how do you ensure that your employer brand and culture are fit for 2021 – and beyond?

You already have an employer brand and culture. Hopefully, it’s even one that you like. It might not be perfect, but it’s there. You may be one of the many organisations we’ve seen this year really stepping into their own, putting their values into practice. 

But is this experience consistent throughout the employee lifecycle? From induction to performance management, from the way you communicate to how people leave your organisation, you need to be consistent. What are you doing to sustain this in the new remote working world?  

The new year might be a great opportunity to take stock and reset. Because as we know, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Employee listening

Listening to employees isn’t new. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. While it’s true to say that, historically, communicators might have been better at communicating out and less good at listening to what comes back, that’s definitely changing. And as we enter a new year, with many of us still away from the workplace, ensuring that we’re really listening to what people have to say is more important than ever.

This ties in nicely with culture. Do you have a listening culture? If you do, have you been able to maintain this through lockdowns and remote working? If you don’t, what small steps could you begin to take to begin to establish trusted ways for employees and management to share? 

The ‘Who’s Listening?’ report – a joint activity between the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the PR Academy – showed that effective listening delivers a more competitive organisation, a greater sense of employee engagement and advocacy (reducing reputational risk and enhancing that employer brand), more trust in leadership, greater innovation, and openness to change, resilience, learning and wellbeing.

But fear can be a barrier to listening – both for employees and leaders. And it’s not just speaking the truth to senior leaders that can be difficult. Some leaders and managers avoid listening because they’re afraid of being asked a question they feel they can’t answer, but should be able to.

The report was updated in 2020, showing that with COVID-19, organisations have sped up the rate with which they are adopting new, online ways of listening to employees, and listening will only grow in importance. 

A note of caution: the research also shows that some companies still undervalue listening as a leadership capability, and often pay lip service to it. This will not wash with employees in 2021 as we continue to adapt to different ways of working.

Human communication is here to stay

You might well ask what type of communication it was before, but the truth is that this year we have really seen the human side of organisations. 

OK, so the novelty of seeing your CEO with a cat on their lap, or your HR Director trying to wrangle a screaming four-year-old while presenting, may have worn off. But no one can deny that we now know more about our colleagues – and leaders – than ever before.

Internal communication is often criticised for being too formal, too corporate – and rightly so. This year has seen many organisations really focus on bringing empathy and humanity into their communications – and it’s here to stay. As we settle into a routine of ‘COVID normal’ and, eventually, whatever kind of normal comes after that, we should never lose sight of the fact that people are behind every communication we craft and send. 

There will, no doubt, be many surprises in the coming months and years. Notice I didn’t even mention Brexit! But no matter what happens, organisations can’t go wrong focusing on culture, listening and clear communication. Because at the end of the day, we’re all human.

Why inclusive communication should be everyone’s business

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum

 

Business Disability Forum is a not for profit membership organisation that supports businesses – of all shapes, sizes and sectors – to get better at recruiting and retaining disabled employees and at serving disabled customers. Ultimately, we exist to transform the life chances of disabled people* as employees and consumers; something which is all too needed when you consider that (pre-COVID) the disability employment gap stood at around 30%, with just 51% of disabled people in employment, compared to 80.2% of the population as a whole – and it’s much lower for specific groups.

*(Throughout this article I use the term ‘disabled people’ as this is the preferred terminology in the UK. The term “disabled people” reflects the social model of disability which says that people are not inherently disabled as an innate characteristic of who they are but rather are disabled by a society that doesn’t meet their needs. Other countries prefer other terms, including people with disabilities as “people first” language.)

 

Our 300+ members and partners employ an estimated 20% of the UK workforce and over eight million people worldwide. We provide our members with pragmatic support and advice, rooted in best practice, through our confidential advice service, learning and development, consultancy, events, and a range of networks and taskforces that enable them to learn from their peers and share what works – and what doesn’t!

 

So, alongside numerous roundtables and networks, we currently run taskforces themed on technology, global – which reflects the fact that approximately half our members operate beyond the UK, whether they are a truly global brand like HSBC, Shell or Unilever, or operate in a few overseas markets – employment, neurodiversity and more.

 

Of course, disabled people are consumers, too, with significant spending power. The “Purple Pound” – the spend of disabled people and their families – is estimated at £249bn per annum in the UK. Globally, it’s estimated that this is a market the size of China! So, we also run a customer taskforce to help businesses to support disabled customers, and to provide an excellent service to everyone. Indeed, we often say that when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

 

 

There are plenty of practical things that communicators can do to ensure that what they deliver is done with disabilities in mind – and they don’t have to be difficult or expensive.

 

Use plain English. It always strikes me how much of our time in education is spent trying to obscure our meaning and write long sentences. Writing from an accessibility and inclusivity perspective can mean unlearning that!

 

Make sure that videos are subtitled so that they are accessible to people who are Deaf or have hearing loss. Also, make sure they are audio described for people with a visual impairment (audio description is a voiceover explaining what is happening on screen.

 

For events or meetings, ask if people have accessibility requirements. It’s best practice, at least for larger events or meetings, to provide captioning (live speech to text) and a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter as standard.

Don’t forget to make use of built-in accessibility checks – Microsoft Office, for example, has a built-in ‘check accessibility’ function. Use ‘alt text’ to label images so that a screen reader can interpret them.

 

Check your contrast. Make sure that colour palettes (digital and online) are accessible and that you have sufficient contrast between text and background. Online, you can offer the ability for users to change colours and backgrounds, but better still is designing out barriers to make the core site as accessible as possible. Incorporate contrast guidance (e.g. which colours can and cannot be used together) into your brand guidelines.

 

Above all, test your communications with a wide cross section of disabled people – and by that, I mean people with a range of different conditions – to ensure that they work for as many people as possible. Though remember that you may still need to provide alternative formats (such as Easy Read or Braille) for some individuals – and make it clear that you can provide this on request. Easy Read is also helpful for people who do not have English as their first language, or who are simply time poor! It’s a great way of getting to the central points of a communication without the fluff!

 

Also think about how you represent disabled people in your imagery. Research suggests that seven out of ten people feel more positive towards a brand if its advertising includes disabled people.

 

I also think that we have, thankfully, moved on in our thinking from a time not so long ago when there was a tendency to think of design in particular as being either good design or accessible design. It’s a false opposition; design is a tool to convey a meaning. If that meaning isn’t understood – because it’s not accessible or not inclusive – then it isn’t a good design!

 

 

COVID-19 has presented plenty of communication challenges for disabled people, as well as opportunities.

 

Challenges include the lack of different/accessible formats for vital information at the start of the pandemic, and the fact that the then daily and now ad hoc briefings from 10 Downing Street do not include a sign language interpreter.

 

Online meetings can be very difficult for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing – they may rely on lipreading, which can be difficult if the camera and lighting is poor, or if people talk across each other, so good meeting etiquette is vital. Similarly, providing high-quality captioning makes the difference between a Deaf colleague being included and able to engage, or not. It also sends an important message about what you value.

 

Other communication challenges include the wearing of face masks – again a huge barrier for people who rely on lipreading. Another challenge has been the lack of a proper public information campaign to raise awareness of people who are exempt from wearing a face mask, or who cannot socially distance, perhaps because they have difficulty judging distances or because they just can’t see to do so.

 

But there are opportunities, too. There are different ways to take part in meetings – being able to participate using a chat function online, or simply to “like” something that someone has said means that people who are shy at speaking up in a group can still participate.

 

And of course, communications technology has opened up huge opportunities for many people in how we live and work. Prior to COVID-19, homeworking was the most frequently requested workplace adjustment for employees with disabilities, and now it’s commonplace. At our annual conference in October, one of our speakers from Microsoft described this is as a “digital pandemic”, and it’s difficult to imagine how we would have coped without technology to communicate.

 

Technology is not a panacea though. Many people – disabled or not – struggle with loneliness and isolation. And even with video we miss visual cues that may tell us if someone isn’t coping well. So really listening and looking out for other signs is vital.

 

 

Our ethos is that getting it right for disabled people and becoming “Disability Smart” is not just the domain of HR or Diversity and Inclusion teams, but needs a cross-business, whole organisational approach.

 

One of the key areas around getting it right is communication. Communication is ultimately part of everyone’s job, but there is a key role for communications professionals in ensuring that visual, written, digital and multimedia content is as inclusive and accessible as possible.

 

About a year ago we were approached by one of our members, Skipton Building Society, for advice on inclusive communications. While there was a lot of information out there about making websites accessible, very little existed for other forms of communication. So, we created an Inclusive Communications Toolkit to bridge the gap. We worked with Skipton, who kindly sponsored the toolkit for us, to create a comprehensive guide for communications professionals. We also involved a cross sector steering group in developing the toolkit to make sure that it was as practical as possible for all sectors.

 

The toolkit is aimed at introducing people to the topic of inclusive communications.  It’s primarily aimed at a UK audience and there are, of course, important language and cultural differences that communications professionals need to consider when creating content for different countries. Nevertheless, the principles remain the same and I really hope that this toolkit is a useful resource for communicators, wherever you are in the world.

 

The full toolkit is available to all our members and partners on our Knowledge Hub and you can find our “Top tips” resource on our website here: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/knowledge-hub/resources/making-information-inclusive-and-accessible/ You can also find a blog on creating accessible emails, created by Skipton Building Society here: Inclusive communication: Skipton Building Society and creating accessible emails – Business Disability Forum

 

 

We were so bowled over by the interest in – and hunger for – our inclusive communications toolkit that we thought that there might be an appetite for a new network in this space.

 

We consistently hear from our members and partners that they really value the “safe space” that our taskforces provide. (They are only open to members and partners and are run under Chatham House rules.) So, we set up the first meeting of the Inclusive Communications Network at the beginning of November. We were overwhelmed by the response and are going to run the network on a regular basis – visit www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk for details.

Diane Lightfoot is CEO of Business Disability Forum, a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports businesses to recruit and retain disabled employees and to serve disabled customers. Business Disability Forum’s 300+ members now employ around 20% of the UK workforce and 8 million people worldwide. They range from FTSE 100 companies and central Government departments to technology, transport and construction companies, retailers, higher education providers and public services bodies.

Diane sits on a number of boards including the Government’s Disability Expert Advisory Panel, Work Autism and the Institute of Coding’s Diversity & Inclusion Board. She is Chair of the Disabled Students’ Stakeholder Group, a Commissioner for the newly formed Disability Commission, chaired by Lord Shinkwin and hosted by the Centre for Social Justice, co-Chair of the Disability Charities Consortium and Chair of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation.

@DianeLightfoot

@DisabilitySmart

 

Global employee listening survey

We’re launching a global research study into how organisations listen to their people – and I would love it if you could participate by completing this 10-minute survey.  In return we’ll send you a copy of the findings* that will enable you to:

  • Understand and share good practices in listening
  • Compare your (or your clients’) listening practices with local and international practices
  • Provide evidence of the links between effectiveness in listening and other business benefits
  • Underpin recommendations for improvement against a robust international dataset

This work is the product of collaboration with Howard Krais at Johnson Matthey, Dr. Kevin Ruck at PR Academy and the International Association of Business Communicators Foundation.

One of the consequences of the pandemic is that people’s relationship with their employer is changing because the way we work has had to change.  Many of us are working from home far more than we used to.  Even if we are physically at a formal work location, our working patterns will have changed to accommodate social distancing locally and virtual working with many colleagues.  As we move through this crisis and continuing uncertainty it creates different demands on each of us and the organisations we work in.

Nurturing relationships and staying in touch during times like this is very important.  People need to know that the people they work for care about them.  The boss needs to know how people are coping and the emotional and practical support they need to be effective.  But there are also much harder nosed reasons for listening to employees.  Making it easy for people to speak up can avert disasters, employees have numerous insights into how to improve service and ways of working, and effective listening plays an important role in effective change and building resilience. 

We know all this because about two years ago we began researching the way people are listened to.  At the time our motive was a belief that organisations tend to put too much emphasis on “transmitting” rather than “receiving” – a consequence in part of the impact social media has had on attitudes towards communication.

Our first Who’s Listening? report showed that was true and provided an update from our study across people in Europe, Middle East and Africa.  It explored how and why companies listened to their people and the barriers to listening.  This was conducted before Covid-19.  

Our second report in 2020 explored good practices amongst a group of companies that consistently demonstrate the capability to listen well to their people and was highly relevant given the lockdown caused by the pandemic.  Based on their insights we drew out a number of principles for good listening and a spectrum of different listening approaches which you can find in the report.

When we presented this work at the IABC World Conference in June 2020 we were encouraged by the response and so the third phase of our work is to launch this survey to gather input from across the globe.

We’ll be providing further reports and updates on the findings via webinars in the New Year.

*You’ll need to give us your email where indicated to receive the findings.  We promise not to use this for any other purposes than to send you the results of the survey.

Mike Pounsford