Why should I care?

Scroll down LinkedIn for a few minutes and you can’t avoid a post about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Not that I would want to avoid posts about D&I! But if you hadn’t noticed, it is definitely up there on the agenda of employers.

The Cabinet Office Social Value model illustrates the importance of this nicely. It focuses on policy outcomes for under-represented groups in the workforce such as prison leavers and people with disabilities. Amongst other things, it aspires to tackle economic inequality, workforce inequality and reduce the disability employment gap. Well done to the Cabinet Office. The NHS and public sector organisations now seek to procure services from organizations that can demonstrate the social value built into the way they work, and their services.

We talk about D&I a bit in these blogs. Maybe that’s because many who work at Zest identify personally with the need for inclusion because we are a diverse bunch. Occasionally I feel a bit cynical about some of this stuff though. I don’t always want a load of labels. I’m happy with my “Quirky Queer” to encapsulate me and my ways.

Despite this, I have however, kind of added another one to the list. It doesn’t get to sit under Quirky Queer because it’s an external one. I’m now a part-time carer for my mum. Being a carer isn’t especially talked about like being queer, or being neurodiverse (when you live in Brighton these identities can appear as being so very #on-trend). My perceived lack of public attention to caring is odd, given CIPD claim there to be an estimated 3.7 million working carers in England and Wales. They say a growing number of people are playing a dual role in balancing their jobs with their caring responsibilities. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if it’s quite frankly the least “cool” of things that set you aside from the mainstream.

Caring can naturally have its frustrations and worries. For starters, I have to work hard at slowing down my speech, (some) decision making, and generally manage my energy. Then the worries – I won’t share our personal worries in great detail, but the general feeling (for me and my co-carers, yes, I do a job share ;-)) is about knowing what “the right thing to do” is. You have no idea of what will happen next in life anyway, but when someone has two degenerative conditions and a bunch of other health stuff, this principle really slaps you in the face. Sometimes you can’t help but fantasize about a crystal ball.

There are definitely upsides. Slowing down and managing my energy can be positive too! More importantly, caring for a loved one is such an honour and a joy. On good days, we have fun and a laugh. During the bad moments, we share the raw truth of her situation and face the darkness together. Those moments don’t usually last too long or happen too frequently, but they certainly stay with you. It may sound curious, but I cherish those moments as much as the fun and giggles, just in a different way.

Caring isn’t just topical in my personal life. I worked with a senior leader who wanted to explore how to work differently, including making more time for family (a popular coaching conversation!). A four week family holiday that was booked at the start of our work felt unachievable due to the heavy daily demands of leadership responsibility. By the end of our sessions, the family holiday had been taken and a five day week reduced to a four week. This was designated as a care day for their parent who had recently lost their partner and associated support.

As I reach this point in the story, I want to pause and ask about the image of the senior leader you have created in your head. Do they have long or short hair? Are they happy or frowning? Are the male or female? I don’t know about the length of hair, but I’d bet some money on your character being female. The coachee was actually male. I have to confess to being full of admiration for him reducing his working week to care for his parent. I challenged biases and asked myself as to whether I would have the same extent of admiration for a female or non-binary coachee?

Hopefully I would. Either way, it helped me acknowledge the importance of role-modelling to more junior staff, which (sadly or not) I believe will have greater impact due to societal expectations. It sends a message. It is OK – more than OK! – to reduce your working week, as a male senior leader, who has just been promoted, to care for someone.

This blog was authored by Dr Anna Kane.

Anna is running the London Marathon on April 23rd to raise money for Parkinson’s UK. Please sponsor her by clicking here.

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