Category Archives: Towards an inclusive world

Inclusive leadership in the time of the coronavirus is also worrying about food and toilet paper

Picture of the empty shelves in a supermarket in England. Picture taken on 14th March 2020 by Patricia Gestoso©

Picture of empty shelves in a supermarket in England. Picture taken on 14th March 2020 by Patricia Gestoso ©.

(3 min read)

Last week, I asked a colleague how her recent transition to remote working was going on. Was her internet and VPN working ok? Did she get access to the docking station, screen, and mouse from the office? Was she proactively taking breaks?

Her answers reassured me: Yes, yes, and yes.

She also told me that after finishing her work at 6.00 pm she rushed to the supermarket to only find broccoli and Brussels sprouts. We made fun about how some people rather starve than eat certain food. It also made me realize that I’ve failed as a leader.

The scarcity trap

The picture that accompanies this post it’s how the supermarkets looked like where I live a week ago. It’s how they looked all this week too. And this weekend as well.  Me too, I’ve felt the pain and stress of visiting 3, 4, 5 supermarkets to gather the basic food and toiletries I needed.

I’m acquainted with this feeling. I lived in Venezuela for 12 years and my parents still live there. By now, I’m used to their photos of depleted supermarket shelves and pharmacies with soda bottles where there used to be painkillers. The frequency doesn’t make the problem to go away.

In this context, how did I fail to ask my team if their basic needs were covered? Nor was I urged to do so by the uncountable articles I’ve read from management and leadership magazines providing advice on how to navigate this time of uncertainty in the last three weeks?

This gap is even more bewildering when we think that a wealth of frameworks about human motivation are built on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which stresses that the most important needs are physiological (food, water, shelter, warmth). Then, other needs follow: security needs (safety, employment, assets), social needs (family, friendship, intimacy, belonging), self-esteem (self-worth, accomplishment, confidence), and self-actualization (inner fulfillment) at the top. That is, food needs are more important that security (e.g. washing thoroughly our hands).

Although Maslow’s model has been contested, I challenge readers to find examples where other needs in the hierarchy can take precedence back over physiological needs for extended periods of time.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom physiological needs, followed by safety needs, social needs, self-esteem, and self-actualization at the top.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Shouldn’t business focus on enabling their personnel to fulfill their physiological needs as a first step? Or is that overstepping into the private sphere?

Whilst some may point out that as business leaders our duties finish the moment we timely pay the agreed salary to employees and provide them with the means to do so (laptop, mouse, VPN…), I’d argue that if you are neglecting the impact of physiological needs on performance you are setting yourself for failure. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, as per the work on scarcity from behavioral science professors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

Mullainathan and Shafir postulate that scarcity – when we feel we have “too little of something” – messes up with our minds and decision: “if the mind is focused on one thing, other abilities and skills—attention, self-control, and long-term planning—often suffer”.

Their studies showcase multiple examples where individuals can lose up to 14 IQ points –more than the impact of staying 24 hr awake – when their environment forces them into a scarcity mindset [source]. Examples are the feeling of having too little money, food, or time.

In summary, the scarcity trap can hurt companies’ performance by focusing efforts on assuring the technological continuity of the business, overlooking that in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) time the devil is in day to day detail. To say it plainly

Employees concerned by the availability of rice and toilet paper in the supermarket at the end of their working day won’t perform at their best, no matter how good is their internet connection or how well suited is their home office.

Leading inclusively

My challenge to us as managers and leaders is that when we go back to work tomorrow we ensure the conversations with our team members explore physiological needs as well: Do they have food? Toiletries? Shelter? Are they queuing at the supermarket at 6.00 am in the morning in the hope of getting some bread and milk? And what’s more important, how can we as managers and leaders facilitate that they carve out the time to fulfill those needs?

Only then, let’s worry about virtual collaboration, laptops, and reliable internet connection.

The ROI of Inclusive And Ethical Design

A calculator and a pen resting on a paper with some handwritten notes. 

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay.

(5 min)

Interacting with tech products that reject me as a user or provide a subpar experience elicits two very different responses in me.

As a Head of Customer Service with 25+ years’ experience in scientific and engineering software, I’m well aware of the constraints imposed by a finite R&D team and an ever-growing list of customer enhancement requests and bugs to fix. It’s teams like mine that build those lists and provide feedback to the product team on their prioritization. Which features and fixes make it into code depends on a multitude of factors: the difficulty to implement them, their alignment with the vision for the product, and their potential impact on the user experience and expectations. This last criterion is assessed using fictional user personas created by the product team as a representation of the ideal customer. The closer the requester of the feature is to one of the user personas, the higher the chances of implementation into the product. However, if the issue is considered an edge case – not representative of a substantial customer base – then it will mostly get rejected or postponed indefinitely. Every new feature and fix must demonstrate its ROI.

As a woman that cumulates several out-group identities – e.g. non-native English speaker, poor vision – I’m used to the frustrating feedback that my mediocre user experience is deceptively cataloged as an edge case. Why deceptively? The average tech Continue reading

Ditch empathy and embrace curiosity: Be a better manager, improve customer experience, and become a stronger diversity and inclusion ally

Child hand pointing to a blackboard with the words what, where, when, why, how, who.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

The term empathy has been steadily gaining visibility for years. It’s not a hunch; as per Google Trends, its popularity has doubled in the last 10 years. This shift can be explained by empathy expanding from the personal sphere (partner, family, friendship) to the business arena (emotional intelligence, management, customer service, HR, diversity and inclusion). What’s more, empathy appears to be the cure-all for any human interaction mismatch (and for machines too: if only they would have empathy…).

But, is this based on hard evidence or wishful thinking?

I believe that betting on empathy is unlikely to make the positive change in human relationship we are looking for. Continue reading

Disability as an Innovation Driver

Yellow light bulb over physical disability symbols with the caption “disability as an innovation driver”

(5 min read)

The typewriter, internet, closed captioning, text-to-speech, eye gaze.

All those inventions have in common a widespread application and impact. They were also originally created to overcome a limitation imposed by a disability. And there are a lot more, as this article points out.

Surprised? I was. Stereotypes do narrow our thinking.

Myth #1: Disability happens to others.

Continue reading

Want to curb climate change? Empower women

I was not planning to like Moment of Lift (source) by Melinda Gates. Although I was tempted to read it, I always bailed out at the last minute because somehow I thought it would be some kind of 101 Wishful Thinking for Women. When the World Economic Forum Book Club (source) chose it as a May read, I thought it may be a signal. It was.

Continue reading

Women & Money | Shame & Guilt

5 min read

I love the Masters of Scale podcast, hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and investor at Greylock. What’s not to like about a podcast about innovative business models, that is fun and committed to a 50-50 gender balance for guests? Continue reading

My first LinkedIn Article: Diversity is key to delivering excellent customer support

BIOVIASupport_5KeyAttributestoOutstandingSupport

In my first LinkedIn article, I share 5 key factors to the success of the customer support team I lead. Predictably, diversity of workforce and perspectives is crucial to delivering exceptional customer service. Continue reading

When a Toilet Becomes a Symbol of Exclusion

Photo of a sign with an arrow pointing to the right followed by a transgender symbol at the center and disabled toilet sign.

A toilet sign at the TEDxWomenLondon2018

Toilet /ˈtɔɪlət/

A structure like a seat over a hole where you get rid of waste from your body.

A room in a house or public building that contains a toilet.

Early this month I attended LondonWomen. As per the director and curator of the event – Maryam Pasha – it was 8 years in the making. The stimulating array of speakers showed a labor of love, commitment, and resilience. 

I went to the event to keep up with the state-of-the-art in women’s issues and to network. I did a lot of the first (more at the end of this post), less of the second.

I also had a “toilet” epiphany: Continue reading

Headwinds and tailwinds: A framework to build empathy

HeadwindsTailwinds

Remember last time you were faced with strong winds against you whilst cycling or walking? Probably yes. And tailwinds, i.e. winds that helped you to progress faster? Probably not.

In their scientific article The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings, Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich used headwinds and tailwinds as a metaphor to explain our perception of advantages and disadvantages that we face. Continue reading