The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

A fearless future is a world where people are treated equally. Where everyone’s view is as important as each other. Regardless of their age, gender, race and ethnicity, faith, class or sexuality or any other personal characteristic.

Part of this fearless future is recognising that nobody is ever just one thing.

Every person is a collection of characteristics and no single issue should be prioritised over another. As an example, most organisations have a gender diversity programme looking to improve the number of women in leadership. However, the outcome of the initiative is often positive only for women who tend to be “white, middle class, heterosexual and able-bodied”.

By only focusing on one element, we’re telling some people they need to wait their turn and, as a result, such policies can be divisive. Both for those that they are looking to support and to those who are excluded. Instead, we need to focus on creating an inclusive culture where people can show up as their whole selves every day.

For true change to happen, there needs to be a level of discomfort around this and a challenge to ourselves to expand our horizons. It needs to be uncomfortable for us to be able to move through it as these periods of discomfort can be the most rewarding learning experiences.

We are going to make mistakes when talking to others and when acknowledging our own privileges and mistakes in the past. That’s why we need to have courageous conversations that listen to other people’s experiences, backgrounds and cultures, and work towards a commitment to do better. We can truly start to understand who people really are and how to achieve the best from when we talk to them, rather than forming stereotypical assumptions.

Our own diversity charter draws on this by asking all of our colleagues to be culturally competent. To take the time to learn about different cultures, races, religions and backgrounds represented in (and outside) of our Network. We have many resources to facilitate this, including our office library, our company wellbeing app TalkOut and encouraging brave, open and honest conversations. If employees make a mistake when talking to their colleagues, we ask them to apologise and ask for help.

We also ask our colleagues to treat people in the way they wish to be treated rather than the way you would wish to be treated. Most importantly, we should be respectful always to others.

So today, I invite you to challenge yourself to move out of your own comfort zone. Have a courageous conversation or learn something new about a different culture. That way you’ll be making progress towards a fearless future.

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Ubuntu: I am Because We are – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness

On World Social Work Day 2021, we recognise the work of our Chairperson Jim Cockburn, who has fearlessly championed the rights of children across the world.

Jim Cockburn has made a significant contribution to the fostering landscape that the world knows today, and in doing so helped to provide foster care for 45,000 children around the world.

Before he disrupted the rules, foster carers were often supporting children and young people with complex needs and receiving little in the way of support and training. Jim created an agency that aimed to take young people with complex needs out of institutional care and place them in families. Jim’s aim was to ensure his carers were properly supported, trained and paid a reasonable allowance for their commitment and care. Another key aim of Jim’s approach to fostering was to ensure the placements created feelings of belonging and inclusion for the children, many of whom had experienced abuse and neglect and whose life chances would have otherwise been limited.

Jim is proud to be a registered social worker, he first practised in children and families teams in Bristol, Sheffield and London, before moving to Dudley. He moved to Sandwell as a social services middle manager during the mid-1980s and worked in Smethwick, Oldbury and Cape Hill. These were areas of multiple deprivation, and Jim was involved in numerous care proceedings where children were removed from their family homes.

“The challenges many families faced meant we could have made a case to take any number of kids away, I felt burned out.” He didn’t fit into the local authority ethos, disruptors never do, so he moved to a night duty team before getting onto a course at UAE, in East Anglia, so that he could improve his knowledge and skills. He was told by a lecturer that he would never succeed with local authorities. “I was told my career would always be a disaster, that I’d always be in trouble.” He was too outspoken, too independent.

He got a job in Bromsgrove where he tried to change the direction of his career by applying to work in fostering. Ironically, for a man who went on to oversee 45,000 foster placements, he was turned down and told by raising fostering standards and support he’d make the process too elitist.

This provided Jim with the motivation to develop his own services that had quality care for children at their core. “There was a girl there, who started it all off. She was six, been multiply abused, and was severely traumatised. The local authority took her into care and she ended up in this institution with teenagers, which was just wrong she was so vulnerable. So I spoke to a foster carer who I knew and asked her to look after her, rather than allow this to happen.”

The carer agreed on the proviso that she had long term support, therapy for the young girl, respite care and a financial allowance to cover her costs. For the local authority, they realised that properly supported foster care placements were not only better for the children, keeping them in a family setting instead of an institution, they were often more cost effective than expensive residential units. By accident, Jim came across adverts for independent foster caring. At that time there were limited regulations and rules. He learned fast and decided to give it a go himself, setting up an agency. “There was no registration or inspection, which we later lobbied for. It was deregulated. There were 15 groups at the time, all in Kent with one in Sussex.

In 2006, the organisation had grown to become a world leader. “Our reputation grew as an organisation that was able to provide really high-quality care and we were able to grow our services and reach more children and families. We went to New Zealand, Finland, Australia, Norway, Ireland, Japan. As well as finding families for displaced children, we also took children out of inappropriate settings such as hotels and motels and got them resettled in homes with families. These children blossomed. To this day when I hear about the individual stories of the children’s progress where carers and colleagues have made such an impact, I am so proud of what we are all achieving.”

“Ultimately what we have done for the past thirty years is that we have recruited and supported foster carers, and we have done this well. Simply, we placed hard-to-place kids with families and provided therapy and educational support. We learned it was no good building schools, you need to get these kids back into mainstream schools. I believe really strongly, that kids are better with families, and communities not in institutions where they are often cut off from society and schooled on site.”

This journey has led Jim and his wife Ayyab Cockburn to establish the Martin James Foundation, which continues to improve standards for childcare around the world. It includes services that deliver the highest quality care and support services in; Key Assets Canada, Key Assets Australia, Key Assets Japan, Key Assets New Zealand, FosterTalk UK, and EPIC Youth. “We want to improve standards globally. People think you’re nuts when you say that. We’re about deinstitutionalisation, getting young people out of institutions. We’re practice based. We’ve got 300 social workers who know what fostering mean. The Martin James Foundation plays a key role in connecting them and allows them to share best practice amongst themselves, and also with organisations and governments who are looking to reform their care systems.”

The Martin James Foundation is currently looking after close to 1000 children and young people in foster care placements, and FosterTalk (an organisation which solely supports foster carers) supports 30,000 foster carers a year. MJF takes the knowledge, skills and experience from this direct delivery of services, to empower and influence others who share the vision that children belong in families. “We are also pleased to be working in collaboration with our partners to make a difference in countries far and wide including Jordan, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Madagascar to name but a few.”

“It is our mission to continue to change child-care, one child at a time in order to ensure that all children are brought up in families. We believe all institutional care is by definition harmful to children and life chances.”

On World Social Work Day, the Martin James Network recognises all social workers across the world who join us in strengthening social solidarity. Jim Cockburn and the Martin James Foundation will continue to empower global partners to strengthen family-based care systems, in order that every young person grows up in loving family.

Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

I want to share with you my journey as a women entrepreneur, explaining the challenges that I faced while driving the implementation of AI in healthcare.

I was born and grew up in Morocco. At the age of 17, I moved to the Netherlands to study Electrical Engineering and Informational Technology at Delft University of Technology.

My journey in artificial intelligence started 13 years ago, when I embarked on a PhD project. I was assigned to build a cockpit for surgeons in the operating room, using AI to predict surgical workflow and detect anomalies in real time.

Back then, the only surgeon I could find that was not intimidated by an AI cockpit monitoring his operating room was in Germany, Prof. Feussner. All the other surgeons I spoke to in the Netherlands, the US and Nordics, felt that their work could not be automatically interpreted definitely not by machines and perhaps nor by women, that what they did was “art” and no machine could help to make it better.

But that didn’t stop me from my goal of saving and improving human lives with artificial intelligence.

I believe AI holds huge potential across healthcare. We are facing unprecedented challenges from a population growing to 10 billion by 2050. The impact of AI to sustain a healthy population of 10 billion is enormous. As an entrepreneur I’ve always looked at how this impact can be maximised with technology.

With this goal in mind, I founded OKRA Technologies in 2015.

As CEO, I have tried to build OKRA’s reputation to become a leading AI company for life sciences, supporting the industry in bringing the right drug to the right patient at speed. OKRA now works with top Pharmaceutical clients across Europe, using AI to empower decision making and bridge the communication between stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Diversity at the heart of technology

Only 25% of European businesses are using AI at the moment, and I am trying to raise that percentage significantly, specifically in pharma.

In starting my business, I’ve experienced some negative bias for being an academic and scientist rather than a seasoned entrepreneur, and for being a woman in the male-dominated technology and corporate environment, but that has never stopped me from reaching to my ambition. I feel different in many ways to many people, and that is ok.

 

As the CEO of a rising tech company in the life science sector, I have witnessed a general tendency in the industry to value rules and traditional processes, which can of course be crucial when human lives are at stake; but sometimes traditional processes can encourage traditional ways of being. 

To cope with these adversities and build a strong, trustworthy and unbiased technology, the OKRA team has always been committed to diversity. Our team has 15 nationalities and almost 50% of our employees are female. The strength of our unity has resulted in a workplace that is open, transparent and focused on building strong, long-lasting relationships. This has been especially vital during COVID-19, while we kept steadfast to the mission and continually grew the company through innovative initiatives that could help clients respond to the crisis.

I am incredibly proud to say that at OKRA we’re accelerating the growth and value creation for life sciences, making a big shift in the healthcare industry at a large scale.

We have developed 3 successful strong AI products that support life sciences in medical affairs, market access and drug commercialisation. We help our clients with decision making, by providing an AI-driven ecosystem that empowers the healthcare workforce to scale to precision medicine.

The end result of all this effort has been amazing. But I must admit that it has not been an easy journey, not at all. And there’s still so much more that needs to be done, for healthcare, for technology and for women.

This is the reality today, this is what we have to fight against. But how did we get to this point? What happened to “The Computer Girls?”

“Computers are for boys”

There are several factors that influence this dramatic decline since the 1980s. One of these factors was that when kids started to learn how to program, stereotypes began to appear.

At school, girls got this message: “Computers are for boys.” And when computer-science education programs began to expand in the 90s, the coding culture was set. Most of the incoming students were men.

Doors were being shut for women, not only in academia but also in business. Managers began picking coders more on how well they fit a personality type: the quiet, anti-social male.

Lucky for us, that trend didn’t last long and currently software is returning to its roots, with women everywhere. In fact, now is the time for women in AI.

We’re at the inflection point

Women are losing their jobs, especially because they are overrepresented in the industries that have suffered most during COVID-19. It is estimated that 40 per cent of all employed women work in severely damaged sectors – that is 510 million women worldwide.

Women have suffered a lot during this crisis, but let’s not forget about the opportunities that change brings. During this pandemic we have learnt to embrace uncertainty, acknowledging that this is the right time for change.

Let’s take this opportunity, let’s reflect on the lessons learned to reinvent ourselves and our futures.

Failure is part of success

In these situations, I always take inspiration from Australian musician, actor and comedian Tim Minchin and his “9 life lessons” speech.

These 3 that I’m going to talk to you about, are my personal piece of advice to you:

We still have a long way to go

Because even though more and more discussions around diversity, female leaders, gender bias and other topics are certainly taking place across the globe, the progress towards addressing the visible problems of diversity is still slow.

Women and minorities are still significantly underrepresented across Tech.

We need to ensure we are more inclusive as a sector, based on a number factors such as educational background, gender and ethnicity, and encourage individuals from an early age to stand up for what they want.

Let’s use the inspiration from the fantastic women who paved the way for us, and face these challenges with strength and optimism, just like they did.

In life, we need to be fearless. We must follow our strong instincts if we believe they are right, we need to do what is right even if it is terrifying. Many of life’s greatest achievements require going outside of our comfort zone, and the key to success is learning to fail. Failure is an essential tool for building character, it makes us stronger and resilient.

Let’s overcome fear, adversity and thrive against the odds. Because, after all, life is short and we are lucky to be here, so let’s all make it a life worth living.

I will finish by quoting Rumi, one of my favourite poets: “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

A Collection of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.

A Collection of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.

From Oprah Winfrey to Greta Thunberg

 

To mark International Women’s Day, the Martin James Network has created the Inspirational Females map that celebrates the women who influenced, shaped, and challenged the norm.

Hover over the map to explore and learn more about the women that have chosen to challenge.

Whether it’s Britain’s Boudica leading an uprising against the conquering Romans, to America’s Rosa Parks starting the civil rights movement by refusing to take a seat at the back of the bus, throughout history, women have challenged the status quo.

Let’s continue to advocate for female rights and champion young women. By amplifying their voices we believe it will create a society in which every individual is valued and where all dreams can be realised without fear, limitation, or prejudice.

At the Martin James Network, we are fearless pioneers with a social conscience and want to create change by challenging the norms. 

 

 

 

Nine top tips for starting a new business – caseflowhr

Nine top tips for starting a new business – caseflowhr

Starting a new business is exhilarating. You have an opportunity to stretch your wings and test your ability. This is especially the case if you have already spent years in an established career or job. I read one study which suggested that 6 out of 10 working people think about starting a new business but fewer that 2 out of every 10 actually take that first step. Why? There are numerous reasons ranging from inexperience, lack of funds and procrastination (“It’s the wrong time to do this…maybe next year”).

In 2020, we started a new business and worked 10 hours a day, 7 days per week minimum, for over 12 months. We still do not know if we are going to succeed but here are our 9 top tips for anyone who wants to follow in our footsteps:

1) Understand your USP

Knowing your “unique selling point” helps you understand what is different about your new product or service. It also helps you know why your customers will buy from you. After all, you need to stand out in the market. Your problem is knowing your product or service TOO well – you can lose sight of why someone else will want to buy it.

Our breakthrough came a couple of months before we launched. We had the opportunity to present to a potential customer who responded positively. In other words, she “got it”. This was the very first time that an independent third party with no financial or emotional investment in our product gave feedback to us. It was quite emotional. So understand your USP and keep “testing” the market by inviting feedback and using it (even when it hurts).

2) Understand your commercials

You MUST know your pricing structure and how your customer will pay (e.g. online). Pricing can be tricky – it is tempting to go too high because your are excited. Equally it is tempting to go too low (for example, to undercut your competition). On balance going too high is probably best – you can always do deals with new customers (everyone likes to feel they have got a bargain). Start too low though, and it is difficult to increase prices (especially if your customer is a long-term one).

3) Understand your finances

Let’s face it, without cash you will fail. A lot of start-ups “splash the cash” at the beginning, especially if the cash is someone else’s. But cash can quickly run out and if you are not bringing in revenue then you will be in trouble. Rely on professional support and spend wisely. Learn to differentiate between the “nice to have” and the “must have”. In that way your expenditure will bring a return.

4) Go digital or go home

The world has changed, even more so since COVID. Most personal customer demographics have now become tech savvy. The advent of smart technology means a seamless, cashless transaction from the comfort of one’s home. And of course if your new business is B2B then most business is done online anyway. A strong, solid online presence and across the social media platforms is essential. If you can, seek help from a good digital marketing specialist. One word of caution, these specialists are growing in number by the day so check their credentials and seek references from other businesses they have helped before you engage them.

5) Keep your professional support network close

You do not operate in a vacuum. The success or failure of your business will depend on your ability to maintain good working relationships. NEVER burn your bridges no matter how upset you feel or how badly you have been let down. And believe me, you will feel let down by someone at some time. Your personal integrity and resilience are vital at these times. Besides negative emotion clouds judgement and sours relationships quicker than anything else. Remember that old saying “What you sow, you reap”. If you sow discord, you will reap discord. The opposite is true too. So be professional and courteous at all times – most business opportunities come from personal recommendations because people do business with people. So don’t get a reputation for being uptight or unreasonable. Instead cultivate a reputation for being someone people want to do business with.

6) Maintain your work-life balance

If there is any advice we wished we had taken on board it is the need for work-life balance. We worked too long and neglected sleep, physical exercise and healthy eating habits. We cannot emphasise how important it is to structure your days and weeks and months to include personal time. You are on a marathon not a sprint. It is no good being burnt out when you actually launch your business. You need as much energy running it as you do for preparing for it.

7) Have a network of personal support 

If you are lucky enough to have a family who support you, then lean close into it. Same applies to your friends. Your family and friends will tell you the truth and keep you grounded. It is too easy to lose perspective in a start-up and believe that the whole world begins and ends with your new business. It doesn’t! So keep investing in your family and friends, because one day you are going to need them. Good and bad days are ahead. That’s life but there is nothing quite like having people around you who love you whatever. We would just add: get rid of negativity and loosen bonds with people who have no emotional investment in your success. There is a difference between being kept grounded and being put down. Learn the difference and it will save you a lot of heart ache.

8) Expect the unexpected

You will have heard of that old proverb “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. People repeat it because it is so so true. Why? There will be days when you go to bed and think “I have done nothing today” because your plans for the day went awry. Actually, what you did was to respond to events beyond your control. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Expect the unexpected but always have a plan in the first place. If things go wrong, simply re-plan. Having an overall plan means you can get up the next day, dust yourself off and carry on.

9) Be extraordinary

We will end these top tips where we started: We do not know if we are going to succeed or not. Failure is an ever-present threat but we comfort ourselves with the following thought: it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. Remember: it is in getting out of the boat that we learn to walk on water. And a new business is just like that: a mixture of hard work and luck, of fear and faith, of glory and grit. But if you keep doing the ordinary, then the extraordinary will take care of itself…

 

From Partying to Parenthood: LGBTQ+ History Month

From Partying to Parenthood: LGBTQ+ History Month

Happy #LGBTHistoryMonth! This February, the Martin James Network is excited to celebrate the lives, legacies and histories of LGBTQ+ people in the UK and abroad. Throughout the month we will be posting information pieces, stories from colleagues across the network, useful links and much more. Kofi Aboagye-Broadhurst,  Director of Kingston Noble , shares his story on raising a family as a LGBTQ+ household.

I would love to say that weekends in my 20s began with raspberry quinoa smoothies and mile-long runs – but they didn’t. Saturdays usually started with a massive hangover after yet another Friday night of partying with my friends. We’d spend the rest of the weekend comparing our hangovers and watching our favourite TV boxsets.

Then the next Friday, we’d meet up straight after work and try to make that weekend’s session even more epic than the last. At the time, this seemed like living the dream. Constant fun, no responsibilities, and the freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

But then life reached a point where I wanted more. Was the highlight of my week always going to be downing ten shots and getting a shout-out from the DJ? There had to be more to it than that. It had to be possible for all of us to get more from our lives…

In 2021, life is completely different. My husband, two wonderful children, and fun family days out fill days that I used to waste doing nothing. Adopting has changed our lives forever. The process was one of the most difficult, but rewarding, things we’ve ever done. Here’s everything you need to know about the LGBT adoption process. If we could do it, then so can you.

We hope that this article inspires a few people to take a leap of faith and give a loving home to some kids who really need their support.

Finding a greater purpose

There was a void in our lives that only children could fill. Surrogacy seemed too difficult, due to the legal complications that can arise during the process in the UK. At any time during the process, the woman who gives birth to the child can decide that she would prefer to raise the baby herself, causing a heart-breaking situation for everyone involved.

In the end, we chose adoption. We wanted to give a loving home to one of the many thousands of children across the UK who are not lucky enough to be born into one and grow up in the care system. Government figures released early in 2020 showed that 78,150 children in the UK were in care.

Although the number of LGBT couples putting themselves forward to become adopters and fosterers has increased annually over the last decade (1 in 6 of all UK adoptions in 2020 were by LGBT couples), many in the LGBT community who would love to adopt don’t put themselves forward. This is often because of fears of being judged, or even being rejected, because they are gay, bisexual or transgender.

Why do so many in the LGBT community avoid the adoption process

This is something that many straight couples struggle to relate to. Imagine having to sit in an interview saying: ‘Hi, please evaluate me against your social norm. I’m totally positive that despite my heterosexuality, you won’t find me incapable of looking after kids. Btw, did I mention that I’m straight? Hope that’s OK.’

Adoption agencies continue to make huge efforts to appeal to the LGBT community. That is evidenced by LGBT adoption statistics above.

However, this fear of homophobia and ostracization still puts many off applying. Questions such as ‘how you would react to your child getting teased for having gay parents?’ Or ‘do you think you would be able to meet the needs of a child in the same way as a mother?’ can be incredibly hurtful. Answering questions like these were very tough. You’re sat there wondering why society can’t see past the fact that you’re gay and appreciate the amazing life that you would give any child who joined your family.

Despite this, going through the process and adopting a child is one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do. Research suggests Parent-child relationships are typically just as strong in same-sex couples as in heterosexual ones. Research published by CoramBAAF actually suggests that gay fathers show greater levels of interaction with their child than other types of parents

How adoption changed our lives

For a start, cutting out drinking every single week does wonders for your health. Before lockdown, our weekends were spent visiting theme parks, zoos, bowling alleys and generally doing the exact opposite of everything we used to do on a Saturday. With two kids to look after, we’re always busy (even in lockdown).

Our children have brought so much happiness to our lives. Helping two wonderful humans grow into wonderful adults completes our lives and gives us the purpose we were looking for. Adoption gives you the opportunity to change the lives of each child you invite into your family for the better, forever.

People often look back on their lives and reflect on their career success, the wonderful holidays they went on, and the amazing things they owned. These are all fantastic memories, but are they all that life has to offer? What if you could look back on giving a child who was facing a hugely difficult life the opportunity to live their dreams? How rewarding would that be?

Inspiring others

After hearing about what we did, one of our good friends also decided to adopt. He is now father to three siblings with his partner. That’s the course of another three young lives transformed from a negative pathway to one filled with love and happiness (and two more immensely proud LGBT parents).

Sometimes life gives us great opportunities that look like opportunities. On other occasions, huge opportunities are hidden behind bigger challenges. The size of these challenges often mean that a lot of people never seize the opportunity. This is often the case when it comes to adoption in the LGBT community.

Adoption is one of these hidden opportunities. The process can seem particularly difficult for LGBT couples, but these difficulties are just temporary. The fulfilment that adopting will give you and your newest family members will last forever.

Keep an eye out on more stories to come from the Martin James Network as we celebrate and remember LGBT History month. Follow our social media pages to find out more.