Last week I answered a call from a friend who wanted my help. Would I step in to a conference slot and give a short talk on resilience? I agreed unhesitatingly, a friend in need and all that, and since then I’ve been preparing and practicing, preparing and practicing. Focused on the task at hand.
Today’s the day, the big event. I’m off to London soon, nervous as I always am before speaking in front of an audience. Yet something much bigger than the event has stopped me in my tracks. Today is International Women’s Day, and even though as a card carrying member of the Women’s Equality Party, I like to think I keep equality in mind at all times – my awareness is heightened…
I’m staring at the speaker line up for today’s event. It is overwhelmingly male. Of the seventeen people listed, including chairs, panellists etc, two are female. Yes – you read that correctly. Two. Awkward.
Usually when I am asked to speak, I make enquiries about the line up and specifically how I will complement and contrast. This time, win all my haste to get ready, I forgot. Today, of all days, on one level I am simply adding to the white maleness. Sorry. I promise to look harder next time, and do better in my endeavours to develop and sustain greater equality.
1998 just called, it wants you to hand over your personality
In 1998 I applied for a promotion at my place of work. During the interview I was asked for my home phone number, as well as my office number and mobile, so I could be easily contacted with the results of the interview. I was successful in my quest and my new boss phoned me at home to give me the news. I wasn’t in – so he left a voice mail. He confirmed I’d got the job, and in a rather confused tone, asked me to call him. I rang back and my new boss told me he wasn’t happy with my answer phone message, and I’d have to change it. The message was a short, cheesy tune I’d recorded using a keyboard for a simple backing track, with me singing over it. I can still remember it, word for word.
We’re not here to take your call
So leave a message cos we love you (love you) all
Such strong composition, it really should have been a hit. Hey ho. I was surprised by the request, and politely refused, this is my personal, home phone number after all. My new boss was adamant, so I lied and said I would change it. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He never called that number again, and because it was our home phone number, neither did any other colleagues or customers. A few months after the incident I did change the message, but only because I got fed up with so many people ringing just to hear the song! Though the memory of the song remains in my head, I got on with my life, and figured that people nowadays would see beyond little quirks like this, to the real person. As anyone who pops by here regularly will know, I’m often wrong…
2016 just called, it says the song remains the same
I recently spotted an advertisement by Barclays Bank about being ‘Ready To Work’. It’s basically a staged vox pop where a bunch of younger people are speaking to camera, talking about, and revealing their ’embarrassing’ email addresses.
The advert is one of a series. Here’s another, where the same group agonise over their social media profiles.
Maybe it’s just me, but this campaign feels distinctly at odds with the much talked about ideals of authenticity, vulnerability, (insert your preferred …icity here) which we are encouraged to embrace in the new world of work.
Seemingly, it doesn’t get much better once you’re offered the job. A quick Google for things to do on your first day at work yields the following gems:
Blend in, learn your coworkers’ names quickly.
Learn and make the tea round, it’ll make a great impression.
Be on time, come in early, stay a little later.
Stay positive! It can be daunting being the new person (especially if you’re getting bombarded with awful advice like this).
The conferences I attend and tune into are stuffed full of promises of an exciting future of freedom and wholeheartedness, of purpose and values. If the future of work is about these sometimes edgy, often exciting human interactions, then why do we persist in coercing the next generation of people to cover their tracks in this way? What’s authentic about that?
A friend recently introduced me to the idea of Wabi-Sabi – the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. I love it.
I’m a white male, getting older by the day. The older I get, the more conscious I become of my whiteness, my maleness, and my oldness. My transience and imperfection.
I remember a conversation at a party – years ago. Question. How many times have you been stopped by the police? Me – once. Him – lost count. Spot the difference. Skin colour.
More recently, Josh Bersin (white, male, etcetera) wears jeans to give a conference keynote. Why not? Wear what you like. Go Josh! Meanwhile, HR ladies at similar conferences persist in giving female speakers grief because of what they wear. Skirt too tight, heels too high. What?!
I rarely, if ever know what it is like to be the minority – the one without power and privilege. I’ve never had to recoil after being touched inappropriately on a crowded tube train. I don’t know what it’s like to be routinely paid less because of my gender, and the bias in the recruiting experience, is limited to stories of the two identical CVs with different names. David gets the interview, Mustafa gets no response.
I don’t know what it feels like to be the one without power and privilege, and my growing appreciation of my own impermanence increases my awareness of its existence, at least.
White youth, black youth
Better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood
And ask him for some wealth distribution : Joe Strummer
More to follow.
I found this difficult to write. It’s been a while, I’m low on form and high on self doubt. I asked if anyone was willing to take a look at the draft before publishing and several people kindly offered. Thanks to everyone who responded, and to Chris and Meg who kindly helped me with my work.