Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Cultural blind spots and #HeforShe (2016 Term 1 Week 7)

One of my great concerns in leading a community or organisation like our school is the risk of cultural blind spots. Cultural blind spots are those things within our own behaviour and practices—our culture, mind, action, or motivation—that we take for granted and typically overlook. By definition, we do not see them and we may not even know that they exist. As a school leader, my question is 'What am I missing about life in our school?'

As I mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of spending time at Randwick Barracks recently, which included a teleconference with Lieutenant General Angus Campbell DSC AM, the Chief of Army in the Australian Defence Force. General Campbell spoke about the recent experience of leaders in the Army becoming aware of a cultural blind spot around the treatment of female soldiers. His predecessor as Chief of Army, and the current Australian of the Year, David Morrison AO, became aware of this blind spot and famously called it out in the video below.

In reflecting on the cultural change that the Army are experiencing, with reference to the treatment of women, General Campbell spoke of three ways to become aware of one's blind spots. 

The first is to actively look for them. Unless we are looking, we won't see. Leaders ought to seek ways to find out about and understand their organisations from as many perspectives as possible. The view from the top doesn't reveal everything that needs to be seen. Feedback from the various stakeholders, external scrutiny, academic study and mindfulness by which we really notice what is going on around us are all great ways to look for our blind spots.

The second is to listen to and respect the stories of other people, especially when they don't align with your own story. If a story is told that doesn't gel with your own experience, the temptation is to assume the validity of your experience and downplay or ignore the experience of the other person. 

The third is to recognise that our blind spots are often the flip-side of our strengths. In the context of the Army, he spoke about the traditions of mateship, loyalty and toughness, which are legitimate and powerful strengths. However, the flip side is that these strengths create a shadow in which women can be marginalised, whistle-blowing discouraged and registering a complaint is a sign of weakness.

I have found General Campbell's suggestions very challenging, causing me to wonder about blind spots in our context. One that is very much on my mind has to do with gender equality. Do our students experience gender equality at school? Does their experience here sow the seeds for future perpetuation of inequality, either through the things the girls learn or the things the boys learn? While I am able to look at our formal structures and processes with a clear conscience, is there something that I am not seeing? 

In recent weeks I have been actively looking for evidence in this area and initiating conversations with staff and students, listening to their stories in order to understand, not in order to refute. I am not yet sure how much of an issue this is for us, but I am continuing to explore and reflect.

Since last year I have publicly identified myself with the #HeForShe campaign by UN Women. While there are aspects of this public agenda that sit uneasily with me, the logic of a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all seems irrefutable. It seems particularly compelling to me as a follower of Jesus, whose powerfully counter-cultural inclusion and affirmation of women in a patriarchal culture was revolutionary in its day.

Given that today is International Women's Day, I want to express to the school community my whole-hearted affirmation of the importance of gender equality. And I  call on the male members of the community to join me in that commitment, whether students, teachers or family members. As General Morrison so powerfully put it in the video above, 'The standard that we walk past is the standard that we accept.'

1 comment:

  1. I think in asking the questions, you're already on the right track: especially when coupled with the humility to really listen to the answers, rather than instinctively defending ourselves or the things that are precious to us. Even poorly delivered and worded feedback may contain some truth, if we're willing to receive it. All the best with the task!