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The write way

How do you write in an academic context, while challenging the academic constraints, as well as connecting beyond the walls of academia with an audience that can incite change?

Much of what I’m researching for my PhD is emotive and political. It makes me angry, sad, frustrated as I traverse between the polar opposite worlds of the ‘ideal mother’ and the ‘ideal worker’ and the realities that underpin both. In the middle of these is a space that struggles to reconcile a private, visceral, raw, embodied, ‘leaky’ experience, with that of a public, controlled, ordered, rational and constrained organisation.

I find myself stuck in the in-between. Struggling to understand how I can possibly contribute anything novel to this challenge. Talking about motherhood and leadership seems like a stretch too far, when more simple workforce participation appears an insurmountable obstacle. And how can I write about this challenge when my immersion in research and academia incites formal, structured, writing, the stating of perspectives and yet my personal experiences and emotive connections to what I read pulls my arm from my socket to flail at the expectations placed on mothers, the unconscious biases disadvantaging us, and the systems and structures that are supposed to support new mothers, but instead, undermine our confidence in our new identities, both as a mother and a worker? I need you to FEEL something, not just THINK about it.

And this ‘stuck space’ is not the only constraint. I feel compelled to weave my own experiences into my research and writing but can only do so in a way that treats the characters involved, especially myself, with kindness. And I’m attempting to write about something where more experienced academics, and mothers (!) have struggled to find the words – except to say that you cannot describe to those who aren’t mothers what it’s like.

I walk down a path of politics and activism with my research topic. The issues that I’m approaching – mainly centred around gender inequalities – call into question long held bases of power. Most people don’t like having their legitimacy questioned, especially those who don’t see why they should be called to account. And most people don’t react well when they feel threatened.

Do I mind? Should I mind? Am I brave enough? Will anyone care what I write and share anyway? And if I don’t write and share, what’s the point of doing this research? How do I write to inspire reflection, deep thought, and potentially activism and change?

Feminist issues within academia has historically leveraged more ‘non-academic’ forms of writing to reach a broader audience (Lykke, 2010) and this is where much of my research thus far sprouts from. So I have some licence. But I don’t know what this licence gives me. 

I don’t know what the right way is.

 

References

Lykke, N. (2010). Feminist Studies: A Guide to Intersectional Theory, Methodology and Writing. Routledge.

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The inequalities of motherhood

I’ve started my PhD research with feminism and women’s rights in general, keeping an eye out for maternal issues. I went into this topic naïve. Surely we’ve come a long way with equality? What do we need feminism for? Apparently I’m not alone in this assumption that women actually have equal rights and that the objectives of feminism have been achieved. And that’s part of the problem. The inequities are masked more insidiously. To such an extent that as I was reading about the grip of consumerism, the failed promises that greater opportunities present, and the lack of value placed on motherhood, I was uncomfortably confronted with elements of my own story – of injustices that I had not attributed to my gender or maternal status but had instead owned as my individual problem.

If you’re not familiar with feminism, as I have been, then this definition from Wikipedia (2019) is a helpful starting point:

“Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes”.

Women’s rights movements have given us greater choice. We now have greater access to education and work opportunities outside the home. But as Angela McRobbie (2009) argues in her book ‘The aftermath of feminism: gender, culture and social change’ our work and wage earning capacity now dominates our self-identity and this is a double-edged sword, especially for mothers.

Occupational status is important to women and we are celebrated for what we achieve; money, success, position. It’s a potent and attractive kind of freedom. But this results-orientated approach supports the behaviours of a capitalist ecosystem that makes it impossible for mothers to participate. More specifically, demonstrating commitment and work ethic by being present for long hours in the office, and being on call when the employer needs.

In Heading Home: Motherhood, Work, and the Failed Promise of Equality, Shani Orgad (2019) conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 35 mothers ‘outside of paid employment’. Most of these women had come from senior leadership or director roles, but the structural inequalities and oppressive expectations that these women had repeatedly experienced had prevented them balancing work and family (Ograd, 2019). This compounds both parents. The expectations on the mothers to ‘put in the time’ influences their decision to meld into the domestic default, and fathers working long hours further re-enforces this default.

Harriet Bradley in Gender (2013) gives two main barriers to women’s equality; motherhood and violence towards women. Shani Orgad (2019) agrees that motherhood presents the most significant challenge women face and McRobbie (2009) points out that maternity is seen as the failure of the working girl. Bradley’s (2013) two main barriers are not mutually exclusive. ‘Violence’ includes ‘Normative Violence’ (Bradley, 2013), the demeaning things we don’t even notice because they’re so commonplace, e.g. catcalling, but also workplace discrimination. Examples of these are illustrated through initiatives such as the Everyday Sexim Project (see Vachhani & Pullen, 2018) and this piece of data that Ograd (2019) shares: “In the UK 60,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, a figure that does not account for women who suffer harassment, are overlooked for promotion or loose contracts if they self-employed”. (pg. 43)

So what does this mean for the work that women do undertake? Bradley (2013) refers to vertical segregation; career paths where there are a greater proportion of women (e.g. nursing, care-giving); and, horizontal segregation; where women are more likely to hold junior positions (e.g. admin, clerical duties). All roles that are lower valued and lower paid. But potentially offer less responsibility and greater opportunities for flexibility? According to Statistics NZ (2014), one in three employed women work part-time, compared to one in ten men, and this work is concentrated in the kinds of lower paid, segregated, roles that Bradley (2013) describes. What do you think this means when families are deciding who will stay at home, or cut hours, to look after the family?

We hit roadblocks when we become a mother and these are pre-priming women for inequality In Shani Ograd’s (2019) research the mothers were telling their daughters to not do anything too ‘high-flying’ because one day they might have to give it up. This is not what these mothers wanted for their daughters. I wonder how many intelligent, motivated, and highly educated young women are already considering ‘easier’ career trajectories that would better accommodate their future babies?

When I was thinking about how I frame up this topic the metaphor that kept coming to mind was of a snake eating its own tail. We just keep going around and around as each aspect of this challenge compounds and re-enforces default positions and gender inequalities. We attribute the progress we have made in work and education as the achievement of women’s rights. But new forms of feminism emphasise our individual responsibilities to ‘lean in’ (Sandberg, 2015), and build our confidence (Cuddy, 2012). This illusion of equality, or the promise of it if we’d only try a bit harder, individualises us and distracts from the systems and structures that undermine women, especially mothers in the workplace.

I feel like I have quite a number of rabbit holes to go down in order to do this research justice. Some of this involves unravelling myths around; work/life-balance or work/life blend; the gig-economy, freelancing and entrepreneurship (or mumpreneurs) as a panacea; what we see as ‘perfect’ motherhood; what we tell ourselves about how inclusive and diverse our business are; and ‘faux’ feminist empowerment centred around consumerism. But I’m also uncovering more questions, like; how are men being supported, or not, to create space for women? What did women’s rights movements do, or not do? What is the value that we could place on motherhood? And, what is the impact of work defining our identity on maternal mental health?  This is only the beginning!

References

Bradley, H. (2013). Gender. (2nd Ed.) Polity Press.

Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language may shape who you are. TED.Retrieved 1st March, https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

McRobbie, A. (2009). The aftermath of feminism: gender, culture and social change. Sage.

Ograd, S. (2019). Heading Home: Motherhood, Work, and the Failed Promise of Equality. Columbia University Press.

Sandberg, S. (2015). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Knopf.

Statistics New Zealand. (2014). Measuring the gender pay gap. Available from http://www.stats.govt.nz.

Vachhani, S. & Pullen, A. (2018). Ethics, politics and feminist organizing: Writing feminist infrapolitics and affective solidarity into everday sexism. Human Relations. Vol. 72(1). 23-47.

Wikipedia. (2019). Feminism. Retrieved 1st March. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

Stories for rebel boys

I got started on this train of thought when I was looking for children’s books to add to my new little dudes collection. I came across the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls which features stories of inspiring women. It’s an antithesis to the traditional, damsel in distress, rescued by a handsome prince, fairy tales – the kinds of stories I grew up reading.

When I found out I was pregnant I pictured having a little girl. Little did I imagine that keeping a kid fed, making sure they have enough sleep, a clean nappy, adequate awake time, feel loved, the list goes on, is hard enough. But, amongst those things, I was going to teach her to be a strong, empowered women.

‘The Future is Female’

I saw this slogan recently and it bothered me.

There are a lot of resources dedicated to raising strong and empowered women and encouraging them to step up. We absolutely need more of this. Women are still under-represented and underpaid in our workplaces.

But what about our boys?

The future is both genders leading beside each other.

Sheryl Sandburg in her book Lean In talks about the role of men in creating the space and opportunity for women to lean in. Emma Watson, in her infamous UN speech, states that to end gender inequality we need everyone to be involved. Without our boys being raised in a way that supports equal space for both genders then the fight for equality will always be lopsided and weak.

Our boys have a privilege. But, as Mark Souter put it, when he tweeted me on this topic, they have a “responsibility associated with that position, to change / use / make room for everyone”.

As a new mother, I don’t know where to start with instilling the right values or creating space for Joshua to grow into the kind of man our future needs. Being a parent is bloody hard.

So if someone wrote stories where boys rebelled against their traditionally defined roles, weren’t scared to show vulnerability and worked in partnership with women, then I’d buy that book.

Because in order to build an equal world our boys deserve and need just as much attention.

The tweet sized policy manual

Because everyone keeps asking for it…..

On 28th August 2014 we did an NZLEAD tweet chat on 140 character policies. I thought I’d take some of the awesome suggestions, summarise my favourites and out my own spin on them to create a tweet sized policy manual.

Social media 
  • Make social media a positive experience for all. Communicate professionally, imaginatively and respectfully.

Dress code
  • Wear clothes. Ones that suit the job.
Health and safety
  • Look after yourself and those around you.
Alcohol and drugs
  • Be in a lucid state of mind to do your job and, if that’s hard for you, tell us so we can support you.
Confidentiality 
  • Be really careful with people’s personal data. Only tell people stuff if they need to, and are supposed to, know.
Diversity
  • We expect you to make any race, sex, age, or any other defining category of person, welcome and comfortable here.
Grievances
  • If you have an issue or a problem, talk to someone, anyone, to try and sort it out sensibly.
Disciplinary
  • Do great things at work so we can all spend more time making this a great place to work for you.
Attendance
  • Turn up when you are supposed to but, if there is a good reason you can’t, talk to us.
 Performance management
  • If being awesome is proving difficult, we can help you be that with us or be awesome somewhere else.
Performance reviews 
  • Let’s regularly chat about how you’re doing, how you’re feeling and what you need to be awesome.
Learning & Development
  • What interests you? What would help you be more awesome? Now do it.
Vehicles
  • Drive the company car like you own it and you’re paying for it.
Fraud
  • Company money belongs to the company. Be honest and transparent, expect your colleagues to do the same.
IT
  • Remember that we can find anything you’ve done, anything you’ve said and anywhere you’ve been. If you aren’t sure, ask.
Remuneration
  • We pay you what you’re worth balanced with what we can. We reward you when you do well.
Overall
  • Don’t be an arsehole. If that doesn’t work for you, leave.
Credit to Sandy Wilkie,  Gem Reucroft, Angela Atkins, Simon Jones, Richard Westney, Perry Timms whose fabulous tweets I have adapted this from. I’ve tried as much as possible to put a positve spin on them, avoiding ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ and think they still capture the message.
Are their any policy issues not covered here that should be? Or any tweaks to these to make them better?

The space between

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

I love this quote by Viktor Frankl. He spent many years in a German concentration camp and came to the conclusion that we can choose our response to what happens around us, that is where our power lies. If it was really simple in far easier circumstances then we’d all live  much easier lives.

My current preoccupation has been the design of leadership resources, specifically focused on having difficult conversations. Knowing yourself, and mindfulness in the moment features heavily. Catch yourself in the moment and make a choice about how you will respond.

Neuroscience research supports this approach. Any difficult situation is stressful, stress triggers a physiological response in the brain, blood starts pumping, adrenaline starts flowing, and our instinctive fight or flight response kicks in. Before we realise it, our amygdala, the primitive brain hijacks our response, we go into fight or flight.

Mindfulness “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations” (Wikipedia, 2017) is a practice primed to catch the moment our cave man (or cave woman) instincts are about to take over. If we’re present, right there and then, we have the power to make a choice about the type of response we want to have.

This goes beyond difficult conversations.

After writing a book and blogging consistently for years, it’s been some time since I’ve written anything. almost a year actually. It got to the point where I felt I HAD to blog, psychologically there was no space for me to choose. So I stopped all together.

More recently, I started a new job. Shortly after which I found out I was pregnant. And since then I’ve felt the most ill I’ve ever felt in my life. The chronic over-achiever in me is balking that I have no control over anything, and I can’t do anything about it. I’m forced to stop and sit in the present because I simply don’t have the mental or physical capacity to be anywhere else. And any movement either way requires a conscious decision around where best to spend my energy.

I have no choice but to be present. And that’s my new space.

 

What it’s like writing a book

Humane-Workplace-cover ebookA few people have asked me recently what it’s like writing a book. I usually tell them to go and read Andy Headworth’s eloquent summary of his book writing experience.

And now I also get the “I’d like to write a book someday” statements. My advice to you, unless you LOVE writing, then don’t write a book.

Thankfully I love writing and relished the hermit like existence that has been my life for the past six months.

I’m also conscious that only crazy nut jobs write a book in six months!

BUT, if you are a crazy nut job as well, and you LOVE writing, then here is how I did it.

Draft One – one month

I took part in an event called National Novel Writers Month (#Nanowrimo). It’s basically an event whereby writers from all around the world spend a whole month writing 50,000 words of a novel or book. It gave me the motivation to just write words, and keep writing words, because I knew I had to have a certain amount of words each day, week and at the end of the month. So, I worked out how many writing days I had that month (taking out weekends and client days) and divided 50,000 by that number. What I ended up with was a target of at least 2,500 words on days I was writing.

Thankfully I wasn’t short on content. The idea behind my book was to take all the #NZLEAD tweet chats and conversations and thread them together. So the logical place to start was with the content on www.nzlead.com. I wrote down a list of all the topics we’d covered and roughly grouped them together under headings (e.g. recruitment, learning etc.). I then methodically worked my way through the topics, capturing and writing down notes on refill paper. Yes, that was my method – old school paper and pen. I ended up with piles and piles of paper. I split up my days by handwriting in the morning and typing up all my notes in the afternoon (after my fingers started to cramp from the pen). If a subject sparked a thought, I didn’t censor it, I just wrote it all down. If a topic linked to more information, or needed further explanation, I followed the links and wrote down the key points from all of that too.

I reached the 50,000 word mark. I ended up with a whole lot of words of nonsense. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and naively thought I could write a whole, finished, book in a month.

Lesson one: only crazier nut jobs can write a whole book in one month.

Draft Two to Six – One Month (although this was Xmas so I did take some time off!)

November finished – I had a lot of words. 50,665 to be exact. I started hacking at it. I grouped together themes that were related. I didn’t think about it too much. It was more an “oh, this idea is sort of similar to this idea” so I dumped them into the same area. I deleted stuff – duplications, nonsensical ramblings. Towards draft Six I had whittled the whole thing down to about 38,000 words. Each pass through of the document I saved a new version.

Lesson two: be ruthless with cutting. As long as you ‘Save As’ different versions you can still add stuff back in if you change your mind.

Draft Seven to Nine – Two Months

I had been adding some of my own stories throughout some of the writing process. But this was when I really amped them up. I added detail, I moved them around. By writing my own stories, that personal connection helped me get clear about what I was trying to say in each section of the book. They gave clarity to the key themes and that helped me streamline the content further.

It was about this point that I gave it to Richard Westney to have a look at. His feedback changed the layout of some of the chapters and clarified the theme of the book.

I say this part took me two months but I did start taking chunks of time doing non-book related stuff between edits so that I could go back to it with a fresh perspective.

Lesson Three: Take time off between edits otherwise it all makes sense to you – and making sense doesn’t help you edit.

Draft Ten to Thirteen – one month

It was about at this point that I stopped seeing any inconsistencies and the whole thing made sense to me. Which isn’t good because I’d looked at it for too long and couldn’t really see it anymore.

It was time to pass it on to some more critical eyes.

This is where I enlisted the help of my editor friend Tanja and her trusty sidekick Tamara. Tamara started with editing the whole thing for structure and flow. Tanja then delved into more of the detail and picking up on things didn’t make sense. The last edit here was spelling and grammar. I’d worked with Tanja on my masters thesis and she’s just awesome. Tamara and Tanja made a brilliant tag team (in case you need someone to edit your book).

Lesson Four: don’t edit it yourself, get someone else to do it. For the reasons I gave in lesson three.

 Draft Thirteen – Two Months … ish

Lucky draft number thirteen was the one sent to PressGang to do all the final layout for the book. I self-published this book so I didn’t / don’t have a slick machine to do all this for me and had to foot the bill myself. I ran a pledgeme campaign to cover all the printing costs – with the added benefit of pre-selling about 80 books!

I found PressGang quite good to deal with once we got the timelines pinned down (which took a little bit of doing) – expect about six weeks from almost final draft to print.

Simon Heath did my cover art and I had asked Perry Timms to do my foreword some months prior. So the document I sent to PressGang was pretty much a complete word doc. There was a bit more going back and forth point though. Once they laid out the cover, I had to redo my authors bio. I also picked up things I wanted to tweak – it’s amazing what the extra pressure of getting it printed does to your attention to detail.

Lesson Five: Editing actually takes more time than writing a book – just FYI.

I then had to then edit the files that PressGang had developed for the print version into a Kindle version. Thankfully it’s really easy to load a book for Kindle (thank you Tim Scott for the pointers). Unfortunately the print publication was in InDesign and transferring the document back to Word was painful and included re-adding the 163 references!

Lesson Six: If you’re going to do print and Kindle, get it perfect in word first then have it laid out for print.

And here it is, available for pre-order and ready to launch on the 9th July….

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.35.03 pmThe book is being printed and will be available as a Kindle E-Book. You can pre-order the e-book here.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.37.50 pm

 

 

You can also preorder a hard copy of the book here. 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Book launch

Thank you again to all the awesome people who contributed to my Pledgeme campaign to get my book published and have a launch party. I can confirm that the launch will be on the 9th June at the Ponsonby Cruising Club. If you’ve pledged then you just need to rock along. If you haven’t then you can still come along by grabbing a ticket over on eventbrite here.

I’ve also re-written the blurb that goes with the book. What do you think?

Without a doubt, technology is changing the way we work and learn. In this environment, it’s easy to think that social technologies are removing human to human interactions. Yet it’s the behaviours that underpin the use of these technologies that really counts. Social technologies can open up greater opportunities for communication, collaboration and thriving communities. It can transform our workplaces. But only if we put people first, if we make our workplaces more humane. 

In this environment, those of us within the people and culture professions; Human Resources, Learning and Development, and Recruitment; have an opportunity to truly shine. But to do this we need to re-evaluate what we traditionally think of as our roles, to change our approach, to step up and be brave. 

This book is a guide for a transformed and people-oriented world of work. It’s the collective wisdom of over three hundred NZLEAD community participants from all around the world. These are people who have people at the heart and soul of their professions and are passionate about creating a better world of work. Their conversations and actions have been captured in over one hundred NZLEAD tweet chats and woven into this book.

It’s about people, community, technology and the humane workplace.