Caring to create a fair and equal world
At a business event a few months ago I overheard a casual conversation between a small group of senior female leaders about a male presenter at the event. It wasn’t about the content of his presentation or the panache of his delivery but about his physical attributes.
What ‘distinguished’ the conversation was that it was of the type that had it been men talking about a woman some level of criticism if not outrage would have been expressed and very likely a hash tag campaign launched to ramp up the pressure. For my part, I was aware of a discomfort but I couldn’t really explain why until I really thought about it later.
Fast forward a few weeks and UK broadcaster Mariella Frostrup elegantly summed up the polar opposite reactions to casual sexism from men and women as double standards. So true.
Then we have the case of Roseanne Barr whose offensive tweets about an adviser to former US President Barack Obama would appear to have ended her resurgent television career for good. A supposed joke at someone else’s expense that has imploded the teller’s life.
Meanwhile we have the Carillion crash and the extraordinary failure of its directors to act in any way commensurate with the responsibility of their high office that has cost many thousands of the 43,000 employees worldwide their jobs and livelihoods. Parliamentary Select Committees into the organisation’s collapse noted:
‘Even as the company publicly began to unravel, the board was “concerned with increasing and protecting generous executive bonuses”. ‘
‘Long term obligations, such as adequately funding Carillion’s pension schemes, were treated with contempt.’
Why are these seemingly unrelated events related? Well they are all about the standards, double or not, we are prepared to allow or accept. Any standard we don’t agree with but walk past without raising a challenge is a standard we accept, if not endorse.
If leadership is about doing the right thing, and I firmly believe it is, then we’ve got to get super vigilant about standards, starting with our own. Rooting out those unconscious biases (we all have them) so that we’re aware when they may be coming into play.
Then we’ve got to start paying attention to the stuff we ‘walk past’…
- The banter in a high performing team that is unkind and even destructive to others
- The managers who fail in their people responsibilities because they still get results
- The poor performers we don’t tackle because they’re too awkward, even though they’re sapping morale.
These are just a few examples. I am sure you can pinpoint many more. And it’s not just inside the organisation…we need to consider the wider world. If we truly want a fair and equal world our attention and standards have to shift in that direction.