Why are we so afraid of the 'C' word?
Last week I read with interest an article from the Evening Standard on a social media outburst by Holly Willoughby after the BAFTA's. She was rightly pointing out the hypocrisy of paparazzi taking photographs of female celebrities to get 'upskirt' style shots - having photographed them only a few hours earlier with white roses to promote calling #timesup on sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry.
She said "...times apparently up on #timesup", but the problem for me is that I don't think #timesup or any of the other similar campaigns have really yet begun.
In this particular arena there have been numerous (and unsettling) rising trends of late. Gender pay gap reporting highlights that women are doing lower paid work, the now defunct President's Club fundraiser is revealed to be a cesspit of sexual harassment that's more befitting of the Victorian era than the 21st century, equal pay disputes are now reaching class action proportions...and I haven't even touched on the historic and current sexual harassment claims emerging across multiple industries - something akin to Operation Yewtree whereby this behaviour is now known to be endemic, and has been for years.
So why is Holly Willoughby furiously riled at the hypocrisy of being papped from her ankles upwards? Quite simply because the system and people that propagate this behaviour haven't given these women permission to complain.
To me, the biggest problem lies in the 'C' word - Culture.
The photographers are still being paid to take those pictures, people will say "well [the photographers] wouldn't do it if it didn't sell magazines and newspapers" thereby pushing the responsibility on to the general public, as if to say these are market forces. "We might not like it but that's how people are!" they cry.
And that my friends is culture - the way we do things, the accepted pattern of behaviour, the demon we can't see because we're all part of the matrix itself.
I have seen very few articles across all these issues where the idea of culture is raised either in an organisational context, or in society at large. They analyse individual issues such as the pay gap, disassociate the problem from anything bigger by focussing on needless nuance of detail, and then watch as the world implodes in a shouting match from both sides on who is more wrong.
Poor Holly is left scratching her head, and we haven't actually made anything better. We've simply managed to give more light to the problem, and raise awareness.
Awareness though will only get you so far, and in many cases has served only to inflame the debate and polarise opinion. I believe if we truly want to improve the world and make things right we HAVE to address culture. We need to acknowledge the imperfections of the existing system and of human beings, but equally we have to believe we can effect change by not accepting the status quo.
Things will always be done the way they have been, that is until someone does it differently.
Culture pervades where those within a system normalise the behaviour of others because they are incentivised to do so. It's rather simplistic but we need to really agitate the existing system, incentivise the behaviours we want to see, and attribute consequences to the behaviour we don't.
The step before this, however, is that you need the input from a diverse range of people to what a new system should look and feel like - if you use the current system to define the new it will never change. To address another issue with culture it is also a myth that culture comes from the top...it doesn't, it is reinforced from the top i.e. top brass MUST be seen to buy in to every aspect of the new culture and support it through those incentives and consequences. But the culture at large should be defined by the whole cross-section of the organisation or society.
The charities sector has been the latest to come under the spotlight - abuses of power are great examples of how accepted behaviour stems from the silent permission of others.
So if we really want to help Holly and change the world I believe we need to mobilise a world of men to understand the culture that we have, and make them understand the part they have to play in moving to a new one. Shake up the existing system by getting those within it to challenge the behaviour of others and be pioneers. We need bravery and for people to stick their neck out and say 'this is wrong'.
We need to give these women genuine permission to complain and remove the silent permission we're unwittingly spreading. Because you only have to browse the reader comments on a handful of these articles to see that 'awareness' just isn't cutting the mustard when it comes to positive change.
We need to talk about our Culture.