HOT TOPIC – AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2010
This month we welcome another guest Hot Topic author, Barbara Crljen to the Hot Topic pages.
Below, read Barbara’s challenges for us not to be happy with complacency.
Thanks for your contribution Barbara
I attended the ‘Volunteer 2010’ event hosted at Wyndham council earlier this year and enjoyed it very much. But there was one thing I was struck by which I would like to share with you all via this hot topic.
It relates to the gender imbalance that I observe in our society, which is pervasive and expressed in numerous ways. For instance, at the workshop that day, I felt that many of the images showed in the presentations portrayed men as ‘being powerful’, ‘audacious’ and ‘outside the box’ while those featuring women demonstrated caring, gentle and less forward behaviours.
Like other ‘caring’ professions, the volunteer sector is predominantly made up of females but has a higher proportion of males in management positions. I was present to this at the conference and it’s already documented in other ways, not a discovery by any means.
If I simply wrote about that, it would be more of what has already been said and readers would merely file it away in the ‘I know that’ zone. However, I would like to assert that there is a larger underlying resignation present that supposes ‘that’s just the way things are’ and I challenge us to confront it.
Here are a couple of questions which I think cut to the core.
Whether you are male or female, if the images we see of people ‘being powerful’, ‘audacious’ and ‘outside the box’ were portrayed by women, and those emulating more gentle behaviours were of men, how would you react? We have an expectation of women being ‘womanly’ and men being ‘manly’ which has us react to those that do not represent the qualities we attribute the sexes.
Now as I thought about this and its particular representation in our sector I was also struck by my impression of this sector as being one prone to responding to the ‘need’ rather than challenging the system that keeps the ‘needs’ recurring. Focused on the symptoms at the expense of the disease. Now, I bet you’re thinking right now about a program or shift which disproves what I’ve just said – however – consider that the reason you’ve thought of it is because it’s the exception rather than the rule.
How do you, right now, relate to the Australian Government’s National Compact or the Productivity Commission report on the sector? Is this something that you think about in your day to day activities or is it something that somebody else is taking care of somewhere out there? Now given that you are reading this newsletter at all – chances are you are thinking about it – consider how many others are not because they’re just too busy dealing with the next thing and keeping their head above water. It’s exactly that which keeps the conditions in place for us and sees us making no or limited headway.
So let me bring my ramblings back and try to tie this together somehow!
When you witness something that is going in the right direction, say at policy level, do you bring it home and ask yourself – what are the key principles and actions that are great about this and how are they present in what is happening in my immediate surroundings? How am I contributing or how might I contribute more to that which I value?
Alternately, when you see things that are not going well, or which you disagree with, you might ask ‘What is here which is not reflective of what I consider to be important’? ‘What am I doing which is keeping that thinking in place’? ‘What could I do which could shift that which is not desired’?
Whenever you find yourself complaining – out loud or in your head – that is the time to ask yourself these and similar questions. Really ask! Whenever you hear another complaint, will you collude, endorse or allow their opinions/complaints or will you ask the questions? Explore rather than challenge.
Here’s my point and it’s brutal – we have the government we deserve! We have the community we deserve! We have the workplaces we deserve! That is, we get what we settle for, we have the environment we tolerate; within ourselves, within our immediate surroundings and rippling out through the sphere of our experience.
Volunteering is where it is today, the sector is facing the stress it is, gender roles are still what they are, because on some level – we the players in this game – accept ‘that’s just the way things are’ instead of questioning ‘why’.
There is no-one coming to the rescue, we are it!
We can live it, breathe it or change it – what we allow or create is what we get.
To illustrate: A man wanted to know about water, so he asked a fish “what is this thing, water”? The fish, immersed in the river and only being able to see things from his own perspective, simply looked at him blankly. So the man pulled the fish out of the river and showed him the water from on high, asking him again “you know, water”?. “Ahhhh” said the fish gasping, “that water!”
That is how pervasive our context is. We are swimming in it! Whenever we make an assumption or judgment or just proceed according to the way we’ve done it before, we are merely enforcing the context and missing the opportunity.
Whenever we think ‘she’s harsh’ or ‘he’s too soft’. Whenever we assert ‘they should’ or complain ‘what else would you expect’. Whenever we don’t respond to a consultation or don’t have time for that submission. Whenever we just go with the flow without asking any question; we are keeping the context in place.
A question is not a judgement of wrong, a question ensures we are doing what we’re doing because it’s appropriate rather than because it’s expected or that’s the way we did it before. I am calling for reflective and reflexive practice at every level of our interactions and engagements.
Don’t get attached to the idea that it’s got to change right now, it won’t. This is cultural shift, over time it recreates the exception as the rule. There are no medals, but genuine durable change and ongoing improvement.
Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and look for every opportunity, no matter how minute, to do so.
What do you think?
Barbara Crljen is employed as the Manager of Volunteers with LINK Community Transport in Victoria.
Barbara’s current passion is her role as a skilled volunteer, facilitating and generating the “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium, which has a purpose to accelerate the emergence of an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling human presence on our planet. www.awakeningthedreamer.org This powers everything else that Barbara does and is her legacy to the next generation. Barbara is turning 50 soon, a mother 4 times, an aunt three times and a grandmother once.
Let’s hear what you think
Response posted by Wendy Moore, Volunteer Coordinator, Brisbane, Australia on August 23, 2010
Barbara you challenge us to question the status quo rather than just accepting it, to confront our own preconceived notions of traditional gender attribute stereotypes and to start responding to calls to participate in discussions and compacts about the volunteering sector rather than leaving it all for someone else to do. I therefore felt compelled to respond to your hot topic especially since no one else had done so as yet.
After reading my original response to your hot topic out loud I suddenly realized that I had slipped into the tired but true rhetoric about volunteering and volunteer management that is a common theme to most of my posts or comments; Volunteering evolving and yet parts of the sector not evolving, volunteer managers not being recognized for the role etc. I have been so busy swimming in it that I was not seeing it from a different perspective.
I recently put a post on I-Volunteer (http://www.i-volunteer.org.uk/wendymoore/volunteer-managers-sabotage-themselves/) about thinking of and writing down 7 successes that you personally had in the last week. I was amazed with one comment that I received from the other side of the globe where they had taken this idea to their team meeting and felt good about their own individual successes. So often we are focused on the day to day tasks that we forget to take time out to look at our own successes. This empowers us to do more and say more.
I believe that this is a good place to start, a confidence booster to encourage active participation in newsgroups, online forums, hot topics and blogs. I must admit that I didn’t even know what a blog was until this year let alone respond to one and now I even have a blog of my own albeit a totally different unrelated subject but a blog all the same. I would encourage anyone interested in moving the sector forward to step out of their comfort zone and at least post a comment to this hot topic. There is no right or wrong answer purely and simply people’s opinions, your opinions.