I believe I am a deeply considerate human being: it is one of my foundation values. It plays out in my sense of community, in my profession as a teacher, and in my deep connection with my family. I had always believed myself to be free of gender-based bias: I was considerate of others, respectful of others, regardless of who they were.
I am also increasingly enlightened.
My wife was the first to really influence my thoughts on the topic of unconscious bias. The psychological safety of our relationship enabled an open discussion where my defensive predisposition was replaced with an acceptance of different views. An open mind provides an environment for expansion, and two instances over the past week have continued to deepen my self-reflection.
The first was an interview on Radio National with Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia. The discussion centred around a soundscape, created as part of the Unsafe in the City report, with the intention to enable men to feel/hear what it might be like to be a woman, walking alone at night, feeling unsafe.
To provide some context, I am a 6’4″, 95kg, comfortably fit man: I am confident in my ability to take care of myself. My wife has previously informed me of the actions she takes to feel more secure when alone, but until I closed my eyes and actually immersed myself in this audio I had never really understood the feelings she might have experienced. I was particularly taken with the sound of high heels on the footpath, realising that the sprint to safety for a woman was a very different proposition than what I would face in my shoes.
Place some headphones on your ears, turn up the volume, click this link, close your eyes, open your mind, and experience the audio.
The second was when a Facebook notification informed me I had been tagged in a photo by Women in Business Awards. I am giving a talk on “The Challenges in Entrepreneurship and Innovation faced by Female Leaders and Female-Led Businesses in Australia” to the attendees of the Queensland Women in Business Summit. The photo consists of twenty-five profile pics, twenty-two of which are of women.
I felt concurrently proud and out of place. What was I doing in that line-up? I was suffering from imposter syndrome: not because of self-doubt in my abilities but because of my physical make-up. I was different. I am a man. True, there are two other menin the picture: one holds a Medal of the Order of Australia and the other is a forty-year veteran of the telecommunications and Low Earth Orbit space industries! Do I belong?
I should feel proud, and I do. I also feel scared. Will what I have to say resonate? Will I face an audience who might dismiss my talk because I’m male and therefore not relevant? I raised these thoughts (and others) with my wife and she simply laughed – a kind, loving laugh – and said:
“now you know how we feel… all the time!”
And she was right. I actually felt what it was like to be in the distinct gender minority. She was also wrong: I still don’t know how she really feels. I’ve got no idea: my life is one of being a privileged White Male Australian (to lend from Pearl Jam). I know I will be able to stand up in that room, in front of all of those women, and deliver value through the spoken word. I might not know how she feels, but I can begin to empathise.
I believe empathy is key. I am therefore extremely thankful to be be given the opportunity to walk in this circle of women. I choose to purposely break down my unconscious biases, and experiences such as these provide an environment to empathise and enhance my enlightenment. The best a father can hope for is to be a good example for his children, and I believe this is an important behaviour to model.
I also truly hope I am not one of Hannah Gadsby’s “Jimmy”s.
My hope is that by speaking my inside words I will encourage other men to engage in the act of empathy. Until you’ve actually experienced it you have no idea what it’s actually like and therefore no legitimacy to pass judgement nor influence others’ opinions. Through acts of empathy we can become better humans and contribute to better communities. Without it, we contribute to the problem through inaction, no matter how hard that is to admit.