Friday, 11 July 2014

Women Bishops and #womenleaders - Equalities, Inclusion and the Millenium Development Goals

 This week-end and coming week in York, London, Geneva, Vienna and Brazil – conversation is turning on issues around #WomeninLeadership, women in sport, women in the church and women on boards. This blog is highlighting an up coming event in St Pauls - on wednesday 16th July - by which time the outcomes of what is now taking place as I write in York will have been decided one way or another.

In York the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York will be on high alert - awaiting the outcomes of the voting of the General Synod – (this is the Church of England’s equivalent to the Houses of Westminster – it is an established church after all!).   In November 2012 the House of Laity failed to get through (they required a 2/3 majority – not just a first past the post vote) a critical YES vote for women bishops which would have belatedly brought the Church into the late twentieth century (such is the time lapse of many religious institutions) with the incorporation of women into the episcopacy.  

The Most Revd Archbishop Justin Welby
on the steps of St Paul's May 2014 with
over 700 ordained women priests who
have waited for over 20 years
for fuller employment rights - the
freedom to be appointed Bishops
This time according to a report in yesterday’s Guardian the 2 Archbishops have plan C in their back pocket to drive through legislation to allow women bishops even if it is rejected by the church's governing body, the General Synod.

Options under consideration are said to include an immediate dissolution of the synod with fresh elections called.  This then  could produce a sufficient majority for a special Synod convened in November. There could even be a special sharp shooting move by the bishops in the House of Lords – which would introduce the legislation without synodical approval. A dramatic sidewinder coming left field and without precedent in modern Church History – to set Ecclesiastical lawyers feet atapping.

Over the Archbishops' shoulders looms the potential that parliament might be so frustrated by the foot dragging attempts by the established church, to bring itself into congruence with late modernity and the spirit of equality in the UK, that Westminster would move in and remove the church’s current exemption from equality legislation.  

This exemption enables the church to foreclose full incorporation of  Issues in Human Sexuality (1991).
gay and lesbian people into its leadership functions – from the humble cleric in some dioceses, to prince bishop thrones in others – and multiple levels in between. The discussions on how it manages to achieve this travesty of contemporary understandings of Employment Law are worthy of several treatises of their own – but effectively the casuistry at present closes off gay/lesbian marriage and intrudes into the sexual life of same sex partnerships in a way unheard of for that of straight married clergy – in the now notorious script
#womenleaders  What Needs to Change
St Paul's Cathedral
Meanwhile in London next week (16th July) St Paul’s Institute is holding an evening conference on #WomenLeaders – exploring with Shami Chakrabarti for Liberty, Ceri Goddard Director of  Gender at the Young Foundation, Frances O’Grady General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and including one of the few black clerics in the Church of England the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin – Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons in its line up.

The Fourth World Conference on Women 1995 setting the
agenda for a great deal of the  international changes on the
rights and place of women in society today.

They will be exploring how one of the key United Nations' Millennium Development Goals of creating greater opportunities for  female empowerment has been responded to by politicians, business and faith environments – in particular that of the church.  And exploring what institutional, organisational or societal cultural barriers continue to undermine the will to realise the aspiration of the seventies to see equality of the sexes in employment, domestic reproduction, political life, faith bodies, sports, business and international development.  The platform for action was set at the Fourth world conference on Women in Beijing just short of twenty years ago in 1995. (You can catch up on this here.) The corporate, ecclesial, political, business, and legislative worlds move slowly - but moving they surely are. What women and women who aspire to leadership require most fundamentally is resilience, perserverance, some sponsors on the way and longevity - in order to see the benefit of some of the changes in their own lives, and not simply their daughters, neices or the generation which follows.

Which brings me to Brazil, Vienna and Geneva – but that must wait for another blog on what we have been finding out about the parlous representation of women on the sports boards of our national and international sporting bodies – ranging from Olympic Committees at national and international levels, FIFA, and indeed the Commonwealth Games soon to open in Glasgow.

Meantime share the love and the power of inclusion, and if you’re in London see you at stpaulsInstitute at 6.30pm for 7.00pm 16th July – by which time the Church of England may have opened the slate for its first Women Bishops to be appointed.  

More on the implications of that and the things which every woman in leadership really ought to know in the IbixInsight series on Key Coaching tips for women in their time of Organisational Change in August.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Inclusive Fun - women, humour and transformational leadership

Women who rise up the ranks and enhance their reputations and performance in the workplace often do this with the deployment of humour,  However there is a gendered twist to it which we need to understand. Research recently undertaken by the University of East London 'Women, Humour and Power in the Workplace'  shows women use humour positively in the workplace to improve their professional relationships. But it isn't just their professional relationships which benefit.
Funny Women launched 12 years ago now
 hosts stand up awards, festivals, and most
 recentlyhas commissioned research on the
 gender dividein use of humour in the workplace

Funny Women, the UK’s leading community for female comedy set up over 12 years ago by Lynne Parker and now starting to reap dividends, and the UEL’s Centre of Excellence for Women's Entrepreneurship (CEWE), have teamed up to undertake this research. 

40 years of academic and media comment were scoured as Dr Sharon Cahill, from UEL’s School of Psychology led her team in a process to explore 'how positive humour in the workplace can result in women improving effectiveness in the workplace and helps their confidence and performance – making work more productive and enjoyable for everyone'. 

Role Models for women 

“There are a huge amount of very successful women comedians: Ruby Wax, Jo Brand, Maureen Lipman, French and Saunders, Meera Syal, Sandy Toksvig – to name just a few. Women have always enjoyed a sense of humour, being able to tell a joke and have a laugh”.

There are a number of ways in which humour is deployed, which seem to be managed differently by men and women in the workspace. The reason for the different manner in which humour is deployed, can be related to the assymetric gendered relations within business and public work spaces.  Nothing is hard and fast in this arena of making jokes, self enhancing anecdotal tales, affiliative humour, and self deprecating  remarks. 

What is clear however is that affiliative humour and self-deprecating humour are being successfully deployed by those who are taking forward transformational leadership styles in their organisations - males and females alike can develop these forms of humour to great effect. The era of the dominion of transactional humour which has tended to privilege self enhancing and aggressive humour - with a substantial negative impact in the ability of diverse teams to bond and develop positive and egalitarian working relationships - and many women literally voiceless.

Three functions of group humour have been categorised by Jen Hay in a piece of research called Functions of Humour in Conversations of Men and Women (2000). These functions were solidarity-based, psychological and power-based.

Different types and styles of humour

Martin, R., Puhlik-Doris, P. Larsen, G., Gray, J. & Wier, K. (2003). 
Journal of Research in Personality, 37,

Confidence matters

Hay argues that humour is an intrinsically powerful act and that the male preference for joke-telling is an exceptionally aggressive form of humour.  This might help  explain why men tend to tell more jokes than women, and the (marginal but significant) preference in turn  by women for male joke telling noted in research undertaken in the University of California.(Who’s Funny: Gender Stereotypes, Humor Production, and Memory Bias: Christenfeld 2011).  

Furthermore there may be evidence as to why in male dominated boardrooms female directors are less likely to make jokes there. When women attempt this, more than 80% of their quips were met with silence according to the UEL's research on the literature. What goes wrong?  It could be that the inversion of the expected behaviours of men and women is so extreme that the 'set up' of the joke is undermined. It could be the lack of confidence of the 'performing' woman. Or it could be that the woman is simply not 'in her own humorous flow'.  So what might women’s more natural arena of humour be?

Playfulness and Success

Humour and having fun in your work is understood across an increasingly wide platform of work-place psychologists,  as a mighty powerful engine for developing strong businesses.  In '301 Ways to Have Fun at Work', co-author Leslie Yerkes argues integrating a sense of playfulness, humour and general fun in the work place results in  'lower levels of absenteeism,  greater job satisfaction, increased productivity and less downtime'. Fun it would appear, is the single most important trait of a highly effective and successful organisation.

So as women are increasingly involved in establishing new enterprises and moving into positions of power within organisations - how can they ensure that the sense of fun and playfulness is not lost in the grind of climbing and staying up the greasy pole of economic and business prowess?

Did the spare rib lack a funny bone?

Psychology has been wondering what is to be done about women's sense of humour and their ability to deliver a 'male' framed punchline for over the last thirty years.  Lakoff in the mid 1970s, as women moved into the lecture theatres, the professions and male dominated public spaces in increasing numbers, delivered the following excoriating social put down! 
    It is axiomatic in [middle-class American] society that, first, women can’t tell jokes – they are bound to ruin the punch line, they mix up the order of things, and so on. Moreover, they don’t ‘get’ jokes. In short, women have no sense of humour.” (Lakoff, 1975, p56)

So is it that women just don't 'get' how to deliver a powerful punch line,  or a lack confidence in delivery, or a failure in memory? Is it a matter of biology, bottle or competency? Or is it something about the complexity of how humour works in asymmetrically gendered public space?  In the battle of the sexes should women be leaning into another form of humour? 

Humour in work place harrassment

Where Humiliation is Normal —
Being LGBT in the Chinese Workplace

Where differences in power and authority are an intrinsic part of interaction between colleagues, humour can be deployed in positive and negative ways.  Unfortunately as those of us who work in developing work place systems, processes and cultures to impede discrimination and foster inclusion - humour is an exceptionally powerful device for undermining others in an ostensibly acceptable manner.  Negative and critical messages can be maintained through finessing objections or alternative ideas into a barely disguised insult presented in 'a form which frames the objector negatively, as lacking a sense of humour” (Holmes & Marra, 2002). 

Significant research suggests that men’s humour (in western framed businesses) is more in keeping with this more subversive approach.  Male humour according to the UEL report,  tends to be more competitive, more aggressive, and status-orientated with an aroma of performance and display (Marlowe, 1989; Jenkins, 1985). And by this tale, many an incipient harrassment or bullying case has been rejected by senior managers - because of the recourse to the argumen tby the office 'wit' or prankster that the 'offended against' colleague 'lacked a sense of humour'.

Display and Performance

Male prowess to 'perform' on demand and be successful in joke delivery is now perceived through controlled research to be “just at the edge of detectability” superior to women according to Californian research, based on witty responses to cartoons (Christenfeld cited in Kiderra, 2011)  However what is still clearly differentiated is the self confidence of homo-economicus, heterogamous, in thinking himself and his jokes funny, entertaining and super- effective.  Men's sense of competency in this area far outstripped that of the participating women - even if the outcome (the recognition by others of successful humour) was only marginally differentiated (Christenfeld 2011).  

Its what you do AND the way that you do it

 Decker and Rotondo (2001) found that the way humour is exercised by female managers, whether it is  used positively or negatively is extraordinarily significant.  If women use negative humour they can be easily perceived as being bitchy and underhand.  However if a woman uses positive humour she achieves a far greater incremental pay back than her male counterpart would do. 

 Women even though it seems, they are only starting to get a handle on discursive, collaborative and positive humour in the workplace;  seem nevertheless to outstrip the men in positive impact when deploying humour in their organisational environment.  Rotondo's study serves as a significant encouragement for women to stand up and explore further the powerful resource bank of their funny bones, intelligence and heart. 

Women who know how to be amusing and humorous, bring a professionally smart gift to influence colleagues and enhance co-operation and performance across their organisations.  It is also a smart move to see cultivated.  Organisationally, it is becoming clearer that part of the skill set to bring forward is the gift of collaborative humour, where everyone is in on the joke, because the humour being engendered is playful, focussed, inclusive, democratic, humble and  fun. 

Deprecatory humour

I was not a particularly small child. I was the one who always
 got picked to play Bethlehem
 in the school nativity
-Jo Brand

Jo Brand has developed a knack of self deprecating humour which furnishes her with the social acceptance required to then unleash a torrent of excoriatingly amusing personal comments and social commentary across her routine.

Ruby Wax - ego shattering observations
Comedy and satire are based whether we like it or not on a form of aggressiveness and a certain degree of unpleasantness. It is by nature a tad acerbic, As Martin's four way chart allows us to step back and reflect, this sting in the tail can be deployed either positively or negatively. Lucille Ball - one of the break through comedians of the 1950s chose to use it in self-enhancing humour alongside huge swathes of physical humour. 

 Ruby Wax the 1980s 'queen of putdowns' made her explosive entrance into UK and US Terrestrial channels with a mixture of ' acerbic asides and ego-shattering observations' (Time Out 2011).  Neither did she spare the sisterhood from her comic demolition famously double whammying health conscious females, with her devastating post-Freudian aside on Pilates culture. 
'Everyone is bluffing. It's about those women who do Pilates five times a week so they can strengthen their pelvic floor and be able to lift a carpet.' Ruby Wax

The next frontier - inclusive humour.  

By and large, it appears that women tend to prefer telling jokes at their own expense and men tend to prefer telling jokes at other people's expense." (Kotthoff, 2009). 
“ If my partner says let's run upstairs and make love,
 it would have to be one or the other”” - Sandi Toksvig

 This tells us something of a wider social narrative of how power is currently distributed across the gender divide.   

 Research has yet to get powerfully under way on how gay men and lesbian women have brokered this distribution of self deprecation, pride and bitch attack - but Graham Norton, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig and Sue Perkins are some notable trail blazers in 'out' comedians seeking to make their social and life commentary count - and disrupting  heteronormativity and the stereotypes which have accompanied it for generations.

Be Inspired 

“We want to inspire women to enjoy using humour in a positive way," said Sarah Cahill at the launch of the Funny Women Conference in March 2014. It's a wonderful opportunity to step into personal power and help create a joyous, positive space around us and those we work alongside. So what stops us experimenting? Humour lightens our personal load, and the loads of others working alongside, inspires hopes, connects us to others, and keeps us grounded, focused, and alert. 

The personal and the social impacts of positive, collaborative humour have been clarified by recent research, and deep down we understand its truth.  Why else are we in the generation of the super comedians, and the sell out tours of MacIntyre, Connelly, Miranda, and Sara Millican. These comedians re frame the everyday foibles of our existence in such a way that we are reduced to laughter and tears. Endorphins overwhelm our anxiety. We bond with others similarly seduced. We recognise each other and the nature of our common quest for understanding, acceptance and meaning.

 Perhaps we should leave the last word to the iconic comedian who mowed down opposition and created the platform on which so many of our contemporary female comedians stand. ' I'm not funny'  she said, 'What I am is brave' and with that she took a hay baler to the words of the common prayer book and produced an attitude changer for all women who might be tempted to sit to one side on this one, and let others proceed.

Further resources see

Looking for workshops in assertiveness, confidence and building collaborative humour in the work place? - be in touch with
IbixInsight - for creativity and confidence building workshops tailored for your company. -
Address harassment and phobic behaviours lurking in your company masquerading as humour
Mentoring and Coaching for women leaders  to 'do the things you want to do'