09th February 2015

A cause to get behind in 2015

So when you’re ready to make a stand,
open your mouth and raise your hand,
when you’re sick of your parties, sick of your sweets,
get off you’re arses, I’ll see you out in the streets.
Whatever Happened to the Revolution? – Skyhooks 1970

With 2014 still fresh in our minds, the year just started is a new beginning, a chance to look at things afresh, and to think about some situations in a different way.  For me, I’ve been contemplating some unresolved matters in 2014, and I’m going to start something new for me – an annual cause to try and make a difference with.

You see, I’ve spent most of my life and energy on doing well for me, and by circumstance, those close around me. I’ve had some successes, created some means, and tried to be a good provider, and in more recent times, a good dad, adviser and friend.  By some measure of fortune of where and when I was born, it’s been pretty easy to apply whatever talents I’ve had to create some reasonable outcomes.  In the vein of first world problems, I’ve likely managed to overcome most.  While not without critique and imperfection, little difference will result by continuing to refine my main focuses – “perfect is the enemy of good”, to quote my engineering buddy Jo.

In the last few years though, I’ve become more outward in where I direct my thoughts and energy. Through discovering a relatively famous and captivating aboriginal heritage in my past, our family have become more aware in the cultural significance of Australia’s first people and the sad and perplexing history since colonisation. My nine-year old daughter now proudly talks of her famous descendants, Yarramundi and his incredible daughter Maria Locke. We’ve surrounded our home and work environments with aboriginal art, and I’m actively seeking ways to influence other Australians to rethink their relationship with indigenous Australia.

I remember almost 20 years ago entering a Triathlon in Thailand, and on the entry forms there was a place where you could describe your occupation. Cheekily, my wife Jo wrote “Activist” for hers and “Ideas Man” for mine (remember The Castle movie?).  Anyway, coming across the finish line, the Thai commentator in his delightful accent called out our names and occupations:  “Gren Petersen, he’s an Ideas Man from Sidderey!”

That’s always stayed with me – maybe I have been and am an ideas man?  But now, I want to be an activist.  I want to influence how people think, I want to change their perspectives and help them reframe situations and their responses to them.  So instead of just contributing to a cause (money, time and actions), I want to use whatever platforms, relationships and soap-boxes I have to see if I can influence other people, and in doing so make some contribution towards a change for the better.

Which brings me to my annual cause for 2015.  It’s not a new one for many, it’s not a recent problem and it’s one I’ve been aware of for some time.  But I’ve been as apathetic as many in not doing something more about this before.  I haven’t thought about it in the right way – I haven’t been bold, adventurous and said “enough is enough”.  Now, I haven’t been complicit and closed-minded as many, more just stuck in the middle. That’s no place for an activist with ideas to be!

The great thinkers and philosophers who’ve influenced me so much over my last decade are clear on this.  The unexamined life is not worth living; we’re all created equal; human rights are inalienable to the human condition; you become a virtuous person by doing virtuous things.

So I’m compelled to do something about this cause. I’ve started by examining my thinking and I’ve decide to reframe my beliefs; to check my biases and actions (and inactions).  It’s too big an issue to not do more about.  It affects too many people to ignore. It’s around me everyday, close in to my being and I can’t walk past it any more.

Not only that, some of the people who I hold dearest are affected by this each and everyday, and I’m not doing enough. It’s impacting on half the population of the world, impacting on a lot of my good friends and some of the people whom I love and admire the most – on my wife and on my precious daughters.

So here it is: My annual cause for 2015 is to do what I can to change how we consciously (and unconsciously) relate to women in work and society in Australia.

I’ve started changing how I think about this and how I’ll act. I’ve reframed the issue – It’s not just an issue of fairness, it’s not an issue of diversity, it’s not about gender balance, it’s not about reflecting the consumer – I now think it’s a human rights issue.

Yes, I think it’s a human rights issue.  It’s largely we (the male of the species) who have created a society and institutions that deny certain fundamental human rights to half of our population – and until we start thinking about it as a substantial human rights issue (at least numbers wise), everything we do will come up short.

Ok, so it’s not slavery, world hunger or Ebola. It’s not political freedom in Tibet.  But it is something we can act on right now that’s within our powers to affect.  It’s something close in, right under our noses that we can look at, and maybe think about in a new light.  You too can become a human rights activist (there’s my next Triathlon occupation descriptor!)

Until we start to deeply examine the structures, power-bases and biases we’ve created in many parts of modern life – in education, sport, leisure, work and the law – until we really focus our thinking and see things for what they are, then we won’t make enough progress.  Women in senior management?  Women on boards? Setting EEO targets?  All admirable goals, but they’re solutions at the tip of the iceberg.

I think we’ve got to be prepared to go down to the bottom of the iceberg, down to where the root causes in the darker waters are, to examine our prejudices and beliefs and to be bold enough to admit that what we’ve done is probably wrong and against the what a just and civil society should be based on.  Until we can address our underlying thinking about women, and cast aside some of these beliefs and prejudices, then we’re not going to fix this fast enough.  We might have to recognise that those of us who have power and position in our favour might just be reinforcing the systems that make it harder for women to have a fair go.

I want my daughters to live in a different and better and fairer world than their mothers.  I don’t want them to ask me why I didn’t do more to fix things, rather than just buying them nice presents.

If you’re a male reading this, then I hope you’ll come along with me and be prepared to change how you think and ultimately act.  I hope you feel compelled and excited about the possibilities to influence others and bring about some good.  You may feel uncomfortable, unconvinced or offended, then that’s OK too. But, what if I’m right?

It’s we, the ones who have the power, who hold the key to this, and each of us has a part to play. The women in our lives, who we love and cherish, need more empathy, better support and some real action on this.

So let me know what you think.  I’m not saying I have a plan or all the solutions, but I’m looking forward to creating some dialogue on this in 2015 and for some things to start to change.

You’ll read more about this from me over the course of the year.  Meanwhile, take some time to think about this, and the part you play.  More people like me (and like you) need to speak up and be influential on this issue.

Where do you stand?

Will I see you out in the streets?

Glen Petersen

CEO, Generator Talent Group


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