The Importance of Having a Narrative: What’s Your Narrative?

narrative

“I don’t have a narrative at the moment – I feel lost”, said one UK SLT member who had landed herself in a job in a school and team which didn’t fit her values at all. “I’ve got to get my narrative right, then I’ll be fine.” She moved on and seems happier now, but not quite as strong as she used to be before she ‘lost’ her narrative. At least it seems that way to me. Before that she was in a school she loved, with values that matched her own, and a head she loved too. But then things changed, as sadly they can. She wanted a career move, the next rung on the ladder. So, she took the leap. It wasn’t the right move for her due to mismatching values, which can happen to anyone. And then she had to start from scratch with her narrative again.

Having a narrative made her feel strong, and it was perhaps the seat of her strength. Not having a narrative made her feel weak. Having a narrative rooted her firmly and gave her security. Being in the right place, with matching values allowed her to flourish.

My PhD, years ago, focused on the use of diaries to help managers learn and make sense (sense-making) in their day to day working lives. The act of writing a diary, as with a reflective log, got people engaged in articulating a narrative. Reflecting, articulating thoughts, reifies the self and makes you stronger. Each time you write from the ‘I’ you are defining and redefining yourself, reinforcing your own identity and making your own presence in the world stronger.

Connecting this process with knowing what values are important to you, and then being able to align that self-knowledge with the values of work and/or a workplace is very powerful. Continually expounding your narrative (your story) to yourself is also an act of invention and reinvention. Creation and recreation – a key survival tool in life in a world of constant change and instability. 

But, does your narrative always have to be public? Is it always for public consumption? The Johari Window, as with the Japanese 3 face theory, reminds us that we share only part of our narrative with the world, perhaps a little more and different shades of another narrative with personal friends and family, and then keep a larger narrative private for ourselves. It’s true that some people can benefit from hearing your public narrative, but I don’t believe you have to tell them everything. If you do share all, it’s like Samson telling Delilah that his strength came from his hair, and then while he slept she cut it off. Unfortunately, we can’t rule out that we live in a competitive world, so I don’t advocate telling everyone the full narrative all the time. You don’t have to. But it is your choice.

Some people seem to find it empowering to share everything. Some people feel strengthened by keeping it in. Te impsum nosce: know yourself. You’ve got to figure out what’s right for you.

At any rate, there IS power in developing and reflecting on your narrative often. That personal dialogue is essential. Some people bang on about ‘knowing your why’ – I guess that might be another way of putting it (fusing values with personal narrative and intent, with a view to developing bigger, soulful purpose). But you don’t have to share it all the time, do you? What do you think?

The Power of Criticality: Are you using your critical power?

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So you’ve been told to be more critical but you aren’t sure what that means. Maybe your approach has revealed a tendency to just blindly accept sources, ideas, theories and models. Maybe you have just been summarizing what others have said, or been purely descriptive of theories and models. This won’t allow you to make insightful interpretation though, and will restrict how evaluative and innovative you might be in your own work.

In academic writing, and in many other domains, you may need to engage in critical reviewing, usually with a view to identifying areas for improvement or further innovation, research and development. So where do you start? Below are some question prompts and ideas to get you going…

First of all: Who is the author? What’s their background? What’s their frame of reference? I.e. where are they coming from academically? Do they have an established reputation in their field? Are they an emerging author? What is their own motivation for producing the source?

What’s your overall view of the source you are critiquing? What’s your opinion on it? Assess the strengths and weaknesses. Provide either or both negative and positive criticism. Judge the value of it (a paper, book, argument, philosophy, model, theory, etc).

Unpick the way the author produce the work – how did they do it? Was it successful in meeting its aims by doing it that way? Could it have been done better in another way?

What do you understand of the background of the subject area being put forward? Do you understand it better after engaging with the source you are critiquing?

Do a quick summary: what are the main points? Highlights? The good, the bad and the ugly?

What evidence is used? Does other evidence from another source suggest problems with this source?

Are there different schools of thought on this matter? What are the other arguments? Who are other key authors in the field?

Are you in agreement with the main arguments or ideas proposed yourself? Why or why not? What other suggestions would you put forward instead? With what justification?

Are there any errors of fact, accuracy or omission? Are there errors of interpretation? Has any key literature been left out and unconsidered? What biases are evident in the source?

Does the source lack clarity?  Are there underlying presuppositions and assumptions that have not been clearly articulated?

What methods did the source writer use? Have they articulated their research approach so it can be replicated?

What style of source is it? Is it objective, or subjective enough? Would it benefit by a greater inclusion of representative voices, a bigger sample size, or more narrative and thickly descriptive case study material?

What gaps does this work identify? What further work or research may be needed and therefore could you recommend to fill such gaps in knowledge?

References and further reading:

http://studyskills.southwales.ac.uk/media/files/documents/2013-08-21/How_to_Write_a_Critique.pdf

http://www.uis.edu/ctl/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2013/03/Howtocritiqueajournalarticle.pdf

https://www.citewrite.qut.edu.au/write/critique.jsp

http://sites.stfx.ca/writingcentre/sites/sites.stfx.ca.writingcentre/files/How_to_Write_a_Critique.pdf

https://www.ucalgary.ca/ssc/files/ssc/wss_critique_2014.pdf

Thoughts from an academic on the ‘working for free’ debate

work-for-free

I often see people on Twitter moaning about how cheeky people are to invite them to speak or present and then have the audacity to expect them to do it for free. Well, welcome to the world of academia. I’m not saying it’s right per se, but this has become the way things work since, well, forever.

As an academic/researcher you actually pay to attend conferences and seminars in order to speak and be heard often, never mind do it for free. In order to have a paper accepted at a conference you will often have to have registered and paid first. This assumes you have budget, either coming from your academic establishment, or that you can pay yourself. Sometimes academics even to pay to self-publish. If you get invited to speak for free somewhere you therefore usually count it as a privilege and stick the event on your academic CV, which all adds up in terms of your academic worth and value and future promotion potential.

You academic CV grows the more you do – it’s not the standard 2 pager you might be advised to sending out to other jobs. Mine is currently 17 pages long, and lists, among other things: conference papers, journal papers, seminar presentations, book reviews, edited books, books, project outputs, research funding awarded, and conference organization and workshop facilitation. This is of course in addition to actual work experience with job titles and brief job description and list of relevant qualifications and training courses. Obviously, the higher ‘quality’ the outputs mentioned in your CV, and the greater impact on society and industry, the higher your value as an academic, and the more chance you stand of getting that next promotion. Teaching excellence and awards count too by the way.

It would be great to get paid for every conference paper and conference I spoke at, in addition to my main job. It would be great to get paid for journal papers and book reviews and conference organization. It would be great to get paid to speak at seminars. But you just don’t get paid for that normally. Sometimes top names in a given field might get expenses and a consultancy day rate. But by and large people are scrambling to get their name known in their field as an expert and they just do almost everything for free.

You can of course deliver CPD. But as an academic you need to go through your university normally, and as in most contracts, your intellectual property will belong to your employer and they reap the financial rewards. But the presumption is that this is all helping establish you as that name in your field, helping you to make that next book deal and get that next promotion.

In the meantime, academics invite each other to present at seminars as a collaborative starting point. It’s often the case that academics might be lucky to even have budget to offer tea and biscuits for these ventures. So please don’t be offended if you are extended such an invite but are gently informed that unfortunately there is no budget to pay you for this. Think of it as free advertising to build your brand and sell your next book perhaps instead – or a networking opportunity to meet people who WILL be able to pay you for your services in the future. If you no longer need this type of coverage then you are quite within your rights to politely decline and explain that you are not available. But please, please don’t’ be affronted. If we offer you an opportunity like this then actually it’s because in our heads we would welcome it ourselves and may be operating in a different working regime where it’s seen as a privilege to engage like this.

Something I’m not keen on myself though is when a commercial enterprise or consultancy, enlists your help and support and they seem to be making money out of you and you don’t see any rewards at all for your engagement. Is this any different to the university system? I believe so. Universities represent public money for social good, mostly. Or they should. When a private company is engaging your help though, it’s the company owners that directly stand to profit. I don’t think that’s fair. What do you think?

 

Practical Tips to Help Bridge the Gender Gap: For Men AND Women in the Workplace @WomenEd_UAE

Mind_the_gap1

I’m inspired to write this based on an online newspaper article I read 2 months ago about a female, Emirati mechanical engineer who was making a plea for change in male dominated industries (see full article at https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/emirati-women-s-day-mechanical-engineer-calls-for-change-in-male-dominated-industries-1.622927).

My starting point is to say that the WEF Global Gender Gap Report (2016) makes it abundantly clear that men and women and the whole of human society all stand to gain by achieving a Planet5050 and full gender parity in health, economics, education and politics. As such, we’re in this together, and although women may be working very hard, nay, fighting, to make it into hard to reach senior positions in so-called male dominated industries, it’s not just them who have to do all the work to make the transition an easier one. It’s also up to men too. And it isn’t just a case of “If you can’t stand the heat, stay in the kitchen!” Men also have to be prepared to meet women half way, even in the board room, and change their behaviours too perhaps.

Perhaps having reached a position of senior authority and leadership in an organization, a person may have subscribed all their hard working life to models and theories of leadership that bolstered a ‘one man leads the ship’ leadership style. Typical theories and models that would give them confirmation bias in this regard would include ‘Great Man Theories’, ‘Trait Theories’ and many ‘Behaviouralist Theories’ of leadership. These models give rise to thinking that leaders are born, or the potential to be a leader can be predicted and measured, or at least people can be trained to behave as a so-defined leader should in certain circumstances. The mold is set and leadership is a pretty narrowly defined, patriarchal, sometimes head swelling and arrogant, condescending affair. Obviously, those who hold fast to such beliefs of leadership may have a hard time giving leeway to someone, a woman perhaps, arriving in the boardroom, who doesn’t necessarily display the expected list of characteristics. They just aren’t man enough. They don’t fit the My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins model of leadership – ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’

But my argument is that they shouldn’t have to be. Authentic leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership and collegial leadership models all allow for a greater diversity of starting points that would integrate an array of different people engaging in leadership roles in an organization and beyond. So, based on Mariam Al Hendi’s viewpoint as expressed in the above mentioned news article, here’s some tips for all who mix in a two gendered workplace:

1)      Actively listen to the voice of the other gender

2)      Nurture the curiosity of newbies in environments they aren’t used to working in

3)      Make the other person feel comfortable

4)      Be approachable

5)      Encourage the participation of the other gender in single-gender dominated meetings

6)      If someone appears to be lacking the ability to chip in, perhaps invite their views and input

7)      If you are mixing in a one gender dominant work situation – e.g. around the coffee machine or water cooler, or another break time semi social context, make the effort to reach out to a minority person

8)      If someone looks like they are having a socially awkward time of it, what can you do to help break the ice and include them?

9)      Consider that excluding people is a form of bullying and that you might not like it if the boot were on the other foot

10)   Include the other gender in your water cooler or coffee machine chats – don’t exclude them by talking about subjects they might be unfamiliar with

11)   Don’t be patronizing

12)   Work it out

13)   Make it work

14)   Make the other gender feel heard, seen and recognized

15)   Acknowledge what the other gender says – don’t just listen and then move on quickly

16)   Make the other gender feel included, and an equal and an effective part of the team

17)   Use emotional intelligence

18)   Ditch aggressive behavior

19)   Don’t retaliate to hostile behavior but deal with it in an appropriate way

20)   Don’t stay in your comfort zone – work on being 10% braver: whichever gender you are, it’s up to all of us to bridge the gender gaps!

What tips do you have? Please add in comments below!

Update on @WomenEd_UAE inspired events and Dubai women in leadership and education events and activity

1-woman-leader-with-group-of-menYesterday afternoon I was really happy to be able to deliver a one hour seminar at Middlesex University Dubai on the topic of  global and local gender issues. There was a great turn out and some enthusiastic responses, comments and contributory input from the audience along the way and at the end. I was able to give a quick plug for our next event (details below for Sunday 22nd October), when UK based Hannah Wilson will come to speak on the topic of Values Based Education, Women in Leaderhip and WomenEd (also kicking off our @WomenEd_UAE interest group).

I’ve listed some further groups and projects of interest below that bring together the women in leadership agenda in the Dubai region, where possible with a focus on education. Also some links of relevance that I highlighted in my seminar yesterday. Hope to see you at an event soon!

Middlesex University Dubai Invitation/Event:

Sunday 22nd October, 2017, 6.30-7.30pm, Oasis Lecture Theatre (Block 16, Middlesex University Dubai, UAE). Guest Speaker: Hannah Wilson – ‘Education and values-led leadership’. UK Executive Head Teacher, Aureus School & Aureus Primary School; Strategic Lead – GLF Teaching School Alliance; Strategic Lead – Oxfordshire Women Leading in Education. UK National Leader for “WomenEd” (Twitter: @WomenEd), inspiring and supporting women in their educational leadership career development nationally and internationally, which she will also be talking about (along with the newly formed group “WomenEd_UAE” – Twitter: @WomenEd_UAE)

American University in Sharjah:

1) Women in Leadership Course: The Women in Leadership course was created by the School of Business and Management’s Dr. Linzi Kemp and Linda McLoughlin, faculty members at the departments of marketing and management, respectively. The course aims to introduce the skills and development necessary for female leaders to succeed in today’s environment.

2) Centre for Women and Leadership in the Middle East http://wil.insightsme.net

University of Wollongong in Dubai

Women in Educational Leadership Summit 2017 (WELS) – October 21st, Dubai: to register and find out more info go to: http://www.uowdubai.ac.ae/women-educational-leadership

Dubai Business Women’s Council:

http://www.dbwc.ae/

UAE Women’s Leadership Programme:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=4

Dubai Women Establishment Majlis:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=11

The Arab Women’s Leadership Forum:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=1

Arab Women Leadership Outlook:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=6

Women in Boards Initiative:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=9

Women Leadership Exchange Programme (UAE- Sweden):

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=10

WomenEd in Dubai

Twitter: @WomenEd_UAE

Global Women’s Forum Dubai:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=12

Global Women’s Forum Dubai:

http://dwe.gov.ae/projectdetail.aspx?id=12

Twitter: @e7banat

World Economic Forum: Global Gender Gap Report 2016

https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2016

Schwab, K, 2016, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means and How to Respond’, a World Economic Forum publication

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

UN #HeforShe Initiative:

http://www.heforshe.org/en

BBC documentary “No More Boys and Girls”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/3PyQS94Pfa8)

 

Current issues in global and local gender: Why feminism is important again and why it’s for men too – Seminar this week!

Current issues in global and local gender: Why feminism is important again and why it’s for men too

Seminar this week by Dr. Carol Webb, at Middlesex University Dubai (Dubai Knowledge Village, Block 16, Oasis Lecture Theatre, 4-5pm). All welcome!

Abstract

This seminar will outline current developments in society at the global and local level pertaining to current issues in gender. Principally, this equates to a resurgence in activities and movements which could once more be labelled feminist, in seeking to continually strive to achieve the UN goal of #Planet5050 in harmony with the global sustainability goal of gender equality. Obstacles and challenges in achieving these goals differ from country to country, social group and culture – as always, diversity abounds. Of key relevance locally are some strong case studies of initiatives led by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, where in particular, his Leadership Development Programme is helping to even up lack of female representation at senior levels of Emirati leadership and decision making, seeing women break into hitherto male dominated industries and sectors such as oil and gas in the desert, high profile legal case work, and cabinet membership. In the UK, Minister Justine Greening has led the initiative requiring all organisations to reveal gender pay gaps by latest April 2018. As a result, we have already seen the backlash from high profile female BBC presenters who have discovered how much less they are paid than their male counterparts. It is stated that by eliminating the gender pay gap in the UK that GDP could be boosted by 150billion GBP yearly. In a post Brexit world this is a key economic driver that will now no doubt be addressed. The UN has launched a variety of initiatives such as #HeForShe to make the issue one for both men and women in global society. However, many challenges exist that make gender equality, as most social inequalities, a systemic and structural issue. This seminar will explore the topic further and raise questions about what interventions could be led to make further advancements in this arena.

Biography

Dr. Webb obtained her Ph.D. in management learning in 2006 from Cranfield University and is now employed as a lecturer on the International Foundation Programme and MA Education at Middlesex University Dubai. She has worked in education as a teacher in a variety of roles and at a variety of levels since 1996. This has brought her a significant breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in both adult and secondary education in a wide range of national and international settings, including: HE, FE, government-funded training establishments, offender learning environments, LA/academy status secondary schools, and a private, independent international all-through school.  Dr. Webb has more than 6 years of experience as an active researcher working across multidisciplinary fields and has supervised the completion of more than 15 masters level dissertations. She has also lectured on undergraduate, masters, and MBA courses, and led many Ph.D. level workshops and contributed to Ph.D. level supervision activities having had the benefit of Ph.D. supervision training. See her giving a 6 minute presentation at the 2014 SLT Teachmeet in Stratford: https://vimeo.com/100649496

Emirate’s Woman of the Year 2017 Advises on What to Say if HH Sheikh Mohammed Walked Through the Door @WomenEd_UAE @WomenEd

Jumana and Carol

I was very proud and honoured to have met Ms. Jumana  Abu-Hannoud, the Managing Director of SOS Children’s Village International, Gulf Area Office at Middlesex University Dubai today, where she was presenting on issues of global importance. Jumana won the Emirates Woman of the year and the Humanitarian of the year award 2017. She has an amazing background of leadership and works hard to empower women in the region, offering mentoring through various organisations and ‘Reach’ (see www.reachmentoring.org). Offering lots of advice and nuggets of wisdom today, a key message from Jumana was that you always had to be ready with your ’10 second elevator pitch’ – if HH Sheikh Mohammed walked through the door right now and asked you what support you would like to reach what goals and to make what impact, what would you say? Would you be ready? What if it were another organization?

For Jumana, the secret is in knowing who you are talking to, their interests, their needs, and aligning your interests with theirs. A good person for all aspiring leaders to chat with, and especially @WomenEd_UAE / @WomenEd.

Jumana’s Bio:

Jumana Abu-Hannoud comes from a seat of policy making in the humanitarian and public service field, having served as Chief of Staff for HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

During her five-year tenure with HRH Princess Haya, Jumana started out as Communications Director and was at the heart of the development of several national, regional and international strategies and projects in the fields of health, education, social development, peace and humanitarian aid.

She was appointed by Royal Decree as Member of the Board of Directors of the International Humanitarian City, a dedicated free zone authority of the Dubai Government that facilitates humanitarian aid and development work. She was also tasked with the restructuring and transitional management of the IHC for two years, during which she also managed the humanitarian portfolio of HRH Princess Haya as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and Messenger of Peace.

In 2010, Jumana ventured into entrepreneurship and established a first of its kind agency specializing in CSR, fundraising and humanitarian communications. She then became a partner at FEEL Brands, where she leads responsible branding and consulted on projects for WFP, UNICEF, Dubai Cares and Plan International. She also worked as a Public Information Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and supported the SOS International Children’s Villages, Gulf Area Office in a voluntary advisory capacity for 3 years prior to joining the organization as Managing Director of the Gulf Area Office.

Committed to women’s leadership, Jumana is a Founding Partner of Reach Mentoring, the first non-profit incorporated organization in DIFC, dedicated to female mentoring and professional development in the Middle East. She is also a co-founder and Steering Committee member of the 30% Club GCC chapter, a collaboration platform for businesses and individuals to accelerate representation of women on boards and in senior executive positions. She also headed Corporate Affairs & Sustainability for Hills Group, owners of the largest outdoor advertising agency in the Middle East among 13 successful multi-sector businesses.

Jumana is a graduate of the University of Jordan, a certified Chief Sustainability Officer by the International Leadership Management (ILM) organisation in the UK, and a member of the Wharton Executive Education alumni.

Throughout her 18+ years of experience in executive management, entrepreneurship, corporate affairs, sustainability, external relations and fundraising she worked for government, United Nations, NGO’s, start-ups and the private sector where she was heavily involved in designing national and international campaigns and strategies. She currently heads the Gulf Area Office for SOS Children’s Villages International as Managing Director.

Developing your Academic Writing & Language Skills: Are you in a Low Level Vocabulary Prison?

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“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug” –Mark Twain

In the film, ‘My Fair Lady’, Rex Harrison’s character sang contemptuously of Eliza Doolittle’s lexical range: “Look at her”, he said, “a prisoner of the gutter – condemned by every syllable she utters!” His argument as a linguist was that he could empower her with social mobility if he gave her elocution lessons and changed both the way she spoke and the content of how she said it. It wasn’t just her accent or the regional dialect that ‘condemned’ her – it was her social background, class, lack of education, occupation, and gender, among a range of other factors that had locked her character into the trap of social deprivation and inequality. It was only through a hypergamous marriage that she could ever hope to socially mobilize herself.

Since the late 1800s, education and academic engagement is one mechanism that has sought to free many such Elizas from the gutters and prisons of impoverished lexical range. The aim has not been to simply raise the level of speech in society – far from it really – but to facilitate empowerment of intellectual thought, critical thinking and scholarly activity, which would also educate the voting public and hypothetically lead to economic and social amelioration.

Beyond those aims, words are simply powerful, create impact, and the good news is that we can choose whether we use a loaded language gun or remain languishing on our lexically limp lettuce leaf.

It’s not about keeping things simple for the sake of it, which can then evolve into dumbed down ‘Janet and John’ and a reduced capacity for intellectual reasoning. It’s about elevating our choice of vocabulary so that our strategic aims can be reached more effectively. Use of specialist, academic language permits precision and allows erudite and succinct discussion. Specialist vocabulary can reduce long-winded explanations and cut down the number of words used per sentence, thereby enhancing perspicacity: the beautiful art of obfuscation prevention.

Entering a professional world of scholarly thinkers requires that you are able to converse on an equal footing, with grace, dignity and aplomb if possible. What easier way to do so if you are able to put the vernacular to one side and slip into a more suitable choice of words. Engaging in an academic conversation through writing essays and production of papers also requires you to use a more intellectual register in order to accomplish your goals more effectively.

My top tip of the day with respects to this endeavor, is to read challenging scholarly articles and publications, looking up new vocabulary as it arises in a text, and then make attempts to turn this passive vocabulary into part of your active academic vocabulary. What new words have you learned this week? What new words and phrases with high impact will you try to use in your writing and academic conversations?

Below are some links to web-based resources that allow you to make incremental improvements in your word choice and phrasing. Please share any other useful links in comments.

https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/words-phrases-good-essays.html

https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/485/academic_skills/331/academic_writing/5

http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/writing-essays

https://www.deakin.edu.au/students/studying/study-support/academic-skills/academic-style

https://www.myenglishteacher.eu/blog/academic-writing-examples-and-phrases/

http://www.luizotaviobarros.com/2013/04/academic-writing-useful-expressions.html

http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/researchglossary

http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/academicwriting

https://wordvice.com/recommended-verbs-for-research-writing/

https://www.examenglish.com/vocabulary/academic_wordlist.html

https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/6790

https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/258109

http://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/introtosociology/Documents/Glossary.html

 

Gender Parity Children’s Story: “The Kid’s Committee” – Changing the world, one challenge at a time!

A group of 6 ten-year olds (three boys, three girls) have noticed that there are many problems in the world, but feel and know that they can take the lead in helping to solve them. One boy and one girl, Robin and Ray, share joint leadership roles in the group as equal partners. All members of the team have total respect for each other and are highly emotionally intelligent and equally physically strong. Each one is talented in advanced maths, science, engineering and tech. Each one is gifted in gymnastics and running. They are all able to speak 6 languages fluently each (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). They are recognisable in their all black uniform – black t-shirts, sweatshirts and gymnastics leggings, with black trainers and socks. They all receive the same pocket money every week and do the same number of hours of the same chores and other unpaid work, like shopping, washing dishes, cleaning their room, visiting their older relatives and spending time playing with younger brothers and sisters. And, of course, they all go to school.

When they are not doing their chores and homework, they are busy saving the world. A sudden bleep on their smart-watches and the kid’s committee assemble, taking the lead in responding to emergencies of global importance with politicians, world-leading medics, bankers and educational gurus: influencing the future and saving the day. Their confidence is strong, and so are they. They all have complete awareness of their own strengths and feelings and are expert communicators, sensitive to the needs of others, inspiring confidence in all around them, empowering the future leaders of tomorrow.

Story 1: A Crisis in a Country Somewhere in the World

Robin placed the last washed dish on the draining board and stepped back from the sink. He turned around to dry his hands and smiled as his younger sister, Morgan, ran up and hugged his legs. Robin hugged her back and kissed her head, tenderly. Their mother walked into the kitchen, dressed smartly in a suit, holding a briefcase under her arm – she had just got back from work in parliament as government minister for economics (it was her job to make sure everybody had enough work and money in the country, and that the country could do good business with other countries too).

‘How are you feeling, Robin? Are you over your blues yet?’ Robin’s mum asked in a soothing and understanding voice. Robin had been a little sad because he hadn’t done as well as he had hoped in a tech competition at school.

‘Yeah, I’m good mum, thanks. I just felt a little disappointed that’s all – no-one likes to fail, do they? It’s how we respond to the failure that counts. I’ve decided to channel my downhearted spirit into my next effort, doing better next time, while I try to be happy for the person who did win!’ replied Robin, with a hopeful grin. ‘I think the important thing is to understand what I did that could have been done better in some ways, and learning from feedback from my teachers.’

‘That’s the spirit, Robin!’ cheered Robin’s mum as she walked out of the kitchen, taking off her suit jacket to change into sweatpants and drink a cool beer in front of sport on the TV. Morgan followed her mum and disappeared out of sight.

Just then, Robin’s watch bleeped and flashed. It was the signal for the Kid’s Committee to assemble. Robin ran into his bedroom, a mix of earthy colours and Amazon Rainforest inspired décor and plants, scrambling to put on his Kid’s Committee, all-black uniform: black t-shirt, sweatshirt, gymnastic leggings, socks and trainers. He was done in a flash and out of the door, running down the road to meet with the team at their usual place: the circular table by the photocopier in the 24/7 library at the end of Main Street.

It had been raining, and as normal a large puddle had formed in front of the entrance to the library. Robin jumped over it just as he would in the long jump at school. As he landed, Ray, his co-partner and fellow leader of the Kid’s Committee, fell to the ground with grace beside him, where she had ended up after vaulting over the fence between the library and her house, next door. They smiled at each other and entered the library together, greeting each other in Chinese, Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Russian, as was their good-humoured custom, because they could and they enjoyed it.

They approached their table, where their compatriots were waiting for them: the two girls, Jamie and Taylor, and the two boys, Jordan and Hayden. They were all dressed identically and chattering away in Arabic, the language spoken by people in the country they were about to go and help – a land somewhere else in the world. Robin and Ray joined in to get up to speed with the situation. Taylor briefed them.

‘It’s like this,’ began Taylor. ‘There are no women involved in politics at all really in this country: no women in parliament, only 10 women ministers, and in the last 50 years there have been no women involved in leading the country as head of state. Also, only a quarter of women there have jobs and those that work earn on average less than a third of what men earn. There are only a few women in this country who make it to being someone involved in making or enforcing the law, senior official or a manager, and not many more professional and technical workers who are female. Only half of girls can read and write and very few go to college or university – something needs to be done!”

Ray gestured to speak, “It’s true – I got the same news today. What we need to understand though is that at the moment that country is war torn and also that the people are living through very difficult times – lots of people are at risk from illness and disease such as cholera, and there is just no peace in the country – we need to think carefully about how we can help – I think our government even advises people not to travel there because you could easily get killed.”

Hayden stood up and conjured up their virtual reality planning board over the middle of the table, scribing the words ‘Action Plan’ with his finger. Poised ready to take minutes and bullet point their ideas, Hayden stood with finger hovering, ‘Ok team, what shall we do?’

Jamie lurched forwards with vigour: ‘Number 1 – get all warring parties to agree a ceasefire and install peacekeeping arrangements with troops and police as needed!’

Jordan spoke next: ‘Number 2 – get aid and medics in to ensure health and survival of all!”

Robin jumped in: ‘Number 3 – speak with the country’s leaders to help them understand why they need to have equal numbers of men and women leading their country and work with them to help them achieve that. Help them to see that their own country would do so much better because of it and they would eventually be part of a thriving global economy, currently transitioning through the Fourth Industrial Revolution.’

Taylor contributed: ‘Number 4 – open up access for equal numbers of men and women to work in law, senior positions in organisations and as managers – and make sure they are all paid the same! Change the laws that don’t protect women or that leave them disadvantaged somehow.’

Ray: ‘Number 5 – get all children, boys and girls, into school and college, empowering them and building the confidence of each and every one to work together, with respect, as leaders of tomorrow!’

Hayden drew a line with his finger under point 5 on the virtual screen and printed out a linked list of jobs at the photocopier next to where they were sitting for each of them to do in order to make their 5-point action plan work. They each looked at their list, nodding and raising eyebrows in acknowledgement of what they had to do.

‘Simples!’ said Ray. ‘We’ll meet a week today, same place and time, when we’ve accomplished the mission!’

~

A week later they met in the library. Jamie cartwheeled in through the window. She was the last to arrive and Taylor was doing chin ups on the monkey bars in the playground outside while they were waiting. Everyone else was sitting chatting round the table in Arabic again. Taylor jumped over the fence and ran in to join them once she saw Jamie had sat down.

Robin spoke first: ‘Well done team! And congratulations to that country, which now has equal numbers of men and women in parliament, in occupations making and enforcing the law, in positions of management and leadership in every organisation, at every level, and equal pay for similar work between males and females. Even the head of state has become a marvellous example to all and decided to do the right thing and share leadership with a woman as empowered and equal partners. It’s tremendous! There are equal numbers of men and women in employment overall too.’

Ray: ‘Perhaps more importantly for that country, after many years they have stopped fighting and there is peace inside the country and no-one at war with them from the outside either. They have all benefitted from aid and medical help, everyone is healthy and surviving now, and no-one is at risk from any major health issues.’

Jamie: ‘And all girls and boys are going to school and college, being trained in skills and knowledge equally, with leadership training and development programmes helping all. No-one is afraid of being physically hurt or treated badly, and everyone respects each other. All jobs and all careers are open to everyone, and boys and girls and men and women now take an equal share of chores at home or helping caring for children or elderly relatives. This means that everyone has the same amount of time and energy to become educated to the best of their ability and take part in work that they are capable of, without being held back. Also, girls aren’t allowed to get married and have babies so young anymore – they’ve made a law about how old they can be to do that.’

Hayden: ‘I was so happy it made me cry – after women were allowed to be in parliament, so many things changed so quickly. Now, men and women can have the same number of days parental leave from work, and the same amount of maternity and paternity leave. Men and women get the same amount of wages paid to them while they are off work during maternity and paternity leave. The government now supports and provides childcare and child allowance to parents.”

Taylor: “Now there is much improved health for everyone. There is no difference in the number of girls or boys being malnourished, having heart problems, cancer, breathing problems or other big problems. And, less mothers now die than ever while giving birth, and abortion is allowed if a woman’s health is at risk. Every pregnant mother gets a trained medic to help them in childbirth and there is excellent antenatal care for all.’

Jordan: ‘There are suddenly an equal number of male and female PhD students and STEM students. We have looked at the figures and seen that men and women are both showing that they are equally skilled in every subject, job and technical area.’

Robin: ‘What I like is that men and women are now deciding to wait until they are older before they have children, and really thinking before they have babies and planning their family well. Also, changes in the law mean that women and men both have the same legal parental rights in marriage now or even after if they get divorced too.’

Ray: ‘And, men and women both have equal rights and access to bank accounts and financial services, daughters have the same inheritance rights as boys, and women can own, control and use land and other non-land assets equally with men now.’

Jamie: ‘Also, equal numbers of men and women are voting in elections and are standing as candidates in elections both nationally and locally.’

Ray: ‘It’s all amazing! I was so angry before about the differences between men and women, and girls and boys – everybody should have the same chances, they are both worth the same as equal human beings and they are equally capable! Girls’ and boys’ brains are the same and we have the same muscular strength until at least the teenage years if we train the same’. Ray ranted as she did 100 press-ups on the library floor to get rid of her aggressive feelings.’

Robin: ‘I’ve come over all emotional! Another triumph for the kid’s committee! I can’t wait until I’m working in my chosen career as a midwife when I’m older. I really desperately want to help women give birth safely and make sure their babies thrive and prosper.’

Ray: ‘And I can’t wait until I am running for office as Prime Minister – to continue leading our great nation forward in global synergy in equal standing with all other strong men and women all over the world!’

Jamie: ‘I’m looking forward to being in politics too! I believe strongly that our country’s policies need to keep being improved for the benefit of all, not just the few!’

Taylor: ‘It’s engineering and high tech start up entrepreneurship for me! I want to empower every man and woman to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution!’

Hayden: ‘You inspire me all: I want to be a therapist and help people who have mental health problems – I want people to enjoy their lives and be happy and to help them communicate their feelings better!’

Jordan: ‘I’m going to be a make-up artist – I love creative stuff – and I am really looking forward to having a family and children when I’m in my late 20s – I think being a caring and loving father, taking a hands-on role with your children is such a privilege.’

With that, the Kid’s Committee disassembled for another week, happy and content that they had set the world to rights with gender parity once again.

Social & Edu Reform in UK Now: What Would Dickens Do? What the Dickens Would you/Should you Do?

There now follows a party political, no, sorry, individual opinion type broadcast on behalf of the, erm, people. The people of the UK who are disenfranchised, suffering from social inequality and under represented by fault of history or social evolution or some other disadvantage. Who are we talking about? It’s women and ethnic minorities who don’t have equal respect in terms of current gender or other types of pay gaps. It’s the systemically under privileged who have socially and culturally evolved into positions of lower economic class, security, opportunity, advantage and wealth over time. Shock and horror you may gasp, how dare they speak out as if they are entitled! Entitlement belongs only to the entitled. Based on what entitlement though?

Look back through the history books and you’ll soon see that entitlements of the currently so called privileged are founded on very precarious foundations of exploitation, oppression and abuse. So is it entitlement then or just whitewashed injustice which somehow people manage to wash their hands out to avoid guilt or blame by the distance of time and othering? It wasn’t me! I didn’t do that. It wasn’t me who kept women as objectified property as a household good. It wasn’t me who took the slave ships to Africa and kidnapped people, enslaving them and robbing them of their own history, cultural, social and human capital. It wasn’t me who benefitted from that industry and was able to take advantage of the evolution of capitalism in the UK based on the industrial revolution that took place around it. It wasn’t me who prospered because of all that… oh, wait…

But how far in the history books must we go? Haven’t civilisations always conquered the weak and exploited them? The Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British Empire, etc, etc. Didn’t England itself defend itself and lose against the invasion of the Normans, the Romans, the Vikings? How far back, if we chose to do so, must we go to start making reparation for the history of economic social injustice and how it has evolved into the current beast it is today? Well perhaps a good lawyer or two could sit down and work it out.

It’s true: the history books don’t make for very pleasant reading if we were to start unravelling and building a case for compensation for social inequality of the gender and ethnic minority exploitation kind. But imagine if you will how an honest appraisal of the economic damage done might look on the balance sheet if for the sake of argument, it were calculated. And why shouldn’t it be calculated and claimed against? Wouldn’t Lloyds of London be very quick to claim against much less noble materialistic economic losses? Who would stand to make the biggest losses if this came about in such a day of reckoning? If claim upon claim for retrospective compensation were made it would certainly address current inequalities, so much so that perhaps the bankruptcies and loss of land and entitlements going back to feudal times would cripple the foundations of current society. But wouldn’t that be an honest treatment of social inequality? And wouldn’t it be one that would probably stop gender pay gaps and the like (to say the least) from arising again. If people couldn’t afford the law suits, would they ever dare pay a woman any less than a man for the same work done?

During the Ofqual reforms of now current GCSE English exams and specifications we were reintroduced to Dickens. I was irritated by that at first. However, I now applaud it. It reminds us of the power behind the social reformists of the time. Dickens was a social reformist, arguing against poor laws and amendments that didn’t really help the poor, and in fact kept them poor and maltreated. There were and have been great social reformists throughout British history that have stood up against social inequalities and injustice, and improvements have been made on the basis of this. Social reform groups included the Chartists, the women’s rights movement, reforms led in parliament by such as Earl Grey, Lord Melbourne and Robert Peel, and political leaders who saw through great reforms in their time such as Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, Lord Salisbury and Herbert Asquith.  The social reforms that took place during those times were momentous and helped the UK to become the so-called democracy that it is supposed to be today. But what does it mean? Who are the social reformers of today? What do they need to do?

History is the greatest judge but do we really have to wait for the history books before we realise something should have been done? The facts are staring us in the face quite rudely. It’s true that white privilege exists, while it’s also true that young white males also often underperform and are underachievers in areas of social deprivation. If Dickens were alive and writing today with his hat of social reform on, what would he be writing?

I think it would be a dystopian novel, set in the near future, where those with white (often male) privilege sit and rub their hands about how good they’ve got it, but all along there’s a people’s revolution brewing, much like the Russian or French Revolution, and very quickly those with white privilege will fall from their lofty seats of historically founded entitlement at the hands of a change in legislation: the introduction of the ‘Social Inequalities Compensations Claim Act’, which provides free legal representation to make retrospective claims for compensation of economic disadvantage (back pay with interest) due to current or historical kidnapping, enslavement or exploitation of individual, family or ancestral blood ties. Such claims will allow any protected by criteria of Equality Laws to level current economic disadvantage by proving current or retrospective inequality due to being treated unequally, and exploited, kidnapped, enslaved etc. This dystopian novel will seem dystopian for those whose worlds would crumble. It would possibly give them as characters a chance for redemption if they were to then have an Ebenezer Scrooge like change of heart and embrace the new social reforms. The novel would of course have a utopian ending from the perspective of all those suffering under current social inequalities. Economies would be wrecked and ownership entitlements would be all up in the air. But isn’t this what would be really needed in order to create real change to REALLY address social inequalities as we see in our world now?

The history books, as said, will judge. When looking at the history of the Russian and French Revolutions, it is easy to take side with the peasants. Something did need to change. As to what change is needed now and how it could happen is still an open book.

In the meantime, what we do urgently need is to: close the gender pay gap, even up representation of women and ethnic minorities at senior leadership level, and provide free childcare for employees around flexible working times. I don’t think that’s too much to ask when company cars of top executives (mostly white males) are BMWs. Is it?

I’d like House of Lords support with this. And monarchy led projects. Please.