Blog posts and podcasts
You can view a selection of blog posts by our members below and listen to podcasts about our work.
Professor Louise Mullany and Dr. Roshni Mooneeram were interviewed as part of the Words & Actions series, a podcast about how language matters in business, politics and beyond.
Here you can listen to Prof. Mullany and Dr. Mooneeram talking about the role of language and communication in leadership and find out more about their work as part of the Language, Gender and Leadership Network.
by Dr Roshni Mooneeram, Project Consultant
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Maya Angelou says that there is a space in every woman that she must not allow to be violated. It is a space that defines who she is in her idiosyncrasies, in her strengths and vulnerabilities, in her dreams. There is for every woman at least one moment in her life when she has to articulate a decisive ‘NO’ to someone who oversteps the boundaries of that space through one form of abuse or another. It is a positive ‘No’ that preserves a sense of self, well-being and agency.
In my work in East Africa on the Language Gender and Leadership Network (LGLN in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya) a main observation is that a deep-seated distrust of women, combined with anger and fear about them, pervades culture and institutions. Not that this state of affairs is absent from Western Europe. Louise Mullany and Loretta Trickett’s (2018) seminal research and policy consultancy work with the Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner is just one case in point. Their work examines Nottinghamshire Police Force’s innovative misogyny hate crime policy, with Nottinghamshire Police being the first in the world to bring in this policy.
Deep societal and institutionalised misogyny, and the effects thereof, constitute the why of my consultancy work in leadership development and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Much of my work is centred on a personalised leadership branding for women. Branding relies on at least three principles and values that constitute the boundaries of that inner space that Angelou insists on, and on the basis of which women then go on to create their customised leadership styles. Branding, in that sense, constitutes a compass, a guiding light to enable one to navigate through the vagaries of life and professional life, especially in a context where a culturally ingrained view of women often overspills into abuse.
It takes a huge amount of courage to acknowledge and denounce abuse because it is messy for all involved. It involves re-adjustments of self, of lives, and dealing with others’ perception. It means really going out of your comfort zone and taking that leap of faith into a new you. But, precisely, if and when you have articulated the values by which you stand and by which you wish to build, you do not walk out of abuse into the unknown. Rather, you walk into a desired ‘you’ that is renewed in its creative energies, recalibrated by the values that you have self-consciously chosen.
Here is one form of abuse that comes up repeatedly.
The term ‘gas lighting’ comes from the 1944 film Gas Light where a husband (Charles Boyer) manipulates his wife (Ingrid Bergman) into believing that she can no longer trust her own perception of reality. Gas lighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that undermines the victim’s sense of self-worth. The gas lighter creates a negative narrative about the gas lightee. They do so by putting themselves in the position of someone who knows, like an omniscient god, exactly what’s in their victims’ head. They ‘know’ that the gas lightee’s work is embarrassing, that they are unemployable or untrustworthy. Through repetition of the same false and negative narrative they drill the same message into their victim.
Anger and verbal abuse are part of the game. The same questions are asked over and over with increasing aggression, sometimes over several hours, and with the effect of destabilising and cornering the partner. Isolating their victim makes it easier to break them. When challenged, the gas lighter reasons with denial, stays on the offensive and retaliates by insisting that the gas lightee is wrong and dysfunctional. An atmosphere of fear and threat is maintained at a high serving to curb the freedom of movement of the partner until the latter submits to not going out.
Eventually, they wear down the victim into submission or into believing what they wish them to believe. There are no limits to gas lighting, it can ultimately lead to the total withdrawal of the victim or suicide. Some women I know have been in this situation for 15 years, others have had a lucky escape after 6 months. Those who get away are often those who have a support network to whom one day they choose to talk. They then realise that what they had convinced themselves was acceptable is actually abuse.
We created LGLN because none of us across north and global south divides can push for breakthroughs, personal and collective, without the support of the men and women in our network.
Diversity, Inclusion and Role Models
By Dr Roshni Mooneeram, Project Consultant
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14th September 2019
The third Language, Gender and Leadership Network (LGLN) at the University of Nottingham conference took place just after the G7 summit (2019). Two contrasting widely-circulated media pictures were very much in my mind. The picture of 17 Heads of State comprising 16 men and one woman, who would likely not stay in her leadership position for long, was a striking contrast to the picture of the first ladies in pretty frocks walking around the flower gardens. This pictorial contrast made a good point of entry for discussions with colleagues from UN Women, the Institute for Social Transformation, colleagues from various sectors from banking to politics, academia and entrepreneurship. The power dynamics of the two pictures served as a stark reminder that gender parity has rescinded further into a future we will not see (108 years according to the World Economic Forum).
Simon Gallow, Development Director of UN Women UK, a passionate advocate for gender parity at LGLN, made the well-established point that structural barriers stopping girls and women from achieving their potential is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue, it is one of sustainability. I could not agree more. In my consultancy work, I am particularly mindful that sustainability means the empowerment of our human capital so we can better tackle the challenges ahead. Most global business leaders, Gallow points out, get the point that diversity leads to more innovation and productivity. PWC shifted the representation of women on their global leadership team from 18% to 47% in just 15 months. Vodafone are aiming to connect 50 million women in emerging markets to mobile by 2025.
With figures likes these, I’m thinking, surely, we will not have to wait a whole century. ‘But wait,’ he says, ‘diversity is about counting heads. Inclusion is about making heads count.’ I love this point, it reminds me that the G7 pics were neither counting heads nor making them count. ‘Also the mind argument has been won’, he continues. ‘But not the heart argument.’
These two points strike a chord with me in relation to my own work of building leadership capacity for women in organisations in East Africa. My observations correlate with his. Clearly, global businesses are catching up on the advantages of gender equality. They are investing in events designed to encourage more women to join STEM-related jobs, in leadership coaching programmes to encourage women to aspire to increasingly senior positions in the organization, let alone in lavish celebrations of International Women’s Day. True, more and more companies are aligning their values to gender parity. The number of women in non-traditional sectors and in senior positions is increasing. All are laudable efforts. But from my work on the LGLN, I have also picked up that the very organisations, which highly publicise their pledge to inclusion and diversity – or perhaps to diversity and not to inclusion – actually harbour internal structures which will also inhibit young women from reporting sexual harassment in the workplace especially if the perpetrator is from the C suite.
The fear from young women to speak up against sexually abusive men in positions of power in the organisation is not surprising. It is the old but real fear of reprisals, the fear of a connivance between the people they should be speaking to in Human Resources/ Legal and the leadership, the fear that their words will be discounted against the words of those who hold power. These internal structures take time to create, they are invisible, unpalpable but, once established, they work to almost perfection with the tacit understanding of a handful. I have heard testimonies of young women who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and who have chosen silence. So, indeed, to get the numbers in is mere diversity. To ensure that internal structures create an environment where the reporting of abuse is safe, to make the heads and the voices count, that would be inclusion.
Simon Gallow is right, we have yet to win the ‘heart argument’ in driving the equality agenda. As the HeforShe movement becomes more glamourized, there is the risk that some of the organisations which want to jump onto the diversity bandwagon may continue to hide manipulation behind the discourses of equality, as if the latter were pretty frocks in a floral garden. For those of us working on gender parity in the workplace, ensuring leadership commitment is a quick win. Ensuring leadership accountability in EDI is the real challenge.
Making Spaces for Women to Lead
By Dr Victoria Howard, Research Affiliate, University of Nottingham
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The third conference of the Language, Gender and Leadership’s AHRC-funded project presented another eagerly-anticipated opportunity for partners from across the network to come together. For me, it was my first chance to meet many of the people whose narratives I’ve found so compelling as I’ve transcribed them! We were delighted to welcome to Nottingham University participants from as far away as Uganda, Kenya and USA and as close as our home city.
When I think back to the conference, I am struck by the strength of so many participants’ commitment to working with communities, collaboratively, to bring about meaningful change. The voices of those with on-the-ground experience, and the voices of those who could be considered the focus of empowerment initiatives came through strongly. The two-day conference had a markedly different atmosphere from any I had attended before. Whilst addressing critically-important issues, such as gender parity, child marriage, FGM, modern slavery, misogyny and women’s empowerment, the space retained openness and collegiality that encouraged constant dialogue. I was struck by the generosity of participants in sharing their life stories and knowledge of specific issues, their respect for the lived experiences of others and how keen delegates were to critically consider how to make life better for everybody.
Amongst a raft of memorable presentations, we heard from Regina Grace Akullu about her childhood and career to date. Grace spoke about issues she encountered when standing for election as an MP for the Ugandan Parliament and her plans for the future. It was inspiring to hear how determined she is to reach the echelons of political power, as well as how she is using her skills in her work with women in marketplaces as part of the Institute for Social Transformation’s (IST) transformational leadership initiatives. She reminded me just how valuable it is for women to share their experiences: the struggles as well as the successes, so we can expose the barriers and work together to tackle them.
This is just what Tabitha Wacera, CEO of Sustainable Water, is doing too. She told us how she was using her childhood experience of the ‘water walk’ in Kenya to develop and market a product to help the 1.4 billion people in the world who do not have access to water. Her call for entrepreneurs to always tell their own stories and to retain their authenticity shows how narratives of personal experience can help us to address hugely important issues. Narratives help to explain Tabitha’s drive, but I think they also help outsiders to make sense of the problem and her proposed solution.
Laura T Murphy spoke about her work with survivors of contemporary slavery and human trafficking, developing best practice responses. Laura explained how narratives of modern slavery that meet expectations of how hearers think they should appear tend to be most successful. I found it really disturbing to learn how some narratives had been appropriated and reconfigured to this end. It made me think about how we, as researchers, elucidate narratives, and the merits of giving people space to tell their own stories in a range of forms, but also how we must think carefully about how we retain authenticity as we retell them.
Rita Atukwasa of IST, Uganda spoke passionately about her experience creating spaces for women in Ugandan marketplaces to come together, raise their voices and to gain consensus. She has championed women leaders with the slogan, ‘My market! My workplace! Our voice counts!’. It was fantastic to hear how IST is having real impact for market women and their families by facilitating opportunities for them to talk and collaborate. Entering into dialogue with communities was also at the heart of the presentation given by Valentine Nyoko, Director of the Mojatu Foundation. She explained how she advocates a collaborative approach, making space for conversations to take place, in an effort to eradicate FGM. She emphasised the importance of understanding the lived experiences of others, the adoption of a ‘do no harm’ approach and she called for innovative approaches to reach communities and to work with them to eradicate FGM. Hope Nankunda spoke passionately about the complex factors contributing to child marriage and how understanding these is critical to ending it. She explained some of the ways Raising Teenagers and Girls Not Brides, Uganda try to keep girls in school, including through providing menstrual products. These speakers’ messages really resonate with my reading of the narratives we have collected as part of the LGLN project: a ‘bottom-up’ approach is an effective way to identify obstacles and to empower women, but it also offers communities the space to consider how they can harness the skills and experiences of women to improve the lives of everybody.
Closer to home (for me!) Louise Mullany and Lucy Williams of Nottingham University’s EPSRC STEMM Change Team spoke about the University’s reverse mentoring project, allowing people in more junior roles with an under-represented difference to share their experiences with those in senior positions in order to improve understanding of barriers to equality in a UK university setting. I think reverse mentoring has a great deal in common with LGLN members’ work in Africa. It recognises that neither those on the upper rungs of power, nor outsiders, can empower others without creating space for dialogue and collaborating to better-understand their lived experiences.
Finally, it was fantastic to see the launch of the project’s booklet of narratives, ‘The Voices of Women Leaders in Africa’ showcasing some of around 150 life stories that the network has collated so far and that I have helped to transcribe over many months! Speaking to women during this project, and hearing their stories, has been eye-opening. I am constantly inspired by how women are setting about change-making in a range of ways, from providing sanitary towels to keep girls in schools, to harnessing social media, to setting up businesses and non-profits, to bringing communities together to talk and so much more. These are truly innovative approaches and I am so grateful to have played a tiny part in helping them to share their stories, which will hopefully encourage others to follow their lead.