May Musings - 02

I write to you from a cafe like many other cafes I’ve sat in before: fast wifi, high ceilings, a choice of coffee beans from Colombia, Kenya or Ethiopia. Around me are a plush couch, and simple yet wonderfully comfortable wooden tables and chairs dotted around the mezzanine level, each seat conveniently placed next to a power plug for the many laptops people just like me a tap-tap-tapping away on.

It’s like any hipster cafe I’ve been in before, in Melbourne, New York, London or San Fransisco… but I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Instead of the sounds of trains and trams, I hear the clap of thunder momentarily cutting through the roar of the monsoonal rains, and I’m at once both intrigued and pensive about the ubiquity of the hipster cafe aesthetic. On one hand, I love that I can find a decent coffee in almost any city around the world (although some cities I have to work harder than others!). On the other, I wonder about the underbelly of the global ‘freelance’ lifestyle: on where, despite the believe that we are ‘alternative’, doing something ‘different’ and experiencing cultures and lifestyles outside our own, we still seek places that are familiar no matter where we are? I mean, I’ve found a hipster cafe and ridden a ‘Grab’ (Malaysia’s version of Uber) here - I could have just walked down the road to a street food vendor and camped out there, right?

But sometimes I think - life is already full of friction and challenge, full of meeting new people on a regular basis and seeing new things (I live in a new continent, after all!) - why not treat myself to something familiar? Jury is still out on this - how do you experience a new city that you travel to for work?

***

I spent a significant part of an hour reading this article on the Murdoch empire. Have you read it yet? The story of the Murdochs fascinates me, as much as it frustrates and in some ways, angers me - and so I finds exposes such as this compelling and enlightening. As the article suggests, the influence of Rupert Murdoch on Western (Anglo, shall we say) democracies cannot be overstated really. The question I am left with, is what do we do about it? Is it possible to build another empire in the same way, if one started today? Is it possible to build an analogous empire ethically, one bound by morals and a framework based on social justice? I’m not sure. I think these may be questions which scratch the surface of deeper philosophical queries to do with power and the reason one has for living… but alas. We’re only on day two on May musings, folks. Let’s ease into it, shall we?

Another article I found useful was this one in the Harvard Business Review on the true challenges of building an innovative culture. In some ways, it ties in with I was talking about yesterday re discipline.

Fascinating twitter thread on the breaking of the engima code and a reminder of how so often, no matter how well we design a machine, it comes down human error (or just, the human condition)?

I’m also on the Board of the Electronic Frontiers Australia and we’re doing a couple of profiles of folk in the tech industry in Australia ahead of the federal election. If you’re part of said industry and wouldn’t mind sharing a little about yourself, email Lyndsey here! Thank you!

Fresh-faced selfie from said hipster cafe hashtag nofilter (is it glow, or a sheen of sweat? We’ll never know)

Fresh-faced selfie from said hipster cafe hashtag nofilter (is it glow, or a sheen of sweat? We’ll never know)

May musings

Chillin’ like a villian. A very warm, wrapped up villian cos it’s cold out, you know?

Chillin’ like a villian. A very warm, wrapped up villian cos it’s cold out, you know?

It’s been a long time since I’ve committed to any sort of ‘write every day’ challenge. While yes, that might be due to a lack of time, if I’m really honest, it’s more likely due to a lack of discipline. I find, like many others, the length of time it takes for me to complete a tasks depends on the amount of time I have at hand. Alas, I’m too flexible that way.

While lying in bed last night, after listening to approximately 10.5 hours of podcasts (the perks of travelling alone), Seth Godin’s voice popped into my ear. Not physically, mind - in that case, I would have had some serious questions for hotel security. No, I’d been listening to the American author on one of the podcast episodes I’d heard earlier that day, and something he had said stuck with me. Seth talked about his commitment to blogging every single day, and the discipline of doing so for year in, year out. I remember thinking at the time ‘ah, capitalism! Making us think that we all need to be productive, pff!’. But then my mother’s voice pipped up (cheeky!) with the counter argument. ‘Isn’t praying 5 times a day doing the same thing day in, day out, regardless of the weather or a bank holiday? Don’t make discipline about capitalism Yassmina, it’s not all about the problems in the system!’

Now, although I may disagree with my mother the appropriate moment to bring up structural inequalities, her imaginary voice did have a point worth paying attention to. Because, as much as it pains me to admit (and yes, this isn’t on brand) between you and me, sometimes I think I dismiss certain activities as ‘capitalist productivity hacks’ simply to indulge my inner sloth.

I mean, I love talking about how I’m not a morning person, and how all morning people really need to keep the joys of the morning to themselves. The irony is, of course, is that on the days I do deign to wake up early, I bloody love it! And I’ll damn well tell anyone within earshot. Ah, the goodness of the crisp morning air and, oh, the glory of empty streets. Hypocrisy, you say? Never heard of it! Is it the name of a new cafe? I’ve been known to roll my eyes at people who talk to me about their running schedules, but when I’m feeling fit and can do a 10km in under an hour I’m the best version of myself. And don’t get me started on yoga…

So why, and how? Why does some part of me rail so hard against personal habits that are clearly beneficial for people - including me!

Perhaps I just don’t like being told what to do. Inner rebellious child, independent woman, whatever - yes, that’s a part of it. But I don’t think it’s the whole story. If I would hazard a guess, it would be the lack of humility that seems to come with the cult of productivity (I can hear my mum’s voice telling me to reign it in again…).

Hear me out though. Muslims praying five times a day could re-frame their practice as a productivity hack for sure: get up early (before the sun comes up), do your meditation, then start the day. Move your body in a smooth fashion, kinda like yoga, five times a day. Focus. Breath. Exercise. You know? It’s the perfect package. But the way it’s talked about in faith is completely different to the way similar practices are talked about in the culture of the tech/productivity/start up world. In faith, it’s seen as a personal thing, a private invitation, not a competition or a challenge. It’s not a matter of worth, it’s more a matter of practice, coupled with a reminder that your time on this earth is short, and that you exist to serve. That comes with quite a heavy dose of humility, you know?

***

So that all being said... I’m here to tell you that I’ve committed to writing a blog post every day this month (is the joke on you, or on me, I’m not sure!). It’ll probably be random (like this), but in an effort to get myself off twitter and writing more than an instagram caption length, I’m hoping this will be a space for me to get my writing juices flowing again, inshallah. Also, it’s going to be Ramadan, so I need some ‘inside’ activities to keep me busy.

Let me know what you want to hear about. I can share links to what I’m reading, thoughts about current affairs, what I’m up to and where I’m at.

Bismillah… here we go!

***

Oh before I leave - here are some interesting pieces that I’ve read recently that may tickle your fancy.

The Friendship that made Google Huge

Love is not a Permanent State of Affairs w Esther Perel

The Loss of Moral Leadership for Muslims

The Independent: The uprising in Sudan is about a lot more than bread prices

The Independent: The uprising in Sudan is about a lot more than bread prices

For many in Sudan, its current situation is virtually unliveable, with cash and fuel shortages galore, astronomical and unpredictable inflation, and basic services that sometimes do more harm than good

Huffington Post: #JusticeForNoura

Huffington Post: #JusticeForNoura

What do we know about Noura Hussein? The 19-year-old Sudanese woman is currently on death row in Omdurman, Sudan, for killing a man in self-defense. She was convicted of murdering her husband, who raped her on their “honeymoon.”

The Guardian: Is taking down white men like Josh Denny always a victory for equality?

The Guardian: Is taking down white men like Josh Denny always a victory for equality?

Humiliation, belittlement, dehumanisation: these are the tactics the oppressor uses. We need to be better than that.

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

“The colliding of opinions will only lead to the emergence of truth if the force behind both is equal, if the playing field is level, if there is a commitment to truth rather than to an agenda that is self-serving.”

GUEST APPEARANCE ON GUILTY FEMINIST PODCAST

Screenshot 2018-04-24 16.49.00.png

I joined Deborah Frances-White and Susan Wokoma for an entertaining and impassioned edition of the fabulous podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Also a guest on the show was the inspiring co-founder of Legally Black UK, Liv Francis-Cornibert.

Check it out!

 

 

Riveting Reads: Wednesday 21st March, 2018

Riveting Reads: Wednesday 21st March, 2018

Interesting articles on issues ranging from a small town fighting for asylum seekers to stay, to Cambridge Analytica.

Interview with Investment Magazine on Unconscious Bias

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

I was honoured to present the Mavis Robertson address at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds in Brisbane this year.  As part of the engagement, I answered a few questions for Investment Magazine on #BeatingBias. Here is some of what I said:


In your 2014 TED Talk, you make the point that acknowledging unconscious bias is “not an accusation”. Do you find many people still resist discussions about beating unconscious bias and get defensive?

In 2014, unconscious bias was a relatively new concept in the corporate world. Today, I think many people are aware of its existence, but rather than be outwardly defensive, sometimes they think it is an excuse for biased behaviour – as in, ‘Oh well, I am biased, there is nothing I can do about it.’ The other thing I often hear is people saying that they aren’t biased, and then immediately follow it up with a statement or question that demonstrates the exact bias they were trying to deny. Sometimes those who think they are the least biased are the ones with the most deeply entrenched ways of seeing the world.

How do you suggest people start the process of identifying their own unconscious biases?

It starts with being open to the idea that we are all biased, and that all of us need to go through processes of identifying and acknowledging the biases that we hold. It’s about asking ourselves about every single assumption we make and then questioning why we have made that assumption – where has the information come from, and is there space for that assumption to change? If we have a gut feeling someone is going to be a good leader, for example, is it because they have actually demonstrated anything, or is it because they are tall, they seem sure of themselves, they remind us of ourselves, etc? We need to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – challenging our own biases is never a comfortable experience, but it is worthwhile.

In that TED Talk, you challenged people to seek out and mentor someone different to them. Have you seen any good examples of organisations doing that systematically? How has it worked?

There are a couple of organisations I see do this well, and it tends to be places where the idea of inclusion is a value that is built into the very DNA of the organisation. Organisations that understand how power dynamics work, that demand that you are on board with the culture of the organisation, that see supporting and empowering those with structural disadvantage as a must have, not a nice to have. It works best when everyone in the organisation understands that this is a company-wide ethos, and when individuals are willing to do everything they can in their power to make a difference for others. That sometimes involves sacrifice and discomfort, but when people believe in a goal that is bigger than themselves, it works out well.

What is your advice for someone who knows there is a problem with unconscious bias within their organisation but feels they are not senior enough to lead change?

Leading conversations at a peer-to-peer level is incredibly important and powerful, so that should not be underestimated. Cultural changes need to be both top down and bottom up, so finding ways to stimulate the grassroots conversation can be a stepping stone to broader understanding within the organisation. Also, looping in a champion, or someone else at a higher level who believes in the need for change, is also a good option.

What would you say to any senior executives or directors who are confident they are not afflicted by unconscious bias?

The science says that we all are – even me! The more we think we are not affected by it, the bigger the cognitive blind spot is. The first step in addressing any problem is to admit there is a problem, so I always encourage people to be open to admitting there might be bias, even as a thought experiment. Acknowledging unconscious bias isn’t saying someone is bad per se, but it is an opportunity for improvement – and what senior executive doesn’t like finding ways to improve?


This author thinks talking about structural inequality is 'disempowering'. I, obviously, disagree.

Photo of Peter Thiel  via TechSpot

Photo of Peter Thiel via TechSpot

I came across an article recently that articulated a view I've heard before. Like others before them, the author makes a false equivalence: 

...this idea of agency is a controversial one today...We speak of privileges and systemic biases. We talk of our problems as if they are intractable, overwhelming and malevolently created. Even on the extreme right, there is an obsession with biological differences between sexes and races, about whether one gender or another is naturally better at this or that. Again, these are simply averages that have nothing to do with individuals. Our focus on it all, from either side, is a way of subtly erasing agency. We emphasise where we are disempowered rather than opportunities for empowerment.

The author seems to believe argument that highlighting structural inequalities, biases and systemic obstacles is disempowering, and rather focus should be on the opportunities available.

I disagree.

Now, I must make the disclaimer that I do speak and write publicly about bias and privilege, so it would obviously be in my interest to challenge this charge.  However, it is important to realise that not all norms and challenges are the same, and these are far from binary conversations. 

Peter Thiel (as the article pointed out), a billionaire who was upset at what was written about him in the press, was told that 'there was nothing he could do about it' because of the norms within media. He then went on to do something about it, and this is the example of 'high levels of agency' the author is asking us to consider, and perhaps emulate.  It should be noted the author does not condone Thiel's actions per se.  

However, being written about in the press and then taking that news outlet down is not quite the same as a systemic bias against women, or structural inequalities due to a history of slavery and colonisation.  There are reams of studies that look at the structural nature of these inequalities, and some of them are overwhelming, intractable and malevolently created. To dismiss a focus on tackling structural inequality seems inconsiderate, illogical and ill-informed.

The reality is, folk who are marginalised have been succeeding in spite of these inequalities and biases.  You want to know about agency?  Talk to first generation migrant parents. I was unaware of the true impact of cognitive biases and structural inequality growing up because my parents refused to entertain that as an excuse, like many other migrant kids I knew. In fact, any systemic issue would be framed - on purpose - as an opportunity for growth. Work ten times as hard, because things are tougher for women / people of colour / Muslims, I was told.  The way my parents brought my brother and I up was to believe that our agency would overcome all.  And it did - until it didn't - but that's a story for another time... 

Yes, individual agency is something we can control, and perhaps even underestimate. But talk of systemic and structural problems does not automatically mean that individual agency is disregarded, and does not have to be inherently disempowering. In fact, that fact that the public discourse has shifted to include the structural challenges is a step in the right direction. It means we are shifting to a place where we change the world to fit people, rather than people to fit the world.   

Individually, we can control our mindsets, and do our best to fully utilise our agency.  Not everything is within an individual's control however.  Rather than dismiss that reality, those with more access and agency should do what they can to level the playing field.  And don't say it can't be done... ;) 

Ways you can support Ahed Al-Tamini and other Palestinians.

Source - The National

Source - The National

My lovely friend and activist Sara Saleh has put together this great list of places you can support Ahed Al-Tamini, a young Palestinian child who has, like many others, resisted Israeli occuption and suffered the consequences.

 
 

STEP 1: Sign a global petition (bold + italic = click for link)

 

STEP 2: Consider long-term support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign

For long-term, constructive support and solidarity, please support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel which works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law

 

STEP 3: Support Volunteer Local Advocacy Groups and their Campaigns

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) 

Join their most recent campaign supported by ActionAid Australia calling on PayPal to extend its services to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 

 

STEP 4: Apply Political Pressure by emailing your local Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister:

Email the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Email Julie Bishop - The Minister for Foreign Affairs

Contact your local MP

 

STAY INFORMED

Electronic Intifada: @intifada

Military Court Watch: @MCourtWatch

B’Tselem: Israeli Info Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territories: @btselem

Adalah: Independent human rights organization and legal center: @AdalahEnglish

Amnest International and Amnest Australia: @Amnesty & @AmnestyOz