I have a confession to make. I am a white middle class male with a university education, parents who love and support me and a beautiful, intelligent wife and a whip smart and cute little kid. There I’ve said. I have it all off my chest. I have to say that I have lived a very privileged life and I am truly blessed. So what do I know about hardships? To be honest I don’t really know that much. Sure I have had some challenges along the way, but really in the scheme of things, life up until this point has been pretty good. Now, I don’t want to jinx anything so I will stop rabbiting on. However how does this life prepare me for working with anybody less fortunate than myself?

This sprung to mind recently when a female jockey, Michelle Payne, won the Melbourne Cup. Now I must confess that I missed the actual race as I was getting to the airport but I saw the replay and thought good on her. And then I heard her comments about succeeding in a male dominated world and again I thought, good on her! However, then perhaps predictably, there was some backlash from certain sections of the racing industry that were apparently outraged that Ms Payne commented on her view of what she saw as a male dominated industry. A cursory glance showed that every single one of the proponents were men, perhaps proving Ms Payne’s point? But what struck me was that given that all of the commenters were men, did they really understand what it was like for a female jockey in the Australian racing industry and did they even ask?

Now, going back to me, (of course), I know that I have lived a good life and understand that all I can really do when it comes to truly understanding others is two things.

  1. Listen: I don’t know what everybody’s values are, I don’t know their experiences, and I haven’t lived their lives. The only way I can found out more is to listen and I mean truly listen.
  2. Find the right person for the job: We understand that personalities, social styles and communication styles play a part in successful engagement and we match styles and skills to the project. It’s not one size fits all and ensuring that we understand the right personalities for the right projects is critical.

So in the case of Ms Payne, maybe it was worth listening a little more to why she felt it was challenging to work in a male dominated environment rather than reacting to the message? You don’t need to have lived her life to understand it but you do need to listen to learn.