Why cultural contexts matter so much
At the end of January, there was a complete absence of any women appearing to collect awards from the UAE government for progressing gender equality. In the West we love a story like this. It neatly underlines all that we believe about how women are treated in Arab culture. This is excellent proof of how we see the world and our brains will be more than happy to lap this up and strengthen our inbuilt unconscious biases (see here for more details on our unconscious bias training). It’s called a confirmation bias and we all seek out evidence in this way, often through the media.
I travelled to the UAE over two decades ago when tourism was just taking off there. As a young woman I was shocked and appalled by the gender inequalities, which were clear as day. Coming from my perspective at the time, it made no sense to me and I made some very definite judgements about their culture.
But of course we can see in this short vignette that I lacked the cultural awareness to really understand the context of the UAE. And without understanding it, I certainly couldn’t relate to it.
It seems to me that it’s exactly the same with this article (see here) and the responses to it. Where is the effort to understand the cultural context? Yes, the award winners were all men. But look how far the country has come just in acknowledging the need for women in the workplace. I don’t doubt there’s a way to go, but surely we should judge progress by the positive changes that have been made? Recognising the contribution of these individuals to drive change looks like an amazing step forward to me.
Curiously, in the West, we know that when men champion the rights of women it has great impact. As it does when any majority group acknowledges the contribution of the people who are not in the same powerful and privileged position.
I think The Guardian could do better here. We could all do better in fact, just by taking a moment to at least try to understand the context of a different culture instead of rushing to mock and make judgements. It’s called cultural intelligence and when there’s a lack of it we tend to think that the other party has all of the work to do. Given all that we’ve seen in the West of late, are we really comfortable climbing onto a pedestal on gender equality?
Rachael Wilson is the Managing Director of EW Group. Rachael has a natural flair for expertly pinpointing the sources organisations need to successfully design and deliver their business case for diversity. Rachael supports businesses across a variety of industries to enhance staff engagement, boost customer satisfaction, innovate, win new clients, attract and retain the best talent and drive genuine cultural change. With a keen eye for emerging industry trends, Rachael ensures EW Group’s work is firmly on the map both in the UK and globally. Sign up to EW Group’s fortnightly e-newsletter for industry updates, business case studies, exclusive event invites and more!