Thursday, 18 May 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 15. encourage, involve, appreciate and develop women

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.)


'I had no interest in playing to cultural sensitivities around the inferior position of women in Iraq, and readily looked at talented female as well as male tutors.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin


Here, Paul is challenging the inferior position of women in Iraq head-on. This was essential to the success of the NYOI on at least three levels:

1. Encouraging women to play full parts within the NYOI, as not only tutors (as described above) but also players within the orchestra, ensured it had sufficient quality musicians to be viable and sustainable over a number of years.

2. Where their quality and ability merited it, encouraging and selecting women to take leading roles within the orchestra (as tutors, section leaders or managers of key support functions, etc.) created role models which showed that women could not only do these roles but sometimes do them better than their male colleagues. This contributed to achieving two interconnected NYOI goals: 1. providing all its young musicians, whatever their gender or backgrounds, with as many opportunities as possible to realise their potential; and 2. giving its players the confidence to go on and take leading roles within their country's wider artistic life.

3. Encouraging women in the above ways helped the NYOI tap into the skills, qualities and characteristics most usually unique to women. This is beautifully described by the following:

'Sabat's sister, Saween, a modest violinist, transfixed everyone with her incredible voice. Incanting deep Kurdish sorrow without a trace of Western vibrato the filigree butterflies emanating from her glottal twists and turns fluttered straight into our stomachs.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The context of Iraq emphasises the importance of helping women play full and influential parts within not only collaborative projects which need their skills but also societies and cultures which, because of their attitude toward women, are at best only half-resourced.

This is equally important within less extreme collaborative and cultural contexts. Look around at those working with you. Do you have enough partners to sustain your work? If not, does this coincide with an absence of women? Have women with the required qualities and abilities been given the same opportunities as men to take lead roles? Lastly, and perhaps most challengingly for those who think themselves sufficiently diversity aware, are you really identifying and taking advantage of the unique skills, qualities and characteristics of the women working with you?

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