Equality – so much more than compliance

By Cindy Vallance

Following on from the first of Nancy Kline’s ten principles for a thinking environment, ATTENTION is followed by EQUALITY. In this context Equality goes far beyond the public sector duties and legislative requirements that are part of the Equality Act, as important as these are. EQUALITY here means treating each other as ‘thinking peers.’ It is possible to treat people as equals as thinkers even in a hierarchy. There is often a tendency within organisations to believe that the higher people are in a hierarchy, the better people can think. This is simply not true.

Within the Change Academy initiative, we have discovered, with every conversation that takes place and every activity we take forward, that the perspectives of students, academic staff and professional services staff combine to provide a greater breadth of positive ideas and perspectives than any of us could come up with by working only with those in similar roles or at the same levels as ourselves. How do we do this on a practical level?

Firstly, in your meetings, (effective in smallish meetings of no more than 12), try giving everyone equal turns and attention since knowing everyone will have a turn improves the quality of everyone’s attention. If possible, try doing this at the beginning and end of each meeting. One example in Nancy Kline’s book described how someone in one organisation asks at the beginning of each meeting with her team, “What have you noticed that needs attention or change in this area that I might not have noticed? And then, “What do you think should be done about it?” She ensures everyone has a chance to respond without interruption, only asking questions to clarify, not to challenge or defend herself.  And she promises to think about each idea. And she follows through. Not by promising to do everything suggested but by letting her staff know what she decides to do with each person’s ideas and why. This takes time but her view is that it saves time overall because ideas have come forward she never would have thought of and overall, the commitment and engagement of her entire team have increased. They know that their thinking matters and that it makes a difference.

Nancy Kline states “Respect is the hallmark of a thinking environment. Equality is its base.”

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