Fragments of Fairness: why every conversation counts

A few weeks ago i published the ‘Framework for Fairness‘. It’s a practical exploration of how we incorporate fairness into every conversation. Why? Because if we save it for special ones, we cannot hope to be truly fair. I’ve had some great feedback around it, so i just want to spend today exploring it a little further.

Mosaic of Fairness

We need every conversation to be fair, not just the big ones

It’s easy to see the issues when fairness fails: an imbalance in the social contract between organisations and employees, issues of inequality, bullying or lack of opportunity. We are disenfranchised by unfairness, often in subtle and pervasive ways.

I use the term ‘fairness‘ deliberately: it could equally be equality, but i want to take the conversation wider than this. Equality is often used to talk about levelling out historic and cultural imbalances: gender, sexual preference, age, all the foundations of inequality. Equality isn’t a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of right: a human right and doing what’s right. Fairness is about the conscious decisions we take beyond this. We can achieve equality, but still fail to be fair.

And there’s something else about fairness: it’s ok for someone not to be fair.

I say this with caution, and not without much thinking, but it ties into my work around culture. We sometimes tend to one dimensional views of culture that aim for conformity. In reality, cultures are diverse and, within that diversity, it’s ok to express a range of views (around fairness, not around equality). It’s ok to be greedy, it’s ok to put yourself first, it’s ok to be self centred (it’s not a style i’d advocate, but it’s ok). But it’s not ok to be homophobic, racist or unequal in attitudes to gender equality and opportunity.

Equality and Fairness

For example, the failures of the financial service industry are often attributed to greed, but greed, in itself, has to be ok. What i mean by that is, it’s a personal choice and it sits within our cultural framework, we live in a capitalist society (here in the UK) and it’s ok to make money. I may not aspire to be greedy myself, but it’s not my moral right to challenge people who are. When it comes to equality, it’s different: it’s my moral imperative to strive for equality.

There is a point to this, beyond the soul searching: a lack of fairness can lead to inequality. When i was exploring the CAIR model, i looked at how culture can be viewed as a mosaic, a mosaic where the gaps between the tiles can give permission for toxic behaviours to be expressed. We end up in organisations with coherent subcultures, which are unified in shared value and purpose and who share broad views of fairness, separated by other sub cultures who agree in many ways (enough ways to keep the organisation coherent), but lack shared values in certain areas. Not enough to tear the community apart, but creating enough difference for unfairness or inequality to propagate.

Which is what bought me to the SCAN Framework for Fairness: because if we don’t make every conversation fair, the cracks between the coherent conversations foster inequality and unfairness.

Unfair

When the lines between ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ blur, we create spaces for inequality

When the lines are blurred between ‘fair‘ and ‘unfair‘, we lose clarity and shared purpose. We lose our ability to spot when we are losing our direction. How do we know? Because that’s the reality in many organisations today: we have wide pay gaps between men and women, we fail to report toxic behaviours, we permit inequality because the price of dealing with it is too high or, worse, we fail to even notice it because it’s so deeply embedded.

In my own case, after going to a tech seminar with 43 attendees, it wasn’t till the next day i realised that forty had been men. It’s just normal, so i don’t challenge it. Which perpetuates it. SCAN is about stopping and challenging habits.

The SCAN framework is intended to help break those habits, to ensure we bring clarity to our thinking and decision making in support of fairness. Because in the Social Age, being fair will reinforce your reputation within communities, and it’s communities who grant social authority.

I’m #WorkingOutLoud as i develop these ideas. I may not have it all right yet, but i’m sharing as i go to develop my thinking.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
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26 Responses to Fragments of Fairness: why every conversation counts

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