One of the reasons that I write The Rebuttal is that many people often disagree with me. I would hate it if everyone agreed. It would make writing this blog pointless. A major goal of this blog is to create controversy. Not in a bad way mind you, not that I have not crossed that line in the past. Rather I aim to make people talk, discuss, ask questions and see things differently. And so it was yesterday with the article The Even Playing Field.
One of the criticisms that I received yesterday was that I was critical of Vicdeaf and General Manager, Brent Phillips, in particular. Let me be clear this was not my intention.
In the CEO, the hearing Christine Mathieson, they have a gem. She is a great CEO who shows immense respect for the Deaf community. She is consultative and approachable. She is steering the ship beautifully and Vicdeaf have a bright future. In Deaf Brent Phillips they have a bright and innovative general manager who is passionate for the Deaf community. He shows this in his work every day.
Now in the Deaf community Brent is often discussed as being groomed as the next CEO of Vicdeaf. Let me be clear. I don’t think he needs grooming. He is a talent. Should Christine retire tomorrow, Brent could fit in seamlessly and carry out the role. We have a small community and everyone will have a view but make no mistake, Brent is one of many talented deaf people throughout Australia who has the skills and ability to be a CEO – anywhere, not just at a Deaf Society. If either Brent or Christine misconstrued my message I apologise. I just wanted to put the record straight.
However, one of the criticisms that I made yesterday was that Vicdeaf, and a few other Deaf societies, have been slow to promote Deaf people to senior management. We can and should be doing better. I know Vicdeaf are assisting deaf staff to get better qualifications in management with this aim in mind. This is a great start, other deaf organisations should take note. We need to get more Deaf staff into senior management roles.
The gist of my article yesterday was that we needed to systemically target Deaf people for the role of CEO within Deaf organisations. Now some people have interpreted this as meaning we can get any old Joe and Dot from the street and just give them the job as CEO. Nowhere did I say that. I said that we should target talented Deaf people who we know are capable of the role, head hunt them, so to speak, to the exclusion of hearing candidates. A prerequisite is that they must have the skills and ability to carry out the role.
As such they would need to demonstrate that they understand the role. They need to show how they will work with the Board and understand the function of the Board. They will need to show that they understand finance and how to work with the finance professionals in their team, at staff and Board level, to ensure that organisation is financially sustainable. They would need to demonstrate an ability to manage staff and understand human resource law requirements. They will need to show they know the process of developing the organisations vision and mission statement. They will need to know they understand government policy and direction. AND they should, as a prerequisite, know deafness inside out. After all it is Deaf people that they are representing. They need to show all of this and more. It is not for the faint hearted.
And yes, absolutely, there are many people who are deaf who can carry out this role with aplomb. And yes I think its great when a Deaf org has a Deaf person in that role. It showcases what deaf people can do. It shows that the organisation practices what they preach. As many have said, a Deaf CEO is a role model for other deaf people to aspire too. I believe it is a strength having a Deaf person selling the message. As I have often been told by my hearing colleagues when I advocate on deaf issues – “.. God Gary, its hard to say no to you and challenge you knowing your lived experience of deafness at so many levels.” (And no I did not make that up.)
The other argument that I want to address is that by targeting Deaf people for CEO and other senior management roles that we are in some way discriminating against hearing people. Let me be blunt here. Bully for them!
This may sound harsh but let me reiterate. In this world there is no such thing as equality. It is a harsh reality of life that for many deaf people, and people with a disability, there are barriers and lots of them. These barriers limit opportunities and prevent the development of experience. It will always be an uphill battle for many deaf and disabled people to progress and compete with hearing and non disabled peers who have been able to progress unhindered. Somehow we have to even the playing field.
For so long now I have seen the careers of deaf and disabled people limited by attitudes and prejudice. People say to me, that’s just the way it is. Perhaps, but if we don’t challenge the way it is and do something to address the inequity nothing will change. It has been suggested that on average it takes a person with a disability more than four times longer to complete a University degree. While they’re are still studying what do you think is happening to students without disabilities? Well they are working and gaining experience. How, then, are people who are deaf or who have disabilities expected to compete? Something has to change.
Part of the solution, I believe, is that our deaf and disability organisations can and must be proactive in seeking out people who are deaf and who have disabilities into leadership roles such as the CEO role. In short, they have the power to show the way. And believe me the talent exists among deaf people. All we have to do is seek it and give it go.
And what harm will it do to the hearing person that might inevitably miss out? Well, none really. A whole host of other opportunities, unhindered by prejudice and discrimination, will be available to them.
No hearing person was harmed in the creation of this blog! And no hearing person will be harmed in creating higher opportunities for our deaf professionals!