One of the highlights in the Faculty last week was hearing the Chief Medical Officer, Christopher Whitty informing us how best to lobby politicians.
Politicians, he said were intelligent, financially driven, time-poor, had transient roles in government and were only amenable to acting upon things that they were already interested in. Therefore, it was prudent to actively seek out a minister who already had an interest in your topic and so was already tuned in to your wavelength.
He likened this to “catching a wave” and showed some pictures of surfers…all standing up. Critically, he highlighted the gap between how academics and politicians view the world. The scholarly pursuit of an academic, carefully reading the literature and gathering data to support or refute a hypothesis was distinct from an MP’s way of working.
In essence MPs appear to look over their shoulders as to where the next vote was coming from, whilst simultaneously trying to identify the economic benefit of a decision made in two to four weeks of first being made aware of the issue needed to be addressed. This is distinct from the “glacial pace” of an academic timeframe. Bridging this huge cultural gap, he said, was the key to success in making your voice heard and listened to by a politician.
Whilst few of us deal with politicians on a regular basis, the concept of understanding the motivations of the person you are addressing is generically important, especially for academics as they fulfil the multiple roles of teacher, grant writer, paper writer, manager and entrepreneur. Furthermore, appreciating and respecting the differences between individuals is key to being part of a successful workforce, and the basis on which we understand the value of diversity in the workplace.
To this end I was delighted when I went on my NHS Resuscitation Training for Senior Clinicians earlier this week and found that there were equal representations of both gender and ethnicity in the attendees at the course. This level of diversity is something that I rarely experience at University management meetings or in the wider clinical academic arena. Thus, whilst it is critical that we ride the Athena Swan “wave” and champion gender equality within the Faculty, it is equally important that we don’t just sit and wait for a “surfable wave” to come along before we address the other workplace inequalities.