Changing The Ratio Speaker Dr Howie Manns Reflects On “Bad Grammar” & “Gender”

Changing The Ratio Speaker Dr Howie Manns Reflects On “Bad Grammar” & “Gender”

In case you haven’t heard, Changing the Ratio is a bold new initiative to continue B&T’s mission of making equality and inclusion the norm in Australia’s communications industry and beyond.

Completely Australian born and bred, this event is about bringing the extraordinary creative problem-solving capability of this great nation to bear on a problem we should be looking to fix right now.

In the lead up to the event, we’re chatting with some of our inspiring CTR speakers.

Today, we’re introducing Dr Howie Manns. Howie is a lecturer in linguistics at Monash University where he researches language and social relations in Australia and Indonesia.

He is co-author/editor of books on language use in intercultural communication, conversation, Australian English and Indonesian languages.

He is also a frequent contributor to Australian and international media, and often writes about Australian language and society for The Conversation. 

Check out what Howie has to say about all things diversity and inclusion below!

Why do you think events like Changing the Ratio are so important?

It’s essential to reflect on systematic imbalances in workplace. An inclusive workplace is not only good for those around us, but also for our organisation and ourselves. If we maximise inclusivity in our process, we make sure the best people and the best ideas succeed. Events like Changing the Ratio provide the context to reflect on whether, and to what degree, we’re being maximally inclusive in the workplace. 

For me, a linguist, this means reflecting on how we judge people on the way they speak, and how this might be counter-productive to inclusivity and the workplace. It also means reviewing how our ways of speaking influence who gets heard and who doesn’t in the workplace.  

Can you let us in on some of the key issues/topics you’ll cover on the day? 

I hope to challenge the way people think about two topics: ‘bad grammar’ and ‘gender’. 

First, there are lots of unhelpful and even toxic ideas circulating about ‘bad grammar’. Even where workplaces have dealt with, or are addressing racism, sexism, classism, language remains one of those last areas where you can be -ist.

So, where you can’t get away with passing comment on someone’s clothes, hair, sexual orientation, ethnicity, you can still get away with passing comment on their ways of speaking. I plan to put some of our views of grammar in their historical context (we can link some of these views to specific Latin-obsessed white males from the 17-19th centuries, and I’ll name names!).

I’ll also point out in terms of sheer numbers, how many of us actually use what might be considered ‘bad grammar’, and why ‘gotcha’ moments in grammar can not only be counter-productive, classist, racist, but also arbitrary and non-sensical. 

Second, I’ll talk about gendered communication in the workplace. I’ll point out some of the differences in what have been described as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ ways of speaking. I’ll discuss how we’re socialised into recognising these ways of communication as ‘gendered’ through playground communication and media. I’ll highlight that many of the programs and ‘solutions’ to gendered communication in the workplace are not only male-oriented, but counter-productive if we’re serious about making sure the best ideas come to light!

Tell us about your role as a lecturer in linguistics at Monash University.

My research focus is on how people with differing understandings of language and society come to understand one another in conversation and social media. I’ve written a book on how this happens among Indonesian youth, who have experienced rapid social and linguistic change since the fall of Suharto in 1998. I’ve also written a book on how language users from different nations or cultural groups achieve successful intercultural communication in interaction. I’m currently working on two big projects, one on Australian English, and another on Australian Deafblind communication.   

 In the education sphere, I run the Master of Applied Linguistics, which has a strong concern with language in multilingual societies. Our focus is one how a firmer understanding of language in multilingual societies can lead to more successful intercultural communication and greater social cohesion. Our graduates go on to work as English and LOTE (Languages other than English) teachers in the primary, secondary and private sectors, but also go on to work as analysts and communications specialists in business, medicine and the government.

Have you ever experienced barriers in the workplace?

I grew up in a town described as a ‘stark, post-industrial landscape’ with the ‘worst-performing schools in the state’ of Pennsylvania. I grew up speaking in what has been labelled ‘America’s ugliest accent’.  

When I left to work interstate and abroad at the age of 18, I worked hard to modify my accent. Co-workers initially laughed both at my accent, and the non-standard grammatical constructions I used. Oddly enough, when I returned to Pennsylvania at the age of 24 or so, my friends and co-workers in Pennsylvania laughed at me for ‘talking like the dictionary’. This ties into one of the points I hope to make at ‘Changing the Ratio’: speaking the ‘right’ language or using the ‘right’ accent is much more complex than, for instance, speaking ‘standard English’ or ‘Received Pronunciation’.

That all said, I think it’s important to note that there are many kinds of discrimination and barriers in the workplace that I’ve not had to face, and have more than likely benefited from. Among other things, the modern workplace favours middle class and ‘male’ ways of speaking. This ties into the second point I hope to make at ‘Changing the Ratio’, in my discussion of gendered communication.       

What do you think its main challenges are when it comes to diversity and equality in today’s modern working landscape, and are organisations doing enough to address these issues?

There are obviously so many challenges. I feel like there’s been some movement to address these at least compared to 10 or 20 years ago. I do, however, feel like our priorities get mixed up in addressing these challenges. An obvious instance of this for me is seeing all of these ‘gendered’ apps and training programs that help women communicate more forcefully and apologise less in the corporate contexts.

I appreciate the sentiment behind these, but I often wonder, where are those apps for corporate men? You know, the ones that teach men that the way that women communicate is totally fine, and even in some instances more useful for assuring a more inclusive workplace, and one in which the best ideas get heard and come to fruition? I look forward to chatting more about this at ‘Changing the ratio’! 

We can’t wait to hear more from Howie on 30th May 2019 at our Changing the Ratio event.

To witness Howie in action and hear from and our other incredible speakers on how to drive diversity and inclusion in your own organisations, get your tickets here. Tickets are still available but selling fast, so get in quick!

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