An interview with Terry Grim

Inaugural interview. With Terry Grim, partner at Foresight Alliance, and adjunct professor at University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight.

I met Terry Grim in 2015, in Houston. She was presenting and educating the group on her pioneering Foresight Maturity Model. It’s a system that analyses and indicates the various levels of foresight capability that are present in your organisation, whilst at the same time providing a map illustrating how much further you have to go on the journey. It’s a view of foresight that puts the humanity into the system and it’s a brilliant blend of engineering, analytics, and intuition.

When I caught up with Terry again over Skype last month we returned to that theme of systems and the balance between technology and humanity. ‘Systems can feel quite masculine. I think that women are better at looking at the human side in addition to the project side. Women are like the Chalice, they like the broader perspective’.

She’s referring to the book The Chalice and The Blade, a book I had not read when speaking to Terry at this time, but have now embarked on. “It talks about the feminine in a different way…you can be a guy like Trudeau who has some of these qualities…and there are a lot of women who are like the blade. It doesn’t have to be a gender thing”. She goes on to elaborate on the idea that men can have a feminist perspective too: “It’s important because I don’t want to discriminate against men who are feminists, it’s the perspective that’s different. Likewise, I’ve met a lot of women who are more anti-women than men”.

This is a recurring theme in our discussion, that it isn’t that men and women have a different perspective on the future, but that there are feminine and masculine qualities that create different views of the future; it’s not really about gender but it is about diversity.

Maybe this more sophisticated view can be traced back to the fact that Terry spent her career as an engineer, a traditionally male dominated domain.

“I spent 30 years with IBM and it was an amazing leader in gender equality, way ahead of its time and now the President is a woman. We had equal pay and I did not experience what a lot of other women may have. I think in general, guys are the early adopters of the technology toys: they have to sell to the guys because it’s the guys who buy the toys, and when I was younger the issue was how to get girls into video games. So guys were getting really good at interfacing with technology and had a better mastery by the time they got into college. Tech sells to guys first and women are the later adopters and that’s a problem”.

A great insight that perhaps many women, working in tech and tech futures especially, might agree with. She continues:

“We should encourage women to be more tech orientated and not afraid of the STEM field. At IBM we found it’s at fifth grade that girls stop liking science and math and we had a program at IBM where we’d go into fifth grade to convince girls they could be engineers. We still need to do that – and there are women who are using the technology to influence it - to be more relationship friendly”

“We need women to write about sci-fi and women to read this sci-fi. There’s a lot of places women avoid and we need to encourage them. Perhaps we need another Star Trek, it was so ahead of the times…Start Trek really pushed a lot of the important social stuff. My thing is always ‘where is the next Star Trek?”

And so building a culture of feminism is far more important than gender per se. Terry brings this to life in her paper in the Summer issue of MISC featuring ‘The Future According to Women’. In that article she discussed the three levels at which people engage in and accept the ‘feminine’.

The first is ‘Pinking the Organisation’: this level accommodates women and their different needs, and in some ways it is an attempt to right a system that may work against women.

The second is ‘Empowering Women’: this level values women and creates an environment that can help them be more successful. Here we see women moving up the management ladder and taking on more responsibility.

The third is: ‘Embracing the Feminine’: this is the transformational level. This is less about trying to fix a system to accommodate women, and more about creating and enabling a feminine culture in the first place. Instead of masculine values of win-lose it focuses on win-win. Women are visible in leadership positions. And in many ways, the organisation is ‘relationship-orientated’.

It’s worth saying that in defining what she means by ‘feminine’, she quotes Gerard Hofstede, the celebrated social psychologist: ‘Masculinity stands for a society in which social roles are clearly distinct. Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focussed on material success. Femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap. Both men and women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life”.

And so she challenges us all to move Beyond Pink: embracing a culture that prioritises feminine values, since the trends all point to a growing need for that.

And as I put to Terry, that’s why it is so important to bring more female futurists to the debate, to hear from them, to see them and to understand their visions of the future alongside those of men or people who hold with more masculine values. Throughout the conversation, Terry mentioned many female futurists she admires: Cindy Frewen, ‘she’s such a great person, and an amazing futurist and architect’. Wendy Schultz, Jennifer Jarret, Terry Collins and Maree Conway we also discuss and praise: “There are a lot of really important women in the field, who are really active” says Terry.

And I imagine that these are the women (all of whom I know or have spoken with) who have invaluable ideas about what the next Star Trek should be about.

What is the biggest learning I took away from my conversation with Terry? In essence, that women do bring a different perspective but that that perspective is a feminine perspective not a female perspective; that it’s about psychological rather than biological differences, and that these differences can bring a more diverse, rich, more relationship-orientated way of seeing the world – and seeing the future - therefore provide an invaluable and much-needed alternative.

So, a last word from Terry on what bringing more feminine qualities to futuring means:

“I remember going to an early WFS conference, they presented an office of the future from the 40’s or 50’s and they had guessed at things like fax machines, the PC and got a lot of things right actually. But they had no women in it. So, they had missed the social changes. It’s not about the tech, it’s about the social and institutional change that’s needed”.

And that’s why it’s so important to hear more from more female futurists…or perhaps I should say, futurists with feminine qualities.

Thanks Terry, it was great to have so much of your time, and help in kicking off our Female Futures Bureau interviews. We’ll be back with the another female futurist in a few weeks.

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