Notes from the Unemployable

(If you’re reading this because you want to see the DV Learning Agreement for fieldschools I tweeted about yesterday, here it is)

This post is a bit long – but I’ve been quiet for awhile, and I’ve decided to use all my words at once.

I am the ‘unemployable’ from the title of this blog. Or rather, unemployable by anyone else apart from myself. There is no chance I could ever get, or keep, a job in archaeology. I am not willing to take even one ounce of what gets served up as standard in this sector anymore. People would rue the day they hired me. So, for me, DigVentures is a constant act of resistance, activism, pointing towards another way. I’m crap at a lot of things, but cracking on when things need to be done is not one of them.

Building a social business with a triple bottom line that enforces best practice and standards in our work, as well as behaviour, across our entire community has been so straightforward that I have zero patience left for other organisations (or individuals) who claim it’s too hard to treat people well and humanely. Draw a line and don’t let anybody cross it. Stand for something.

To that end, we’ve designed a process and a suite of materials/training that enforce our expectations from our team, on our sites and events, and within our community. We work with a lot of students, so we have a structured Learning Agreement to make sure the terms of their experience, and their safety within that, are clear. That document can be found here. Please feel free to use it if you think it’s useful.

The ‘Dignity on Site’ part of this agreement is also signed by every staff member, subcontractor, and dig participant that comes into our orbit.

Before the inevitable chorus of voices starts shouting about all the things I’ve missed or left out of the agreement, I repeat: this is designed for DV and is suitable to our purposes. It has enabled me to protect my team and others in my care on more than one occasion. You are free to make your own to suit your community and the conditions of your work.

Now comes the bit where you should probably stop reading if you’re bored. I know it’s a lot of words.

Opting Out of the Opt-In

I’m currently focusing on research and prep for our forthcoming session ‘Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Innovators and Inhibitors in the 21st Century’ at next week’s CIfA conference. If looking into innovation in archaeology isn’t a crash course in confronting sector failure, I don’t know what is.

The causality and the reasons why the needle never moves on big issues in archaeology are the same: the lack of cohesion in our sector is killing us. What passes for acceptable and professional behaviour is killing us. The snobbery and miserliness of our supposed fellowship is killing us. The lack of ability to adopt and implement solutions from adjacent sectors because we can’t get across-the-board agreement on ANYTHING in archaeology is killing us.

When standards and guidance are so totally opt-in, everything will default to the path of least resistance. Why can’t we have better pay and conditions? Why are known sexual predators free to maintain positions of power and personal arenas for captive prey? Why is there no real end market for the skills we’re supposed to be teaching students at university? Because it’s HARD to deal with these things. It makes people uncomfortable, it’s emotional and messy. And we all know where having emotions gets you.

This all leads back to a lack of leadership. No one is driving the bus. We have no observatory. There are no ‘official’ consequences for doing a shit job or being a shit person in archaeology. There will be people in positions of leadership in archaeology who will take offense to that statement, but this isn’t personal. The world has changed, very swiftly, and what we need now from our leadership does not taste the same as it did 30 years ago. Our infrastructure is not fit for purpose and it’s getting us nowhere. Fast.

Calling B.S.

I’m very happy about how the #TimesUpAcademia twitter discussion and Doug Rocks-MacQueen’s 91 Stories post have amplified the calls for change, for sexual and other forms of harassment to be taken more seriously by those in positions of power and protection, for better conditions all round. It does feel like the global wave of micro-activism turning into mass movements that have the power to affect real change might have made its way to our tiny corner.

It’s wonderful that so many people are willing to give up their (unfunded) time to write guidance, policies, etc to make progress on important issues. It’s definitely an essential first step and I, too, will give my time for that. But it’s only part of the answer.

Where and how will these suggestions be upheld? Whose responsibility is it? Here we are again.

My suggestion is that we all make a commitment individually to enforce the standards – from those above us in hierarchies, next to us as colleagues, and in our care as employees, students and members of our communities. Many of us already do this daily. For those that have not yet taken this step, don’t wait any longer for your organisation to take a view, have an official stance, or even pay attention. Start tomorrow – or even today, if you’re working late like me and there’s still plenty of hours left in your day.

Draw the lines and call bullshit, even on each other. Especially on each other. Respectfully, professionally, and ruthlessly.

Every. Single. Time.

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Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Written by Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Co-founder and Managing Director of DigVentures, Lisa makes sure the boxes are ticked, the diggers run on time, and that everyone has a *really* good time along the way. She is responsible for the Americanisms, ridiculously strong site coffee and early morning DV dance parties.

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