Thinking about all the things I wanted to share around International Women’s Day, my frustrations or concerns but I thought I should apply to these the same leadership approach that I use in my work – BE THE SOLUTION!
So I’ve decided to share some suggestions on how you, I, we can all #PressforProgress and make change happen.
Beware on your own bias!
This bbc video is startling but ever so true, this gender bias is so often reinforced without us noticing: men are more into science/IT, women are more gentle & nurturing (this is a pet peeve of mine and would actually made me rather mean just to show what a BS concept it is).
Now be honest with yourself, have you never, ever applied a bias? Never been surprised when a female driver comes out from a “white van”? I did the first time I saw one in France as I’d never seen one in the UK before. Or felt really politically correct because you’ve hired a woman plumber? I did, only for a few minutes though, then I was more interested in the sludge coming out of the pipes!
These are just anecdotes, gender bias can be much more dangerous: this is a story I’ve rarely shared because I feel really ashamed, discussing it with the leader of the Lean In circle in Bordeaux last week made me realise that it’s now time to move on: I once interviewed a woman and she was a contender for the role, one thing bugged me though, her engagement ring. I quickly did some calculations and thought “arrgh she’ll be on mat leave within 2 years max and we’ll have to go through the whole recruitment rigmarole again”. I caught myself with that thought and felt terrible: I didn’t know anything about this woman’s life plan, I was a working mother myself and my husband was the a stay-at-home dad, how dare I make such a judgment? Only the prevailing gender bias surrounding me!
I learnt my lesson that day and I’m now keenly aware that gender bias is as much a challenge for women (at least for some) as it is for men.
Don’t apologise for who you are
I won’t go into a big inspirational speech, don’t worry. As professional women we often feel the need to justify or compensate for our choices or obligations:
“I’m sorry I cannot attend that 7am meeting, nursery doesn’t open until 7.30”
“I want to work part-time for the next 3 to 4 years so I’d better stay in this role which isn’t the best use of my skills and abilities but I guess that’s what part-timers have to expect”
“I am a senior manager so I need to show again and again to my male counterparts how capable and strong I am”
Variations on these themes I saw and still see. Many moons ago I applied for a role and in between the final interview and the company offering me the job I found out I was pregnant. I spent a week-end agonising over it and felt that it would be unfair for the business to hire someone who would then be off for several months. I called my potential new boss to explain why I couldn’t take the role, he said OK and we hung up. 10 minutes later I have this fiery Irishman calling me back to tell me off (how dare you tell me who I should or shouldn’t offer the job to!) and tell me that if I want the job then I should take it. I went on to work for this company for almost 8 years and it was a great experience so I’m glad he looked passed my “apologies”.
You are who you are and your organisation chose you because of that. When we apologise for who we are we send a message to others that we are at fault/not good enough and worse, we send this message to ourselves. You having a more rigid timetable than your colleagues takes NOTHING away from your capabilities, your talents, your motivation or your dedication. And if someone has a problem with that, it is their issue to deal with not yours.
Have a mentor
This is so important and everyone agrees that it can have a tremendous impact on someone’s career, and if you are a woman even more so. Some organisations have a formal mentoring programme, if that is the case speak to your HR contact. Often you’ll be asked if there is something you want to be mentored on or someone you especially want to work with so I suggest you give it some prior thought. And if there is a person you want to work with, think about the attributes that you want to emulate.
Mentoring can also be informal in which case you will need to approach the person directly, again be clear on your expectations so you can explain to your potential mentor why you want to work with them.
Asking your manager to be your mentor is not the best option as it can lead to awkward situations and you may both hold back on what you really think or feel which is understandable but you lose the opportunity for some useful feedback.
If there is no one you feel a connection to in your business you can approach someone outside your organisation or a professional mentor like myself. For a group approach why not connect with other women (and men) through the Lean In organisation, I highly recommend you check it out.
Be a mentor!
Mentoring is extremely rewarding and a great development opportunity for the mentor as much as the mentee. There is no rule that says you need to have x-years of experience to become a mentor. You can be fairly junior and still be a great mentor to graduates or someone just starting out.
I would suggest you read up on the key principles of mentoring, here’s an example, as it is not “just” a conversation or sharing of experience.
Speak up in the face of injustice and inequality
I cannot stress this one enough. I’ll take the example of pay parity, as a manager you do know what you team members salaries are, if a man and a woman doing the same role with similar experience level do not have the same salary, do not look away. Speak to HR and remember that it’s not about finding the reason(s) why this is the situation, it’s about resolving the situation. I stress this point as when my manager and I flagged this issue we ended up in lengthy discussions with HR about the reasons behind the situation. No-one cares about those, today is a new day and you want a solution to an unjust situation.
By the way, if you need some motivation, remember that if pay inequality is happening to your team members, it’s most likely happening to you too, just sayin’
Also do not underestimate the impact not speaking up will have on your self-esteem. Your self-esteem can be a tremendous source of strength and clarity however it needs to be nurtured and every time you chip away at your values, you chip away at your self-esteem. Self-esteem being the foundation of self-confidence I will let you come to your own conclusions here…
Pheew, I feel I got a bit personal and fiery on this one – I’m still a recovering corporate addict – but I felt it had to be done and I hope it has given you some inspiration to go and #PressforProgress not only on 8th March but all year round and remember that all actions, however small you feel they are, have an impact.
What are you doing on International Women’s Day or to #PressforProgress? I would love to hear your experiences.