Today is International Women’s Day, a day when we imagine a gender equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive, where difference is valued and celebrated.
One of the key missions of IWD is to forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive, and their achievements are celebrated.
It’s not uncommon, even now, for a very narrow set of largely alpha male associated behaviours to be recognised and rewarded in the workplace. It really does feel like it’s time for work cultures to move on, spending less time encouraging women to be more like men and learn from what they do and value it.
I’ve certainly experienced my own fair share of gender discrimination, especially in the charity sector- being asked “where I shop” by an Investment Committee considering shares in a supermarket chain was one of my favourites- as was their collective facial expression when I (truthfully) answered “I don’t my husband does the food shopping!” And yes, I was CEO at the time.
But I’m uncomfortable with sweeping generalisations of gender stereotype. It seems to me that what really matters is the creation of safe work cultures that enable and encourage everyone to be confident in valuing their own differences and have the courage to be their best selves. As the inspirational Jane Sassienie would say “If you are a unicorn, don’t try to be a horse”.
Jane recently launched her research findings in a report “How did she get there?” based on interviewing women chosen because they had succeeded in their careers without changing themselves – by doing it on their own terms. Women who she says have been “willing to reclaim themselves from the prevailing paradigm” and lead authentically by embracing their differences, with self-awareness and development as hard targets. Women who have succeeded without necessarily having a clear vision of their career path but who have been willing to be guided by their purpose and values, follow their curiosity, take risks and work hard. I was privileged to be included in the research.
Taking time to understand
At Starlight it’s not up to the individual -female or male- to shift institutional paradigms, behaviours and practices it is a collective effort and responsibility. We take time to understand and value our differences. Led by Wenda-Kate Randle, development really is a hard target, which transforms performance and supports the creation of a safe and supportive culture.
We invest time and effort in understanding our own purpose and support each other to make conscious decisions and choices, taking responsibility for our own behaviours and impact on others. All this informed by individual knowledge of our own beliefs, values, preferences, and strengths. We also trust that feedback will be given and received as useful information both when we get it right and when we don’t.
In this way we authentically and systemically recognise and value our differences, and we can bring all that we are to our work in a safe and supportive space. It also creates a shared sense of belonging.
We are just 40 people at Starlight, but as Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Trust me, women and men, even in the workplace, if you are a unicorn you don’t need to be a horse.
Happy International Women’s Day!