Be afraid. Be very afraid.
That’s where our last blog ended. Lauding the value of fear as a driver of personal growth and collective innovation, reminding us that fear is a necessary precursor for learning.
Which, of course, is true.
But this week we were reminded how many women are very, very afraid in their workplaces. A different kind of fear, of course: born not of trying to stand out, but of hiding away.
We were reminded how deeply women fear not pleasing powerful men, and how they fear what happens when they do. Fear of getting called into his office; fear of business trips and one-to-one meetings.
We were reminded this week of how many women hide behind masks every single day of their professional lives.
And we should all be very afraid.
Authenticity vs Originality
Workplace authenticity is without a doubt a challenge for men and women – the challenge to “be ourselves more” is a human one. But the challenge to fundamentally accept ourselves is largely female: to shift from enabling our authenticity to embracing our originality.
Originality: to be independent, creative, novel or unusual.
Good adjectives, right? Unless you’re a woman in the workplace. Independent women? Unusual women? They’re often the ones who get whispered about, complained about, sidelined, even harassed. Because usually they don’t exist to please others – the have a bigger purpose in mind.
Many woman walk a daily tightrope to find that perfect amount of pleasing: too much and you get punished, too little and you disappear. At work it’s…
Speak up but don’t dominate.
Present ideas but don’t push them.
Have goals but don’t be too ambitious.
Be appealing but not sexy.
It’s exhausting and dispiriting.
And from a business perspective it’s totally unproductive.
In this age of disruption and innovation – when a premium is placed on creativity – can any company really afford to have half of its workplace hiding? Shutting up and shutting down for fear of reprisal?
Standing Out vs Fitting In
If any company is serious about progress – be that commercial or social – they need to signal to their female staff that their value comes not just from delivering on the desires of those in charge. But from leveraging the fullest expression of themselves to drive the company’s agenda. That women’s currency is not their ability to please, but their ability to produce original thoughts, ideas or opinions. Companies need to support women to shift their mindset from “fitting in” to “standing out”.
Girls stand out in school. Then go on as women to hide large portions of themselves in their workplaces. Because standing out is dangerous for a woman in the workplace.
And that sad reality is a loss for everyone.
It’s not women’s responsibility to alone try to correct this reality, to “lean in” when nothing wants to budge. It’s the job of corporate leaders—not because they’re guilty or want to appear to be righteous – but because it makes business sense. Because if we want to get the most from our human capital, we have to start engaging with the issue of harassment as humans.
Can we do that? As men and women – all human – engage with the emotional and practical realities of harassment in order to get to a better place with it.
Can we admit that we’re all afraid? And use that as a starting point for personal growth and collective. A necessary precursor for learning.
Written by Jillian Reilly