International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8 March annually since 1911. While progress has been made, given that it has been over a century the pace of change has been glacial to say the least and frankly, myself and many other women are a bit “over it”! Yes, we are mad as hell, and the older we get, the more likely we are to speak up loudly and boldly because we’ve got nothing to lose!
There are many myths about women at work that are simply wrong. Ironically these myths exist across 10 different countries as diverse as Australia, China, France and the USA, and across four generations. I interviewed 91 women from 10 countries across four generations, Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y for my book Leadership Revelations III How We Achieve The Gender Tipping Point, and women’s experiences were exactly the same.
These are the most common myths about women which are just wrong:
- Women are not as ambitious and competitive as men
- Women are less committed at work once they have children
- Women are too emotional, and don’t like conflict
- Women want it all
- Women do not aspire to leadership roles
- Women with children don’t want senior leadership roles
- Women don’t care about the money
- There is a lack of qualified women for leadership roles
- Today’s workplaces are meritocracies where the best person gets the job!
- If women are given equality, men will be disadvantaged
Let’s look at the facts and statistics, so we can’t be accused of being overly sensitive, taking things personally or out of context, or even creating fake news!
With the COVID-19 pandemic we can be anything BUT close to you! It was however while watching the YouTube clip performed by the Couch Choir of the song Close To You, (originally performed by The Carpenters in 1970) that got me thinking about what we miss most as humans. The performance recorded earlierthis year brought both my husband and I to tears. It was sung by over 1,000 people from 18 countries around the globe, and was the brain wave of the founder of Pub Choirs and Choir Director, Astrid Jorgensen. These events have been joyous and fun, filled with music, laughter, camaraderie and community.
There’s the magic word – COMMUNITY!
I believe what everyone is missing due to self-isolation is exactly that – community, as humans we long to be close to each other. We miss the communities we belong to through work, sport, social clubs, pubs, family gatherings and social events with friends – weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, christenings and even funerals to farewell loved ones with dignity.
So, what do we do? Many of us find ourselves in a “no man’s land”, and we are confused, frustrated, angry, sad, disbelieving and hoping this is a bad nightmare and we will wake up tomorrow and everything will be “back to normal.”
This past festive season has been surreal to say the least. The bush fire catastrophe across Australia has demonstrated the best of Australian culture and community spirit, and the best and worst of Australian leadership. Many of us feel sadness, disappointment, frustration and anger, yet we have hope and gratitude in our hearts too. We have witnessed so many acts of kindness by Australians and especially others around the world, at a community level.
It caused me to reflect on what I learnt from Michelle Obama, who I had the pleasure of listening to in Singapore in December 2019, and would like to share wih you. Michelle would be one of the most humble, funny, smart and compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Her words caused me to reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead.
The final question of the Evening with Michelle Obama was: “What do you think are the most important things in life, and what you’ve learnt, given your life’s journey to date?” She paused thoughtfully, and then said:
“Kindness, dignity and accountability.” “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried as often as I could to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people who are often brushed aside.”
I have always found it both perplexing and amusing that the people who have the most to say about feminism, misogyny, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are people who have NEVER experienced it – often men! And they tell you to: “Lighten up and get over it.” I am hugely in favour of experiential learning where you are introduced to the experience in a controlled environment and have an insight (not the real thing) into what it may feel like.
Any woman, I included, who supports women’s rights and calls herself a feminist is seen as some sort of “left wing, Femi-Nazi, lentil-eating, raving lunatic who hates men”. I have been called all these names online or in heated conversations, often again with men. These accusations could not be further from the truth. Firstly, I really like men and enjoy their company, I just do not like or converse with misogynistic men who disrespect women, and why should I? I am not sure what Femi-Nazi means, as no one who has called me that name has been able to explain it to me. I enjoy lentils and I don’t think eating them is a crime, a disgrace or in any way fascist behaviour and I’m not a raving lunatic, except perhaps when I watch sport that I am passionate about like AFL or Rugby.
I have returned from a month of rest, relaxation and reflection. Much of my reflection was about how we as human beings and leaders can be better, connect in more meaningful ways, enable ourselves and others to be the best we can be, and truly imagine what it means to walk a mile in another’s shoes. This reflection was brought about after months of observing poor leadership around the world. The lack of kindness, empathy and understanding for the plight of those less fortunate by key leaders worldwide, is both appalling and a call to action. Political, religious and business leaders on a growing scale are guilty of causing deliberate polarisation and division, all in the name of short-term transactional power.
David and I are about to embark on a long overdue break; my plan for this trip is to Rest Reflect Reset. I learned this practice from my dear friend and colleague, Dr Adam Fraser, who created this as part of his theory and practice of Third Space. Third Space transformed the way I lived and worked; but sometimes as often happens, we get so busy that we stop the daily routines and practices that are so good for our overall well-being.
My plan as we wind our way down the Danube River is to rest and reflect in order to reset when I return to Australia in August. What do each of these three stages mean to me?
As a nation,we are united as one for the celebration and remembrance of Anzac Day and those who have died for the freedom of this great country in which we live. Australian ideals had been both tested and proved at Gallipoli. Wayne Swan once said this about Gallipoli: “What emerged was a moral value that rapidly established itself as our supreme national virtue: a combination of bravery, resilience, the ability to improvise, and the duty to stick together in hard times and protect your friends”. At an Anzac Day service, our previous Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said that we were a nation that was able to test its courage “in our willingness to persevere through misfortune and adversity, to remain hopeful in our dry gullies, in our capacity to reach out …”
I love research that draws our attention to the positive aspects of leadership, people and life, and challenges you to see things differently, rather than to see what’s wrong and why new ways won’t work!
In a study done by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, professors at London Business School and IE Business School (Madrid) respectively, several years ago, they identified 6 virtues of a dream workplace, as follows:
- People can truly be themselves
This means that people can bring their “whole selves” to work, they are encouraged to express their opinions even if different to their boss or their peers, passion is encouraged even if it makes others uncomfortable, and people who are different are the norm, rather than the exception. Being yourself is core to authenticity, one of the key characteristics younger workers look for in their leaders.
- People are told what is REALLY going on
People are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it means bad news. They do not sanitize the true situation for senior management and pretend that all is well when it isn’t. It is not seen as being disloyal to say something negative, provided you are able to support your comments with data and evidence, and a proposed solution to the problem. One of the characteristics of effective, inspiring leaders is that they are open, honest and transparent in their communication throughout the organisation, and are great listeners who ask good questions.
“It is better to remain quiet and be thought of a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt” Anonymous
Most of us don’t actually listen, we simply hear. This means that we comprehend less than 50% of every verbal conversation we have, so much of the message is either forgotten or lost. Many of us practice the art of “half an ear” or “stunned mullet” listening. We are so busy these days that I believe our capacity and willingness to truly listen has diminished significantly in the last two decades. I truly believe that the greatest gift you can give anyone – your team members, peers, clients, partners, children and friends is to actively listen with intent, and to be truly 100% present.