The Ripple of “It is NOT Me; It is You” Narrative in Business

Feb 10, 2023

Let me start by saying that we have progressed in our work towards gender equality in our community. The last three years have not been easy for me, several shifts happened, but something I have not spoken about is the centrepiece of my blog today. I want to encourage leaders and teammates to be mindful at work and in business. Perhaps even encourage you to proverbially "burn your bra".

This is the year of many milestones for me. It is the year I turn 40 years old, the year I will be married for 10 years, and the year I will celebrate being in legal practice for 16 years. It goes without saying that looming significant milestones have a way of forcing reflection. So, yes, I have reflected.

What I want to share in this post is not a feminist ramble, but it is based on my opinions of what should no longer be tolerated in a liberated society. Let me start by saying that we have progressed in our work towards gender equality in our community. At least, it is no longer the status quo to sell or traffic our daughters via the institute of marriage to secure our wealth. But let us be frank, the rules still need to be levelled, especially in decision-making positions in the business. The disparity is so subtle that many of us are sleepwalking straight through it, part-taking in it and because of that, we are damaging progress in our homes, families and society.

It is no secret that the last three years have not been easy for me on this blog. Several shifts happened, but something I have not spoken about is the centrepiece of my blog today. Let me start; we said goodbye to our internship program around six months ago. It was a program with us for almost 10 years, and I was very proud. When we noticed problems with it, we tried everything, but on average, one per month “opted out” shortly after recruitment. Now I know we were not alone in this experience. Some even call it the “great resignation”. But yet, the backlash of these events, the social media and the rumours made us think we were. Beyond the cost of recruitment and wastage resulting from the exits, it severely impacted team morale, and soon, rumours started to circulate outside of our business. Let us just say we paid the price in many more ways than one.

After looking at the data, it has become clear that this was a global trend. Yet, it did not impact the negative press we fell victim to. Interestingly, as I analysed the data, I noticed that predominantly female leaders were publicly criticised. The reasons outlined included: a lack of constant physical presence, not appreciating constructive criticism and rejecting guidance to improve. We know that for many working mothers, continuous physical presence is not always possible and that this was exasperated by the restrictions placed on movement due to the pandemic. This is not a new source of gender bias.

Why is a corrective measure in managing performance (constructive criticism) from a female mentor negatively perceived? Why do we exclusively expect our female leaders to “nurture” teammates? There is no data to support a similar expectation from male leaders. And heaven forbid if female leaders want to nurture at home. Let me explain: we expect female leaders to be “soft and cuddly” yet question their effectiveness as leaders when they are nurturing at home (for example, leaving early to fetch their child or attend a school meeting or work a few days a week remotely). It seems that this newly coined “exclusive personal nurturer” is impacting how we, the workforce, receive feedback. Are we creating workplaces where we are digging up the ugly past? Are we creating spaces where the problem is not me, it is you?

I think we are, which makes me very sad because we are doing this to each other. We are using different tools, but our sentiments seem to be unchanged. Instead of facing each other and communicating meaningfully, we gossip and post negative social media. Are we not treading a dangerous line? Between willful damage versus airing a concern hoping to improve? The result of this is what I have personally seen intensely personal narratives aired publicly that often discourage future leaders and destroys morale.

This may be a testimony of what we are doing in our homes or instead failing to do?!

If any of this sounds familiar, stay the course and do not give up! Embrace your ability to lead as a proud female leader, and be yourself. Encourage, nurture and keep accountable in your own authentic way, it will be challenging, but you are not alone.

“Power isn’t control at all – power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give their strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.”

– Beth Revis

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Nicolene
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