Originally published in Equity Over Everything Magazine: Issue 1.
Article has been updated from the original.
Have you ever been in that awkward work situation where you thought, “This has more to do with gender than anyone here is willing to admit!?” You may be unsure how to bring up the issues you see, exactly what to say, or what will happen if you do speak up.
If so, you’re not alone.
We are in a post-#metoo era, with trans and non-binary identities on the rise, and issue of gender is only sure to get more interesting in the coming years. Organizations will need to innovate their value and skill sets in order to meet what is coming.
Whether or not women earn equal pay is no longer the extent of gender equity conversation. In my opinion, we need to talk about the complex pressures and stereotypes put on men just as much as we need to talk about women’s rights.
All people need safe spaces to voice concerns and have innovative conversations without the fear of losing their job for speaking out. HR is often the place where gender equity concerns get funneled, and often attempts to mitigate risk and avoid sexual harassment claims end badly.
I actually had this happen, personally.
As the only female member of a leadership team, women in the organization were coming to me to express their sense that there was gender bias against women. I had also experienced strange events such as when I was publically shamed and made to apologize to a male employee. While the company handbook never would have condoned outright bias, women, myself included, were noticing some evidence of bias.
I decided to address the issues so that we could improve the organization. When I formally brought these concerns forward, there was never a direct conversation. I was funneled quickly to HR, offered a severance package, and asked not to speak to anyone.
It was scary for me, and years later, I see now that it was very scary for the organization as well. Well-intended people were afraid, and they chose to get me out the door instead of having an authentic and vulnerable conversation. As Brené Brown says in Dare To Lead, they didn’t know how to “rumble with vulnerability.”
Unfortunately, I don’t believe my situation is unique. I heard of another example just last week. I share here in order to highlight the need for a different way, beyond the more traditional, non-relational HR attempts at mitigating employee concern as liability. Such concerns are actually an invitation for an organization to evolve and meet the changing and diverse needs of these times.
I am passionate about innovative leadership. In a changing world, the most innovative leaders will not exhibit a need to have it all figured out. Rather, they will bring vulnerability, right action, and curiosity to their organizations, leading by example.
VULNERABILITY: In a post #metoo era, the need for vulnerability is greater than ever. If we maintain that everyone must already know all of the answers, there is simply no way to improve. We must be able to admit what we do not know, what we do not understand, where our mistrust gets triggered, and where we do not feel able to speak up. We must create cultures that model the ethic of healthy vulnerability from top levels of leadership.
RIGHT ACTION: The most innovative leaders will hear from the people in their organizations, and take action based on what is good for the whole. I am in no way advocating that workplaces decrease productivity by focusing on emotional processes. But leaders who are willing to get real with their employees will ask for real feedback to affect needed change through effective right action, improving employee relations and organizational health.
CURIOSITY: I worked at a charter school that championed character development, and one of the primary teachings was of “curiosity and courage.” These two go hand in hand. Let’s be willing to get curious about others’ experiences – men, women, & nonbinary – so that we can lead with the courage to be compassionate and relatable.
Gender Equity does not have to be a scary topic. It does not have to be a finger-pointing topic. We all have bias and we all have something to gain when we get curious and vulnerable about one another’s experiences. I believe that we can safely learn about the experiences of others and to create safe and optimal workplace environments for all.
Sarah Poet, M.Ed is a thought leader in gender equity, feminine & masculine leadership, and authentic relationships. She offers mediation and leadership training services to organizations looking to innovate gender equity practices. You can learn more and contact her at www.sarahpoet.com.