When MD for a company in a then male-dominated industry I was interviewed in the industry magazine, along with a handful of women, and we were asked the incisive question of what it was like to be a woman!

Never having been anything else, I found this quite a difficult question to answer. I had the sense that what was said was taken as representative of all women, which of course is reinforcing prejudice (they all talk the same, look the same, feel the same).

I noticed some things that were different, however. When people met a young, female MD they wondered what was so special? Why is she in this position?

Whereas a man commanded immediate respect, it was his to lose, it was a woman’s to gain.

Perhaps I have been one of a fortunate minority as I have worked mainly in highly entrepreneurial environments where competence and ability were rewarded.

I have never felt unfairly treated because of my gender and have never felt that either sex have a monopoly on all that is bad or good.

There are spectrums of tendencies of course.  However, as I think of the women I have coached, I think of them, not en masse, but as individuals expecting more of themselves and courageously expanding their comfort zones to become more of who they know they can be.

For some, this meant listening more, or effectively channeling their passion; for others this meant acknowledging their contribution and becoming more visible; for others it meant becoming clearer in their expression and speaking up and knowing they could be nothing less than themselves.

The point is that they were all different and unique. The greatest feedback I receive from anyone regardless of gender is: “Now I can be more me!”

What if the workplace was full of people who could be more authentically themselves? Men and women?

Any organisation that fails to create a culture where people can thrive and be who they are, is failing to tap into potential.

Women = woman + woman + woman + woman … all unique individuals, not just a gender.

Unconscious bias will produce more of the same – the predictable rather than the possible. Part of locking into this potential is having the belief that diversity promises better solutions, more creativity, and higher performance.  The point of departure of each organisation will depend on the current culture and on the desired culture – their vision for developing their people.

Perhaps a more enlightening question the magazine could have asked was: “What helps you excel in this organisation?” I would have answered – “they don’t just lay aside differences- they encourage and use them.” What a waste, if not!

To Inspire Change: Be more of who you are and encourage others to do the same.

Let’s not forget that this is International Women’s day. A day to celebrate, encourage and lament: lament -those that are limited and exploited by dominant norms; encourage -those who are hesitant to use their voice and step into their powerful selves – and celebrate – the amazing women of our human race everywhere on our planet.

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