The story of life is told differently to men and women. Men are told an abundant story (there is enough/many, explore life, and make choices), women are sold a story of scarcity (there is less, you are less, wait to be chosen). This difference is as true for the corporate world as it is for life. The story of gender diversity remains entangled with this language of scarcity. To be ‘chosen’, we ask women to absorb the additional labour attached to diversity initiatives in an effort to get more ‘women at the table’. But the lack of women at the table is not reflective of a lack of talented women but rather a lack of systemic change. 
The focus on fixing women rather than the system asks women to override something which is innate and powerful - instinct. Women instinctively know when they don’t belong or are not valued because it is often true; the system or organisation was created without her in mind. Asking her to take imposter syndrome training or work on her confidence is asking her to override that instinct. To overlook the truth and take on responsibility for changing herself in service of a system resistant to change. There is little empowering about that. 
What if we decided to tell women a different story about choice? Instead of encouraging women to try harder to be chosen, we encouraged the power of choice. The biggest empowerment tool we can offer women is reinforcing consistently throughout their career and life the right to autonomy and choice. You get to choose the places and people who get access to you, your talents, your drive, your ambition, your life. And those choices create systemic change. 
Systemic change does not happen by taking a universal approach but by taking a considered approach. Why would we encourage talented people to be at the top of poor organisations? The biggest potential disruptors of any system or organisation are its participants. To uphold how things currently are, they must stay there. Systemic change does not occur simply because we increase the population of women in all leadership positions. It occurs because we encourage discernment about which organisations and systems the women choose. We showcase real leadership collectively by redirecting resources towards organisations and systems more open to change and creating real opportunities. Sometimes systemic change happens not because we disrupt the old versions but because we empower the new versions. 
Encouraging the power of choice means women don’t have to absorb the story of fighting so hard to be recognised, of being responsible for systemic change. Today, there is a war for talent. There are many companies who would love to have your talent, your drive, your ability to get things done without asking you to jump through hoops to prove it. Use your instinct, don’t tone it down. Use your instinct to choose places where you are valued. Instead of can I get to the table – a better question might be would I choose that particular table? 
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Tagged as: gender equality, iwd2023
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