This month I broke through: not the glass ceiling exactly… no, the wall of carefully cultivated career protecting niceness that has kept me safely employed, but less powerful and less effective than I need to be if I want to see change happen before I die.
I spoke up and out to the bloke in charge. Actually, to be exact (I’m tired of being modest) – to three different blokes in charge.
Anyone with a face lifted upwards will know that there’s a top down movement of blokes keen to be seen as the most committed, conscientious, career enhancing, champion CEO for women.
For some overachievers, this commitment extends to other under-represented, powerless yielding folk who make up the balance of the population not edged out by a white straight male.
This championing has been led by Liz Broderick, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, a woman I admire greatly. Like Joan of Arc she has led these word-baring champions towards the feminist fire.
The rhetoric has been reverberating for a few years now and fair enough, it’s fanned the flames, fuelled optimism and stoked hope. But let’s be honest, much of it’s been launched from behind a shield of smoke and mirrors.
Because we all know it needs to be more than words, don’t we?
I’ve been working in this space for 20 years. I’ve heard a word or two and I’m tired of spin. So this is my assessment of the battle and battlers to date.
I reckon there are too many champs charging ahead because they like the perks that come with the call to arms: a cohort of other champs to tap shoulders with, a media enhanced profile to build their cache (and share portfolio); hell, maybe there’s some domestic perks to be had too.
But, and it’s not a binary thing – there’s also an army of champs who want to do more than enjoy perks. They sincerely want to level the playing field and shift the power base. They just haven’t been trained or equipped to deploy more than words.
They know, deep down, that words and good intentions, no matter how sincere aren’t enough to break down the army of resistors. It’s just that they don’t know what to do – and that’s a vulnerable place for many champs to be.
I need to be crystal ball clear, I know that many blokes are charging ahead because they know it’s the right thing to do. Unless, though, they actually do the right thing, the future is going to remain bleak.
It’s time for the champs in charge to build the troops and storm through the barricades. It’s time for them to make it clear they know they’re leading a revolution; that they’ve got a strategy in place and they’re going to do what it takes to win.
But they can’t do it alone. A revolution requires more than a few champs in charge. It needs a ground swell of discontent and more of us to move beyond the ramparts that keep us safe and join them.
And it’s all become a little too cosy. Too few of us are speaking up and out. We’re not challenging or helping the champs. It’s time we held that crystal ball up, used it as a mirror and reflected back what we see.
Creating a different future requires us to change the game and the terms of engagement.
And that’s why I took a risk. That’s why I spoke up. That’s why we all need to speak up.
If you’re interested in being a game changer, interested in shifting the status quo you might want to start with these talking points:
1. It’s not enough to say you’re a champion of change, you have to be one.
2. It’s not enough to talk about inclusion. To be taken seriously by those wishing to be included, you need to be inclusive.
3. If you’re going to be a champion of change – you need to change: your habits, your behaviour, your mind. And that’s hard. It requires effort, training and diligence.
4. Inclusion and gender equality starts with including and equalising. That means: including people in the conversation, ensuring women get equal air time – and by the way, you mostly don’t.
5. You need to build support for change. It is exceedingly unlikely that your leadership team is as committed to gender equality and inclusion as you are. And they’re not going to become more so, because you say so.
6. You will need help and training. So will they.
7. You need to be willing to be held to account – for what you do, not what you say. And if not, why not?
More of us can and must speak up with clarity, honesty and kindness. Because in my experience, once our champs see, understand and accept their failings and blindspots, they say thank you, will you help me? And that’s a revolution.