We’ve been waiting for not only a new conversation to come into the zeitgeist, but for that new narrative to actually create palpable change for women at work. And we’ve certainly been waiting to see the numbers and representation at the top of organisations change. To see more women in powerful positions. More women of colour. More of anybody who looks less like a white man. We love men. We just want to see less of them on the boards and in the rooms where decisions about our future are being made without people who look like us contributing to making them.
Yes, we’ve been waiting. And whilst there has been some notable change in the boardrooms and political systems of the world, not nearly enough. And here’s the point. We can’t, as women, keep waiting for the system to change. We can’t keep waiting for the systems and structures to become the places where we can show up in a way that doesn’t feel like we are squeezing ourselves with force into a place that was never designed for us. We can’t keep waiting – 135.6 years at latest count – for gender equality to magically manifest, a number that changes every year and after the Great Resignation, the outfall from the horrors of the pandemic, is sure to only increase before it may get better.
We can’t keep waiting for the world around us to change in order for us to have the permission and the agency to be who we want to be, work how we want to work, lead how we want to lead and have the roles we want to have. It’s no longer about the system out there. It has to be about the system inside of us.
Of unlocking any narrative that keeps us stuck in a system that does not work for us but that we don’t change because we are exhausted from running too fast on the treadmill of our lives, or we think that it’s just us, or we are afraid to use our voice, or speak truth to power, or back ourselves into the lives we want to live and to be the leaders we want to be.
When Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, she forever changed the conversation on women and work. She elevated the discussion to boardrooms and halls of power, and brought it into the lives of everyday women like you and me just trying to get by with the juggle and struggle of our daily work and lives. She did what so many of us want to do: change the conversation. But was it the right conversation? Lean In was all about showing up in a broken system and taking our place at the table, with our elbows out and our voices raised. It was about having the right partner at home to help you be the boss at work, a point which Sandberg now admits was woefully privileged and short sighted. It was about fixing ourselves as women, to fit into a patriarchal system that just does not work for the vast majority of working women. Lean In was a revelation for many and caused a revolution in the workplace for awareness and discussions about gender equality. And yet, we are still here.
Still here with little shift in the numbers of representation at the top of organisations. Little shift in the gender pay gap, equity for women of colour, the double shift at home, the glass ceiling and the sticky floor and so much more, when we thought that surely by now, we would so much further ahead. Surely by now we would have made so much more progress. Surely by now, we would be able to stop having this conversation about our rights. Surely by now, we would be done.
And yet, here we are. Even with the best of intentions and great efforts from many CEO’s, HR leaders, heads of diversity and inclusion, passionate male allies and committees and best practices and a million paper cuts of seemingly helpful and good willed processes and interventions. We are still here.
We will always keep fighting to change the system. To create more inclusive workplaces. To help create leaders who pride themselves on their humanity and care for others. That will never stop. But the more urgent conversation is about how we as women feel about ourselves, show up in our lives, and become the leaders we truly want to be regardless of the appointed role we are in. It’s not about fixing ourselves, it’s about an wakening and a level of empowerment that literally shakes the ground we walk on.
I heard someone say once that as women we are liberated but we are not yet fully empowered. I felt that. I see it everyday in the work that I live and breathe with women from every culture.
Part of that empowerment comes from opportunity. A large part of it comes from within ourselves. From clarity, consciousness, confidence and conviction in who we are and what we are here for.
Through my work with Women Rising, supporting literally thousands of women through transformative six month and beyond journeys of personal and professional development, there have been some startling realisations that even I – having been in the corporate world for 20 years and then 10 years specialising in women’s leadership and empowerment – discovered about women from dozens of countries, of all ages and stages and roles and industries.
Through a vast body of research there are themes that have emerged that tell a powerful story about women’s lives, their thoughts, struggles, doubts, realities. And incredible insights of what happens when we as women take a beat to pause, reflect, question, understand, converse, connect and do the work to get to the heart of the questions that direct every decision and choice that we make – whether we realise it or not.
Who am I? What do I want? What is that voice inside my head telling me that I can or I can’t? What feels purposeful? Where do I find meaning? How do I build the confidence to not only know what I want for my life but to then take action to create it? What do I even want my career to look like in the first place? If I was being really honest with myself, and gave myself the space and time and permission to ask the questions, what would my answers be for all of it?
Professor David Cooperrider teaches us that our life unfolds in the direction of the questions that we ask.
Perhaps we have been asking the wrong question all along. Perhaps the question isn’t how do workplaces change for women.
Perhaps the question is how do we as women, as individuals and as a collective, become so empowered and clear and conscious and connected that workplaces have no choice but to evolve into an entirely new system that must elevate to meet the new consciousness that women create in the world.
Yes, I’m sure that’s it. And I am sure that it’s time. To build on the very foundation of every women’s movement that has come before us. Now is the time for a new rising. It’s important and urgent. It’s not just about our work lives. It’s about the very fabric of who we are, how we feel about ourselves as women, how we care for and what we role model to our families, and our very essence in the world. Yes it’s about our careers. It’s about our leadership. But it’s even more than that.
It’s about our evolution.
It’s about our sovereignty and the women we want to be.
It’s about our very womanhood.
This is our time.
Welcome to the uprising.