Authenticity is an interesting concept. Do you feel the absence of it if you’re not being fully authentic? Equally, how do you know when you are being authentic?
I’m much more at ease now with who I am so probably more to the left of the code’s sliding scale than where I was as a younger woman.
I always felt I had to assimilate given I was female and from an ethnic minority. First at boarding school, then military school and then Imperial College where I studied engineering. I’d learnt the classic thing of “don’t show emotion or cry in public”. One boss told me not to wear high heels because I’d be taller than him. I accepted it and acted in a way that was more like the men around me; taking more than a passing interest about football and other typically male-dominated subjects - so I’d have things to talk about.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter that my eyes opened to the realities and differences of being a woman vs being a man in society and in particular the workplace.
Care a bit less and be braver
The advice I’d give my daughter is to try and find your superpower and be proud of sharing it and teaching others. I’d also love her to develop the skill of observing, reading context and throwing yourself in, I’ve seen being able to operate in different environment a true marker for people success but also those who seem to love what they do.
I wish I’d known sooner that I could care a bit less and be a bit braver, but that only came with the privilege of age and experience, and no doubt some positional power. In my early career no one spoke about gender. No one asked if I might feel uncomfortable walking into an office full of men. I don’t think my bosses had any level of awareness and how this might impact me. And to be honest I don’t think I really had an appreciation of how this could be impacting how I showed up in the workplace, the additional energy I might have been using to navigate. I’m now a proud wearer of trainers in the workplace when I can get away with it, which feels much at odds with a guy telling me the type, colour and heel size expectations at the start of my working life.
When I reflect on my career, I still don’t believe it’s all been challenging to navigate. A neighbour told me she never shared with colleagues that she had three children. How can you feel so alien in a place that you feel you must hide a fundamental part of yourself? Thankfully I’ve always been happy to bring my daughter into the office to share where mummy works and in part due to her believing we have the best hot chocolate in London.
The language of gender
One thing we are trying to get better at Baringa is to have more conversations around gender and check the language we use.
For example, performance reviews talk about “command of knowledge” and “expertise”. But perhaps they should also include the ability to “empathise” with clients, “collaborate”, “problem-solve” and the ability to “bring people together with warmth”. These female traits make us brilliant consultants and amazing at our team and client interactions, so why do we not explicitly show we value them by writing them down and measuring them as we do with the harder male-dominated traits? How do we ensure the language and skills associated with gender are used equally in how we incentivise and recruit people?
Authenticity vs full self
When I first started at Baringa, things were a bit rough around the edges in terms of conversations on gender. Having the code has made us open up those conversations, however uncomfortable or fumbling they might feel.
I think it’s about allowing yourself to piece together the version of you that you’re comfortable to bring to work, so you can be the best you can. I view authenticity now as choosing what bits of me to save for when I’m at home. I’m pretty sure work wouldn’t want me to be my fully authentic self in the office!
Play it forward: grab the power, then do good
Someone told me recently to “grab the power”. Women are often uncomfortable with power as it’s usually associated with men. But I’ve realised when you have it you can wield it for good.
It’s taken years to feel ok with that. You can play it forward, make changes and adjustments for future generations. I feel very privileged to be able to do that for people in my teams.
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Baringa: a space to bring my whole self to work
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