Beginning in childhood we are taught that we can’t act on our own. We have to wait for permission from our parents and other adults of authority. We are also taught that the smartest, most educated, experienced and/or best people rise to the top of our businesses, organizations and institutions. We are taught to believe in top-down systems where those at the top decide what gets done.
We believe that as we rise up to higher positions in a top-down system we become freer from the control others have over us. We have more Autonomy. As we move down through the system we have less freedom, less Autonomy because those above us, who are better than us, have the power to restrict what they allow us to do.
Women and other disadvantaged groups are told that we need to be empowered – that those at the top need to write laws, rules and policies that grant some of their power to us. They have to give us the right to have more self-determination over ourselves. It is as if we have to wait like children for them to trust us not to screw up before they let us do something.
As a result we were conditioned to wait for permission. We are conditioned to feel inferior with a need to prove our worth.
We typically see this as a paternalistic system. And it is.
But what if I told you that while men support the top-down system as a group, they don’t believe in it or use as individuals?
Unlike us, men believe that as soon as they turn 18 and become legal adults they are fully empowered. They have self-determination. To them it takes enforced laws, rules and policies to limit their empowerment.
This is the complete opposite of what women are taught.
Today there is no reason why women shouldn’t adopt men’s view of empowerment – that as soon as we turn 18 we are fully empowered and have self-determination. It then takes enforced laws, rules and policies to limit our empowerment.
However, many of us still believe we can’t because “the system” oppresses us. It won’t let us.
But are you sure?
Or is this just what you are conditioned to believe?
If you want to do something and you ask the person in authority if you can and they tell you “No” do you immediately back down? Or do you challenge:
“Who are you to tell me ‘No’?”
“How are you going to stop me?”
This is what men do.
From my experience working with and managing men, I can tell you that men immediately challenge any restriction. They don’t even ask for permission, they just go and do what they want. It takes a lot to enforce a restriction on men in the workplace.
Men value their Autonomy and their right to do what they want, how they want, when they want. And it doesn’t matter where they are in the system, they don’t want others influencing them.
As women we are conditioned to believe men that men want to rise in the top-down system in order to have power over others. That is WRONG.
Men want to rise to the top so they have more Autonomy. Men value their Autonomy more than power over others.
This is one of women’s greatest misunderstandings of the male-dominated workplace. Consequently we have given much more power to the system than it really has.
Even worse, we embolden those people who have control issues to abuse their positions of authority. When they do, it reinforces our beliefs in the power of the system and that we aren’t empowered. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Men understand this cycle which is why as individuals they challenge the system. They look at situations by asking – How is this going to affect my Autonomy?
The real reason your boss or the person of authority is telling you “No” is because if they say “Yes” then you are influencing them. You will have expectations of them. You can follow up and question how they are proceeding, if they got it done and question why not? You will continue to impact their Autonomy as you continue to follow up. Do they give in and do what you want on your terms? Or do they choose to put it at the bottom of their priority list so they get to it when convenient for them and hope that in the meantime you give up and go away?
Or do they circumvent all that by just telling you “No” right from the beginning?
What if you didn’t ask your boss for permission and just went off and did it? Would he have a fit?
We all know the saying “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” It is a statement of empowerment.
It tells us that it is okay to just go out and do what we think needs to get done. It assumes we are capable adults who know what we are doing and how to do it correctly. If we screw it up, then we will hear about it.
As women we don’t always like just going off and doing something because we have a group perspective. We know whatever we do impacts other people. We want to make sure we don’t adversely affect other people. That’s good. That’s really, really good and a concept desperately needed in the male-dominated workplace.
But it still doesn’t mean we have to ask for permission.
We are still fully empowered to act on something that needs to get done. It just means that we have to coordinate more amongst our colleagues. And we are really good at coordination which is something else that is in short supply in the male-dominated workplace. It means we can take on bigger more complex issues and problems.
After we resolved the problem, we tell our boss that we solved the problem and how. He may have a few questions but it is highly unlikely he will dive in deeper. That would impact his Autonomy. He just wants to hear that it was taken care of and he doesn’t need to do anything.
A large percentage of our workplace problems can be solved amongst ourselves, even across department lines, without ever involving our bosses. Our boss’s desire for Autonomy empowers us to take the initiative.
We also make sure we document everything we did so during our annual review we ask for a nice pay raise and/or promotion. After all we are improving workplace performance.
And if we are told “No” what do we do?
We challenge it.
We ask “Why not?”
We keep impacting their Autonomy making them justify their decision until they say “Yes.” (And we make sure the pay raise is retroactive too.)
As women, we have to abandon our definition of empowerment and our belief in the power of the top-down system. They artificially hold us back. And men, because of the way they think, see it as an excuse which doesn’t help us either.
Instead we grab our empowerment and run with it. We start doing things, solving problems and resolving issues by working in and amongst our colleagues. This doesn’t make us great employees. It makes us great leaders.
Please read my related article Leading From Within – A Leadership Style For Women
Empowered Women Do What Needs To Be Done
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