There is an old fallacy that change happens from the top down.
It says that in order for a company to institute a new initiative the first must-do step is: Get CEO buy-in! The CEO then gets the buy-in of senior management. Senior management then directs the initiative down to middle management who carries it out through the workforce.
But if you’ve ever worked for a medium or large company you probably learned a different response to any big announcement of a new initiative: “Yay, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Many initiatives never make it down to the workforce level. And the few that do often fade out with few if any lasting remnants of their existence. The common excuse, “We didn’t have enough buy-in.”
But the real reason they fade is because they are clumsily tacked onto existing work. They aren’t integrated into the existing operating, managing and reporting systems. Therefore, they don’t feel natural and easy. When we become over-worked or stressed the best solution is to lob off the work that doesn’t fit.
When it comes to advancing women in the workplace, we’ve been trying to use this same top-down approach for 40 years. A women’s organization approaches a CEO and in the tradition of all new initiatives, has him sign a document or make a video declaring the company will now work towards gender equality. It’s great PR – for both parties – but the results are minimal – just like they were with every previous management initiative.
So why do women still use the top-down approach to advance women?
Because we still believe too much in the myth of the hierarchal power and not enough in our own inherent power.
In reality change happens from within and amongst people. It comes from interaction and open and honest communication. So, any woman in any role has more power to affect changes in attitude, behavior and culture than the CEO.
As women we can create change by positively asserting ourselves and making change safe. People are often afraid of change because they fear they will be negatively impacted. When we negate their fears and replace them with positive experiences, the change is embraced.
This is why in my efforts to advance women I focus on the positive changes and meaningful outcomes any woman can create in her workplace:
- Improved performance, efficiency and profitability
- Achievement and pride in daily accomplishments
- Less stress, frustration, chaos and health issues
These changes happen because when women assert themselves, we transform the workplace. We make our workplace Whole.
We’ve all heard narratives about how women “bring balance” to male-dominated workplace. But balance is an incomplete portrayal of the power of women. It still implies that men take more initiative and drive performance while women only curb and prevent them from being total bulls in the china shop.
Balance doesn’t imply full equality.
To understand Wholeness, we only have to look at the Yin-Yang concept we are all familiar with.
Yin and Yang are equal halves of the whole. They are dynamic. They continually interact and influence each other in an easy and natural manner, making their interaction feel right. Neither is superior or inferior, each controls the other and both need the other to create a harmonious Whole.
If we think about Yang working all by itself as it does in many of our workplaces, we realize its performance limitations. Working by itself Yang can’t roll all the way over and revolve. Not even the CEO with all of his mighty hierarchal power can make Yang to revolve on his own.
Nor can the CEO make Yin to assert herself and influence Yang. Yin has to decide to do that on her own. That is the power of her equality – she must be the one who recognizes and accepts that she is one half of the whole. She must be the one who steps into and exercises her full equal power.
The changes women want have always been women’s to make. We just haven’t seen our power to do so because we have always been misled into believing in the power of the hierarchy. And even though the male-dominated workplace knows this is a myth it keeps quiet because it wants to hide the fact that the hierarchy can’t create change and doesn’t even know how.
Changes in the workplace and the advancement of women will happen, but only when women accept that men and women really are equal and choose to exercise their equality.
Empowered Women Create the Change They Want
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