With International Women’s Day soon upon us, #ChoosetoChallenge is the theme we’re asked to consider this year. With a baseline assumption that change starts within each individual, the interpretation of #ChoosetoChallenge that is meaningful for me is this: we each possess an ability to #ChoosetoChallenge our own beliefs and behaviors. So by pairing this ability with a personal choice to continually evolve our views on what is possible, you will be playing your part in creating a future where inequities based on gender are a thing of the past.

#ChoosetoChallenge your assumptions around a person’s commitment to their career based on ‘face time’ in the office.

The past year has shown once and for all that we can in fact work from home and things do not fall apart. Shock horror – people can be trusted! Yes, I certainly appreciate that this privilege does not extend to all types of employment – go with me on this one for a moment though. The long-held belief that being physically present in the office means you are a “good worker”, trustworthy, committed and productive now seems somewhat outdated.

Being physically present at the office in and of itself does not in fact equate to organizational performance, efficiency nor potential. Yes, there are certainly benefits to be gained by face-to-face collaboration, however, it is now impossible to argue that it is the only way to work. Many of us had experience in shifting to the virtual world thanks to covid, and at that moment had perhaps a small glimpse behind the curtain into the world of people who – on a regular basis – are not physically present and yet trying their darndest to demonstrate competence and stay top of mind.

My own experience having been in treatment for breast cancer whilst working full time over the past year was a fine example of this, as are the countless working parents who constantly juggle the judgement (from others and themselves) about what they should or shouldn’t be doing when it comes to parenting and work. Many of these parents are women – and we have learnt that covid has and continues to disproportionately impact women in the workplace insofar as…

  • Women being more likely to experience job loss as a result of covid due to the higher concentration of women in fields more vulnerable to economic swings;
  • Women are more likely to return to the office fewer days to take care of children as compared to their male counterparts – and thus with the lingering perceptions around face-time being an indicator of performance, men continue to be more likely to continue to benefit from opportunities to grow and attract a higher salary – yes, perpetuating the gender wage gap.

There’s both an individual and organizational responsibility when it comes to breaking down perceptions around what good looks like when assessing proficiency, potential and performance. In this virtual world, what does this mean for leaders?

As a leader, #ChoosetoChallenge your own feelings of discomfort around the shifting criteria that defines success in this rapidly evolving world of virtual work.

As a leader, you may feel confronted by the fact that you are no longer able to make daily observations of behavior of your team members in close physical proximity. Guess what – that’s your issue to work through, not something to penalize your people on. In moments where you find yourselves reverting to “the old ways” of work, and feeling frustrated if someone in your team is not in the office, just remember how it felt when you were at home during covid, wanting people to connect with you, care about you and be recognized for your contributions.

2020 accelerated the need for leaders to understand the social constructs through which work gets done. Stuff comes to life through the relationships, the ecosystem that exists in parallel with team structures, corporate processes, and formalized titles. It gets done through people. As such, if you’re a leader who is truly seeking to unlock potential and performance in your people, explore ways to support your people through life’s tough challenges as opposed to restraining their potential through your own possibly unidentified filters.

Be the coach, the enabler, the supporter that you wish you had in your corner, rallying for you when times get tough. Great leaders will keep an eye out for people who:

  • Continue to thrive and perform despite facing tough circumstances;
  • Find a way to lift themselves and others even in the trickiest of situations;
  • Generate creative solutions, novel workarounds and clever ways to push through adversity;
  • Deliver strong results and are prepared to ‘stick it out’ over an extended period of adversity.

Leaders who look for these characteristics may find themselves surprised and delighted to uncover that they have hidden talents within their teams. These hidden gems – when identified, celebrated and maximized – take performance and trust to a whole new level.

Finally, #ChoosetoChallenge your own self-beliefs about what you are capable of.

Too old/too young/not smart enough/lacking the skills/letting self-doubt rule your actions – NO. You have just lived through a pandemic, you can do bloody anything you set your mind to. There is almost always a way to try something new, to positively influence those around you, and to reject ‘the way it always has been’. Instead, create space for people being judged on their own merits vs misheld perceptions.

When we #ChoosetoChallenge beliefs around women and gender stereotypes, we are choosing to create a world where equity rules. Sounds pretty good to me… what do you reckon?

Dedicated to the women and men who #ChoosetoChallenge every day.