I’m one of the lucky ones.
I do what I love.
In my late forties I finally stumbled upon the work I’d always yearned to do. I trained as a leadership coach and I’ve never looked back. Helping people achieve what they want from life brings me great joy. And working as a Ginger public speaking coach and trainer is also deeply fulfilling.
But it was not always so.
I was a conscientious schoolgirl, always did my homework on time and passed my exams with high grades. When it came to choosing my degree, the law seemed like the perfect high status profession for me to achieve my ambitions.
But it was at University that things started to unravel. I remember sitting in tutorials where we were encouraged to express an opinion and not knowing what I thought and more importantly not really caring. The truth was that while I’d chosen a profession that on paper was impressive, in my heart I knew that it wasn’t the right choice. No wonder when it came to speaking up, I found it hard to summon up any enthusiasm. When I got in to the workplace, things weren’t much better. While on the surface, I was doing fine, I felt like I was playing at being a lawyer. I never actually felt as if I was one. I hadn’t chosen work I loved.
In our work at Ginger we often find that while women are highly skilful, compelling speakers in the training room, this is not mirrored in the workplace where there’s a gap in visibility and voice between men and women – something Claire Mason of Man Bites Bog describes as the ‘Gender Say Gap’.
It’s time for women to confidently become part of high-level conversations, particularly in those sectors which are still male dominated like tech, energy and finance. But it’s also crucial for them to become part of a conversation they genuinely want to have.
It’s no good becoming a banker if you don’t love numbers. Or an engineer if you don’t care how bridges stay up.
However high status or well paid a job might be, if you’re not in love with it, you’re going to find it hard to feel authentic when you’re asked to make that important conference speech or argue your point in a meeting. I think we need to encourage girls (and of course boys), to do what they love and connect with and not just go for a career which on paper looks good. Otherwise I believe we will continue to have disconnected, stressed women in the workplace doing work they have no feel for.
In the gender debate, it’s easy to fall in to talking in stereotypes, but I wonder if women are less capable of pretending to be interested in something than men. Is it possible that because of all those years of playing the corporate advancement game, men are comfortable with sounding off about a subject even when they don’t know much about it? Whereas, by contrast, many women need to feel genuinely certain of their ground before they will venture an opinion?
Rather than attempting to encourage women to contort themselves in to a similar mindset so that they too can play the game, wouldn’t it be better to ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, not only knows what they are talking about but also cares about what they are saying?
While it’s crucial to ensure that women are trained and encouraged to be visible and vocal in every sector and at the highest level, let’s also concentrate on helping them make the right career choices from the outset – the kind of choices that fill them with joy and bring them alive.
For surely this is what we want – passionate advocates for their subject who are so enthused, they just can’t help getting stuck in to the conversation.