Well if you are reading this you survived St Jude – Don’t we all love a little drama!
When I was at Learning Poole Live I was fortunate to meet the inspirational Denise Hudson Lawson. We got talking about what it is like to be a woman and make a career for yourself. This is a matter close to my heart as I have mentioned earlier, by default I was handed the task of coordinating a personal development programme for women at my authority, which has in turn given me a passion for the progression of women in the corporate landscape.
So I was talking to Denise, and she suggested I share this story with you….
I suffer 3 silent disadvantages I fear. I am a relatively young woman for this organisation so there is a predisposition to not take me seriously base on my age. And to top it off I do present child like ‘cute’ features that give people the perception that I am in fact younger than my 32 years.
I hold no significant ‘power of influence’ as I work in a lower grade.
I lack personal confidence. I still don’t understand what I need to do to be heard, and it is this I try and work on the most, my credibility and the way I present myself. As I said I have no power, I am not a manager and I am not an expert and I hold no influence.
But I have ideas, lots of ideas, I would almost say I am haunted by them sometimes. And I had this one idea brewing for a long long time…
Within my organisation you can pay for a bike through a salary sacrifice scheme, you can pay for child care on the same scheme. This allows staff to pay for these 2 things before tax, allowing them to make a monetary saving on the tax you would have paid on that salary. We are an authority with very little money, and as we move away from the trend of paying for “training” or “qualifications”, our staff still want qualifications, which gives them career freedom from the organisation, and indeed Local Government. People still want qualifications, and demand comes form a group who are not eligible to receive qualifications paid for by the organisation as their current role did not require the qualification. This group were the ones who needed them the most. They were the most hungry to move forward, and they were being held back in an endless cycle of requesting training, being rejected and not being able to afford it themselves. So, if we offer child care support, and bike support, why weren’t we offering our staff an opportunity to grow and support this financially (of sorts)?
We should offer staff the opportunity to undertake training/qualifications that serve a business need in an area the member of staff could potentially grow into within the organisation. It couldn’t be dog grooming or anything that would be seen as a total move away form the organisation. This could be paid in instalments out of their wages, like the bike to work scheme and pre tax so the employee would make a saving on their education. It would help individuals that for instance were working at Business Support level, wanted to move into Project Management. There was no business need within their current role for them to undertake the training, there for it would be highly unlikely the authority would pay for the training. Our support to the individual would be though the potential saving pre tax and the opportunity to pay in instalments. We gain an employee with better skills and knowledge for the time the are with us. They are more likely to gain a new role (hopefully within the organisation) and if they leave then we have grown an individual who could potentially return with a fresh insight and we as a team would be fulfilling some of the criteria within the Learning Organisation Characteristics which would be a win for the team.
Great idea right?
Well as I said at the beginning, I suffer from 3 silent career killers.
Consciously or unconsciously, every time I proposed my idea to my colleagues it was never considered worthy enough for further consideration.
Now, I realise more than ever people have their own agendas, as I do I, and I fear that my relentlessness may have been underestimated by my colleagues.
I also stated I have ideas that haunt me, and for that reason I am relentless, or they just don’t go away.
So following a very sucessful programme of personal development we had organised a feedback session with the 4 most senior members of the organisation, they wanted to hear ‘from the horses mouth’ so to speak, how the programme had effected the women that had attended. I had been with these women for 3 months, and had built and maintained a strong network relationships. I had been speaking with one delegate in particular, who was frustrated at her own lack of career progression, and I told her my idea. The session would put her face to face with this management team. I told her to sell my idea, not to say it was mine, but to sell it.
1 week later. Tools down, all hands on deck for a new policy that is being written. The directors have heard a brilliant idea that one of the delegates on the course has come up with and we want to get it out there…….…and it was at that point I came clean and told the team what I had done (the programme did teach us to own seek praise and sell our achievements). My senior manager looked a bit bemused for a moment, but continued like a professional, ‘well you can thank Sam for the extra work, good job!’. I never told them why I did what I did. And although I would love to say ‘you didn’t value my opinion because I am young and because I have no power or influence’ I though, what’s the point, I had won, because the ‘little’ people, one of which I am, will gain from my perseverance (and silent smugness!!)
But I will state here that my colleagues are not bad people. The organisation I work for is not full of people with conscious bias, quite the contrary. I believe this behaviour was totally unconscious, probably grounded in their own agenda that they work towards, as I work towards my own.
What have I learnt from this? I felt the rough end of unconscious bias, and not in terms of race or sex, but in terms of power and influence, and possibly class (or perception of class).I have neither power or influence and therefore could not be taken seriously, or my ideas hold less credibility. I can be easily dismissed. But that same idea presented to the same people from above and it suddenly is credible, and is so good that it needs to be completed straight away. I have learnt that I need to preserver if I believe in what I am saying. I have learnt that being a little sneaky, if done correctly and for the greater good, isn’t always a bad thing. I have learnt that people have their own agenda, and that this can influence, unconsciously or otherwise, the behaviours they display with others. But most of all, I have learnt that I have good ideas. I have ideas that hold water with those who do hold influence and have it in their power to get things done. And whether they know that idea came from me, I know that I have a strong ability to generate ideas that others think are useful and relevant. I have the ability and creativity to be innovative. This can not be taken from me and means I can have confidence that what ever move I make in the future, I have a good chance of doing a great job. I will be conscious of this in the future, and if I am lucky enough to make a significant career for myself, I will remember this, and listen to the ideas of others, regardless of their grade or level of responsibility, or if their background jars with my own.
I read this brilliant article the other day regarding class inequality and unconscious bias – http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/1207897/Worth-not-Birth-Why-workplace-going-backwards-class-equality/?DCMP=ILC-SEARCH it’s worth a look.
Well that’s the story.