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Unrealistic Pressure of the "Dazzling Outliers"

I recently attended a CityParents event where Sam Smith, founder and chief executive of the corporate advisor and brokerage firm FinnCap, shared her perspectives on her career and being a working mother. While admiring Sam for her honest role modelling of being a women and now a mother in a challenging male environment it did get me thinking about how much women are increasingly under pressure to be dazzling outliers. Women are more likely to end up in middle management or running a generally successful business rather than progress to the C-Suite or run a six figure business. While this needs to change we also need to be give a voice to the stuck middle and celebrating the fact that for a women to even be running a team or a small business is an amazing achievement in itself and that these women are equally valid and plaudable role models.

Unless a women goes well and truly beyond the norm we don't seem to recognise their value and contribution but yet the chances are you are more likely to be called John than be a women in a FTSE 100 company. So the women who are the dazzling us with their brilliance are well and truly outliers, which means that for every woman we are celebrating as successful there is another 100 or more who didn't quite get there. I'm not sure the same can be said for men called John. This view was reinforced by a recent lisen to the Broad Experience podcast entitled True Equality: When It's OK to be Mediocre, which I highly recommend.

We are continuously asking women to fix themselves to better suit the Ideal Worker model of working yet men still struggle to 'lean out' and accept an equal share of the parenthood penalty leaving many working mothers exhausted. The recent results of the UK Gender Pay Gap shows a continued stalling of the talent pipeline, despite the publication of action plans, the celebration of successful women and the introduction of policies such as Shared Parental Leave to enable men to take a more active role in childcare. Women who are managing to run a small to medium sized team and a household should be celebrated because these women are more often than not running on empty, hitting their heads against societal and organisational glass ceilings at every stage, and you only need to have a sick child or parent to completly derail them.

These same women often don't have any visible real models to look up to in their organisation as many of the women, if present, in higher pay quartiles are generally playing the 'silent' game. Their use of flex, their experience of peri-menopause and struggles balancing childcare are often all well hidden. Consequently I and many others have no reference points to see where where we could go and what we might have to give up to get there, given current structural inequalities

As I highlighted in my blog Cogs for Progress; A rethink on progress in the workplace we are creating unrealistic expectations on women's progress and failing to acknowledge the barriers that still exist, no matter how many negotiating, networking or self-improvement courses we go on. At a societal level we need a willingness to share the parenthood penalty and move away from the single carer model that is literally wearing women out. At a company level we need a commitment to diversity of thought through a move away from the Ideal Worker model and a focus on inclusive agility to get the female pipeline talent moving. And at an individual level we need more visible real models of how women are making a success of not just being dazzling outliers but also more likely middle managers and small business owners.

If you enjoyed this post please check out the rest of my blog here, including my post on my own experience of peri-menopause in the workplace and the uphill challenge of a corporate career.

All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


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