I recently had an interesting evening where I went to two unrelated, separate events and came away with the one message.
We keep trying to fix people who don’t fit.
The first event was “Re/designing schooling” event by Learning Environments Australasia. My daughter was invited to share her project on her vision of an ideal school (see her video School of the Earth, if you’re interested) and I was invited to comment on the link between schooling and workplace culture. Apart from being a proud mum watching my 10 year old answering questions in front of 40 adults, I took away the message that the current mainstream school system tries to fit and mould children into a system and criticise/punish children who don’t.
The second event was Catherine Fox’s book launch of her new book, Stop Fixing Women. The message here was very clear. There’s too much going on to try to fix and fit women into the current organisational systems, structures and norms designed by men rather than evolving the system itself. Chief Executive Women and Bain & Co. found that Women are twice as likely as men to be told that they need to display “more confidence” (usually the alpha male kind). And you know what happens when you constantly get told to “be more confident”? You lose confidence! (see Don’t tell me to “Be more confident”)
Can you see the pattern?
When there is a mainstream system, power centre, structure, norms and belief system, anything or anyone that doesn’t fit gets diminished. There is a strong force to maintain the status quo to keep control.
It happens in so many ways. Think colonisation and how indigenous populations have been treated. Consider all the criticism about how women dress, whether it’s the work suit, dress or hijab worn in public. How about when you suggest an idea or that’s not very popular, or when you challenge the HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) (see What a former Google manager can teach you about your company’s bias toward HiPPOs). Throughout history, the greatest inventors and innovators have been ridiculed and marginalised because their ideas didn’t fit the mainstream beliefs at the time.
People who don’t fit get told to get back into their box and fit into the mainstream norms and the status quo is maintained.
So in the “Re/designing schooling” event, there was talk about the need to rethink the purpose of education and challenge the system. We heard from Peter Ellis, co-Principle of Templestowe College about the innovative approach that the College is taking – a student centred approach. I chipped in my two bobs worth about how organisations are needing to innovate, yet many are not set up to do so, as many organisations continue the ‘fit the system’ approach in schools.
At Catherine’s book launch, there was a mix of optimism and pessimism about progress on gender diversity. There was still the question of how to shift the resistance to change and the comfort with the status quo by the mainstream power centre of male dominated boards.
While it would be easy to get frustrated and give up, what gives me hope are these gatherings of people who want to amplify the minority voices. To resist being put back into our boxes and simply fitting in.
The challenge is that it’s not either-or. In most cases, those in the mainstream need to appreciate those who are different and those who don’t fit need to adapt a bit as well. It requires everyone to adapt. That’s where it gets tricky because adapting and changing ourselves is hard.
So we can all ask ourselves some questions:
- When have you felt like you didn’t fit in, and tried too hard to fit in, ‘covering’ your uniqueness and different ideas along the way?
- Do you have the pragmatism to fit in just enough while having the courage to not fit in by expressing your uniqueness and different views?
- When have you judged others who are different, don’t quite fit, and try to make them fit in?
Quietly Powerful is also about not just fitting into the mainstream. It is about leveraging our unique, quiet, powerful style and strengths. It is time we shifted the belief that we have to be extroverted to get ahead (see Do you have to be an extrovert to get ahead?). And it is also about adapting so we expand our repertoire by adding to our natural strengths.
White paper: Rethinking Diversity for Competitive Advantage