Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ambition is a dirty word

Sarah Lay wrote this and it's brilliant. It's brilliant because it's true. All of it, from beginning to end.

My move to GDS has been greeted by a number of different reactions and comments. Some have been cutting and have hurt. Some have left me almost breathless with their kindness and belief in me. Some have been uncalled for, some have misunderstood entirely what my job role will be and who my stakeholders will be also.

I have found it very interesting. I have found that in the main, it is women who have been breathtakingly kind, positive, and fierce in their congratulations and vicarious excitement. This may be because I do not have as many male friends as I am used to having, I don't know. It may be because there is a perception among some men that I have stepped outside of the normal promotional path and somehow 'jumped the queue'. It may even be a complete lack of understanding of what I do, how I do it, where I do it and how well I do it - I couldn't possibly comment.

But there is a marked difference.

We are sold on the fallacy that women are evil to each other in the workplace. We are fed tales of horrendous female bosses who are cutting, sarcastic, box people in, never praise, lock the talented in a box and take all their credit. Just like the word ambition, there are so many negative connotations, stories and 'legends' which swirl and grow.

In my experience, they are not true. I would not describe any of the women I know as lonely, unfulfilled, without children or husband or family, as isolated or unhappy. Instead, I see a group of women who mentor when the men wont do it, who pick up the slightly knocked about and shine them up a bit, polish them, listen and send them on their way. I see women who listen, make time to nurture, who balance the requirements of being part of a family (they don't run them the same way they run organisations, or Departments or Sections), with the needs of the slightly nervous and timid, balanced with having a whole hell of a lot of fun for themselves.

I look at them, and I see women who are not ruthless. Not negative. Not soft. Not alone. I see empowered, in control, magicians with time who balance all the needs of everyone around them and manage, most of the time to do the impossible - be happy. Not all the time, not all the people, not all the requirements and needs, but most of the time.

I don't know any man who is happy all of the time, do you? So why do we expect women to be? We do more, are more, have more than we have ever had before, and slowly but surely more of us are accepting that it is okay.

But believe me when I say, none of us are going to be getting anywhere on our own, without help, support, nurturing and mentoring. Say the word nurture to a man in a work context and I suspect you'll get a slightly panicked response. Say it to a woman and there will be no blinks.

That's not to say, women are better than men. They're just different. But in my very short experience in life I have had as many awesome female mentors as male and they have brought very different things to the table.

But the women, to the last, have never tried to undermine me, cut me down, mocked me, ignored me, patronised me, pushed my buttons or locked me in a box. I am sad to say those accolades all sit in the laps of the men I have reported to in whatever capacity over the past 10 years. I may have been lucky and I may be about to be forced to eat my words in the next 10 but if today is stupid assumptions about women dispelling day then that's my contribution.

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