Some women I’ve spoken with believe they need to ‘play the game’ in the corporate world and navigate their way in what has traditionally been a man’s world, otherwise they won’t climb the ladder.
What they’re talking about navigating is the culture.
Let’s look at culture from a leadership perspective.
As a leader you need to be objective to the culture not subjective to it. In other words, you need to be impersonal about it, not be caught by it. Otherwise the culture becomes personal and when that happens, cultural beliefs seem like your own beliefs and now you have to navigate them.
What you’re actually navigating are structures of collective consciousness which don't exist, except in that we agree they’re true and real and need to be abided by.
From a leadership perspective if you're had by the culture you're swimming in you're not going to be able to step back and lead it, you can't take an impersonal perspective on it.
An impersonal perspective allows you to speak about the culture from a fifth person perspective, utterly uncaught by it, whilst at the same time seeing how others are caught by it, seeing the behaviours and how the system supports it.
From a fifth person perspective there is no need to navigate the culture. You can see that what you're trying to navigate is all smoke and mirrors perpetuated by the people it serves.
The belief that women must play a man’s game to climb the corporate ladder is a cultural belief perpetuated by men and women.
Some women have taken that belief on and live that cultural belief.
But I can point to many empowered women who don't buy it, who are top of their game and going streets ahead because they're not caught by cultural frames, and are not playing the game.
Here’s the thing. First and foremost, we are neither women or men – we’re human beings.
We can split human beings in many ways, none of which are real. We can take an attribute, masculine features or feminine features, then draw a line and put people on either side. But where does trans gender sit? Or the genderless? Are they not human?
These generalisations exist, but they exist culturally. We perpetuate them by not challenging how they have us and how they may hold us back.
We identify with the labels, and identity pulls together a whole cluster of beliefs that have been given to us which we then hold and perpetuate through time.
Beliefs aren't real, they’re generalisations. Men and women, white and black people, gay or straight. These are all generalisations which can become identity structures. All these labels are created so we can then we can draw conclusions and make segmentations to those groups.
The struggle with identity is that we personalise it. If I identify as a woman and someone says something about women, because it's personal for me I experience being offended. But it’s NOT what the other person says that impacts me. It’s the meaning I make out of it, that I attribute to their statement because of how I identify with being a woman – and that is what I struggle with.
But if I can free myself of the identity structures and not identify as any of that whilst still having my preferences and choices, when someone says something about being a woman I can see that this tells me about them, not about me.
So how to create change, particularly in the corporate space?
Start to question your own beliefs. Rather than question the system, and other people’s beliefs, break down your own. If you do that, you're no longer going to be subject to other people’s.
Beliefs are generalisations, so they can only ever be generally true, they’re never specifically true.
If you can break down your own generalisations and show up without the belief structures you get to see the culture and everyone else’s beliefs.
Then you get to ask questions like “How do you know to believe that? Show me how that’s true. Show me how a man is better at doing this than a woman, because I don’t understand.”
And you’ll find that the men won’t have the answers because it’s been smoke and mirrors all along.