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Leaning into the discomfort of difficult topics

Have you found yourself in a difficult conversation at work, where what started as casual water-cooler conversations turned into a complex dialogue about gender, race or even multiculturalism? What about the boardroom banter that turned into awkward silences, and left you worrying about the lasting effects it would have on your team and future company culture?

Leaning into these types of difficult conversations can be daunting, and the world has slowly recognised the need to have them. However, as female leaders, we ourselves struggle to know where to begin. Here are some tips and guidelines to better manage your team.

Look inward before looking outward.

Self-awareness has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, however working on your own triggers, bias and preconceptions in a curious and compassionate way can make all of the difference. Things can get messy and blurred when we project our own experience and perceptions onto our team and this happens often and can be very normal when dealing with people. When we do the ‘me’ work we can help others without standing in our own way.

We’ve seen results in so many women who have found guidance from a therapist, coach or counsellor, and there are also many workshops and books that help us explore these topics in a safe space. Once we gain a deeper understanding of how we feel about gender equality, only then can we challenge our unconscious thoughts about gender.

Recognise the value of equal opportunity

Becoming more conscious of complex gender dynamics is vital when leading a team. Start by becoming more attuned to your team members through active listening and genuine curiosity for their experiences. Develop a heightened awareness around the use of language and power dynamics and address issues on a day-to-day basis. A little bit of work can go a long way, and can lead to improved psychological wellbeing for your whole team.

Equality serves all sides, resulting in a happier workplace where individuals are empowered to take responsibility for living up to their own values as well as the values of their company. Once we become aware and are able to address these issues then we are one step closer to giving the team increased motivation and drive. Let’s work toward building more diverse and inclusive teams that will change the landscape of business for the better.

Change begins with awareness

Those in leadership positions can start the process by recognising if the power dynamic is already leaning in the favour of one side. More obvious signs include having more of one gender in higher ranking positions, being paid more than the other for the same job title, and a work culture that serves the needs of one gender over the other. Subtler indications include: microaggressive behaviour, usually in the form of passive aggressive, sarcastic or facetious remarks, as well as members from a specific gender making the majority of the decisions. These dynamics need to be managed in a gentle and conscious way.

Education is the path to least resistance

Calling out insensitive behaviour can result in more defensiveness, which is why it’s more constructive to inform rather than challenge. Creating an environment where individuals can explore power and gender dynamics allows for deeper learning and an opportunity to learn from mistakes. It’s important that leaders introduce workshops that develop deeper self-awareness or provide information on these topics.

Recognise & Nurture the unique strengths of each individual

As much as broader gender dynamics influence a workplace, real change always begins with the individual – especially you. The truth is that we have little control over how others choose to think and behave. At most, we can become attuned to the unique needs, challenges and strengths of each individual and then choose to model good leadership. This way others can experience what it feels like to be seen and appreciated beyond their ascribed gender constraints.

If you would like to learn how to support women in their careers, or learn to lead a more inclusive team, sign up for our online short course on STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP.

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