I have always worked in male dominated environments – Investment Banking, Private Equity – the former, an environment that is known for its toxicity.
Luckily, I have also worked at firms where I felt empowered, was given opportunities, and did not feel severely limited by my gender.
To be sure, I have had my fair share of serving during meetings when I was junior – although I have a knack for anticipating people’s needs and helping people out all the time, everywhere and in all areas of my life. As a result, it’s hard to know whether I was asked to serve or it was understood that it was expected of me as a fruit of patriarchy or whether I did it naturally (not that naturally women should serve, but that it comes naturally to me).
And now, as I evaluate new hires, I see the statistics and rhetoric about women limiting themselves play out in vivid colors.
On IWD2019, I’d like to speak about my experience in the one space known to me that is truly #balancedforbetter – Shitsuke Flag Football League (SFFL). I have previously written about how I am the most unlikely football player, and also how watching the fearless women of the league take on opponents inspired me to join https://www.ahshakasha.com/blog/2018/11/4/the-time-when-i-took-a-chance-and-ended-up-at-the-championships.
SFFL does not just play lip service to inclusion and gender diversity, its intentions toward women are encoded in rules and backed by incentives:
each team has a female and a male owner;
during every game (and on downs 1, 2 and 4), each team can only have a maximum of 4 of the 6 players on the field be male players, which means that each team must have 2 female players or be at a disadvantage as their opponents, will more than likely have 2 female players;
finally, and this the clincher, if by the 3rd down, the QB has not thrown to a female receiver, 1 of the 4 men on the field must be replaced by a woman on both offense and defense to play what we call 3rd down and female, which means that the ball must be thrown to a female receiver.
To sweeten the deal and as an added incentive to not only throw to your female receivers, but to make them actual living arsenals, the points system rewards you for the prowess of your female players: when a male QB throws to a male receiver and he scores a touchdown, the team gets +6 points; when it’s a male QB to a female receiver, the team gets +8 points; when it is a female QB to a female receiver, the team gets +10 points.
This season, my team nominated me as the defense squad captain!!!!!! Initially, I was resistant to this idea because I have so much on my plate at work and with other personal goals; additionally, this was a task that I had no experience in, so I knew I’d have to overcompensate for this handicap. Today, I am so thankful for the two female teammates who put me up for this role with a, “you are a great defender, you can do it”.
My leadership style is mostly collaborative and thrives on consensus building and receiving and giving feedback. Knowing what I did not know, I went about plugging my knowledge gap by asking other more experienced defense captains what the role entails, watching numerous YouTube videos, scouring websites for any morsel of information related to coaching, coordinating or managing flag football defenses. I told my team this, “I’ve never done this before, but I played defense on the best defensive team in the league last year; I had a great coach last year; I will do what it takes (put in the time, do the work, be present and committed, come prepared) to scale this curve”. While my approach is not solely the purview of female leaders, they are very characteristic of females in general and their approach to leadership, especially female leaders who haven’t allowed male dominated environments influence them totally so that they are barely recognizable. I was very clear as I walked into IBanking that I would go to work with my capabilities, and also be present with my full-self. I innately knew then, and I know for certain now, that the best work environments need stereotypically female characteristics, just as much as they need stereotypically male characteristics. And if we are to create the workplace of the future, we cannot create places where women do not female comfortable presenting themselves, or feel like they have to act in a way that does not feel natural to them.
Leading the team hasn’t been easy, there were teething problems where I had people (men) interrupting me, mansplaining to me, repeating what I said and it’s easy, in these circumstances, to fall into the trap of thinking that people are undermining you because you are female. I initially said to myself, that it didn’t matter, I was going to check my ego and ignore it for the harmony of the team, and let these minor irritations fall off my back like water. But then, subsequently, I remembered that even my amazing coach from last season (who is male) was second guessed, interrupted, and countered. So I just started thinking of these things as a different way of receiving feedback.
People involved with the league for any reasonable amount of time, know where the league stands on female players and know that female players are respected contributing members of every team. There are quite a few new players on our squad, so when I suggested a play that would mean a female defender could be required to take on two offensive players within a confined space, this newbie was so scandalized by the thought, he kept saying, while shaking his head: “a woman, no, I don’t think a woman can do this”. I also lead by showing – if I know something works in a certain way, but I am unable to convince you, I am fine to go ahead with your suggestion, show you its gaps, and I am also ok with you seeing my solution work through someone else. Fast forward to last week Sunday, he said to me, after I showed him how the other teams defended and he watched the females on other teams get men’s flags, “let’s practice the play you suggested”, which said to me that I had gotten through to him. Leading and football is a good deal about trust – as a leader, your team needs to trust you and where you are leading them to and in football whether in offense or defense trust is a big part of creating a good team. Since my team is new, I chuck the teething issues as to be expected while building trust and credibility.
Organizations wanting to improve the contribution of women need to take a leaf from SFFL’s playbook by not only requiring a smattering of women for their brochures and websites, but creating structures that ensure the participation of women. And the women who’ve made it, need to ensure that they are mentoring other women; encouraging and steering them to places of leadership (without the women on my team pushing me, I would not have taken the mantle of leadership). This is the only way to create a world that is #BalancedforBetter.
Please know that this campaign is not only for today, but runs all year through. For more information, please visit: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme
In what ways have you balanced the world for better? In what (small or big) ways do you think you can contribute to balancing the world for better going forward? Do you have any activity or event ideas? Do you have any other opinions on this topic? I’d love to hear.