Discussion How can we #BalanceforBetter? By celebrating being good enough

by Scarlett Brown _______8th March 2019
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Too often gender balance only celebrates women who have broken the glass ceiling. We need to do better. 

This International Women’s Day I am having a day off. As you read this I will be sat by the sea in Whitstable, reading something not related to work, and enjoying the most pleasant of indulgences: a daytime pint.

The timing is a coincidence. When I realised I had managed to book a weekend away on the same day as IWD (or “Christmas for feminists”) I nearly changed my plans. Instead, I am using it as an excuse to celebrate two things: time not spent at work, and the power of being ‘good enough’.

Having spent four years doing a PhD looking at gender balance on boards, for the best part of a decade I have been reading, writing and speaking about women in leadership and gender in organisations. Over that time I have noticed more and more that ‘women reaching the top’ is often synonymous with gender balance. The women on boards debate, the gender pay gap and the rise of ‘Business Feminism’ (oh hi, Lean In) have all added to the belief that the number of women reaching senior roles is a measure of (diversity) success. The problem is if we fail to look at how we treat everyone who is not a leader (and, perhaps, does not want to be one), we start to only measure success by the top 10% and leave people behind.

My soon to be sister-in-law works on a helpline for a well-known charity. She told me recently that part of their funding relies on them demonstrating that they are ‘developing’ their volunteers, with clear goals and strategies. They rely on volunteers to run, but it is, by its nature, mundane work: mostly administrative and directing email queries to the right person. It is a hugely important job, but there isn’t really anywhere to take it. And yet if they don’t ‘develop’ their volunteers, they risk losing funding. 

People being encouraged to progress is not an unworthy cause, and breaking down barriers to women progressing is such an important part of gender equality. But being a leader or manager isn’t the same as being a valuable person (employee or otherwise). It isn’t the same as being happy or valued by your organisation. As a society (especially in London) we are obsessed with work; I worry about how often I measure the success of a week with how much I ‘got done’, or say “Busy” when someone asks me how I am. I worry about how much of my identity is tied up in being ‘brilliant’ at my job.

 

What would it look like to celebrate our own mediocrity? To prioritise life outside work, and go home early just because? _______

Andre Spicer, author of the pleasingly-titled ‘Business Bullshit’ argues that a cultural obsession with everything being ‘extraordinary’ – our selves, our jobs, our bodies, our work, means we miss out the power of being ‘good enough’. To be healthy, but not Instagram-fit. To be a good worker, but not have to always go the extra mile. ‘A good-enough employee’ he writes, is willing to do their own work and even takes on tasks that go beyond their role, but they know they have limitations and they are able to say no”.

Of course, saying no is much harder for some than others. A disproportionate amount of the extra mile, extracurricular or ‘Glue work’ in organisations gets taken up by women, and often unrecognised for its value. Meanwhile, whole books are written on how incompetent men win at work. Maybe gender balance is not female CEOs earn as much as male ones (although the gender pay gap at the top is awful), or increase their numbers, but when a mediocre woman gets rewarded as well as a mediocre man. And maybe we all deserve to be a bit mediocre sometimes. 

So this International Women’s Day, rather than just celebrating those women who have smashed the glass ceiling, I’d like to appreciate all those who are consistently ‘good enough’. On whom the economy rests. And to encourage you all – after your International Women’s Day events, drinks, panels, conferences, and campaigns, to take the rest of the day off.

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