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#13Percent: Breaking the Cycle

Posted on December 2, 2015


By Kristina Ashton, City of Fort Worth, TX, Budget Analyst, LinkedIn and Twitter
As Kirsten Wyatt said in her armchair quarterbacking in January, the suggested steps we have been given heretofore are not actually gender specific. The suggested steps further reinforce the idea that women have to do everything just right while men need only have potential.  Instead, we need to look for ways to undermine that way of thinking and change the gender culture of the American public workforce.
As 13 percenters in the workplace, we may carry assumptions that even we are unaware of.  The 87 percent may have expectations about work and the part we play in the workplace.  Their expectations may be overt or, perhaps, also hidden in their subconscious. These assumptions we carry and the expectations carried by the 87 percent create a cycle; the more we abide by our assumptions, the more others expect us to do so.
We have to break the cycle.
If we wait for the 87 percent to break the cycle, it will never happen.  So, we have to examine and uncover our assumptions in order to counteract the expectations pushed upon us.
Breaking the cycle will involve walking a tightrope for most of us.  We have to be respectful – because we want to keep our jobs, I assume – but we have to approach these new behaviors unapologetically.

Bring confidence and conviction to our work persona. Following are some assumptions carried by many 13 percenters along with their influencing expectations and suggestions to break the cycle.
Assumption: We have to explain our absences.
Influence: Men and women may have to tend to family matters or other caregiving duties when we are not at work.  Like it or not, this colors the perceived necessity and validity of our time off.
Break the cycle: Say it with me: “I’ll be gone these days.” “I’ll be back in a couple hours.” “I’ll have my team prepared to cover my work for this time off.”  And, you’re done.  Enough said.
Assumption: Calling dibs is rude or assertive
Influence: Men call dibs without a second thought but are surprised to see women do it.
Break the cycle: Call dibs on anything and everything you could see yourself doing 10 years from now.  Then, seek out leaders for the future – whether they have called dibs or not. Or, buck the status quo and ask to do things without having to call dibs.

Assumption: Climbing the ladder takes time
Influence: The people (let’s face it – mostly men) worked years to get where they are.  They expect the same from the rest of us.  White men may expect more dues paid by those who are “unknown factors” including women and people of minorities.
Break the cycle: Have discussions about career path plans, promotions, new responsibilities, etc.  Yes, climbing the ladder should take some time, but no more than is absolutely necessary.
Assumption: We have to be on the clock to get work done.
Influence: Historically, work has been shouldered by a breadwinner with a housewife behind him to allow him to be clocked in at all times.  Men and women who are not saddled with caregiving responsibilities may feel cheated when they spend every waking hour at the office while you have to take time off.
Break the cycle: Take credit for a well-prepared team.  Just because you are nursing a newborn or caring for your aging parents doesn’t mean that the work being done isn’t a result of your efforts, in part or in whole.
Assumption: Our skills and experiences are our important assets.
Influence: As women and minorities we are often “unknown factors” in the workplace.  People are expecting us to prove ourselves.
Break the cycle: While working your tail off, don’t spend your time discussing your work.  Concentrate on your problem solving skills, your learning aptitude, your ability to work with others, and other soft skills that can be transferred to any project. Get your superiors thinking about your potential for the future instead of just your accomplishments from the past.
Assumption: We have to defend our family lives.
Influence: Elected officials and bosses attack our family lives.
Break the cycle: Never defend yourself.  Always have your team prepared to step in for you.  If your team isn’t prepared, either you are the problem or your team is the problem.  Your family is not the problem.

Assumption: We have to skip family life to truly succeed in work.
Influence: Men at the top may have spent every waking hour working and ignoring their families.  Women before us may have sacrificed family life for a career (bless them).  They may expect the same of us.
Break the cycle: Get married. Get pregnant. Hire a housekeeper.  And still be awesome at work.  You can do it if you want.
Not every one of these assumptions or expectations may apply in your specific situation.  But, I encourage you to double check to make sure.  Remember, many of our assumptions are so ingrained that we are unaware of their presence.  Watch yourself for actions that spring from these assumptions.
Also, look out for your girls.  If you see them abiding by these assumptions, bring them into the fold of the better informed.
Bringing other women along with us is perhaps the most important part of this effort.  And here’s one bonus assumption to illustrate the point:
Assumption: Only a few women have the chops to make it to the top.
Influence: Men have tended to advance only those women who work like men.  These women are “exceptions.”  When a woman like that retires, everybody says things like, “She was one of the guys,” “She could work a spreadsheet better than I could,” “She cannot be replaced.”  These are nice things.  They are not bad things.  But, then her position is filled by a man, and the women of the organization realize that it went right back to being a boys’ club in the corner offices.
Break the cycle: Work with other women to advance simultaneously.
Women are valuable workers.  Period.  We do not need to work like men to be good at what we do.  If we continue to see small squads of women advance alongside surly swaths of men, then we reinforce the culture.  If we advance and bring other women with us, then we break the glass.  We show, by our efforts, that women and men both work well – either despite or because of our differences.  When we are many at the top, instead of a few, then we are no longer an “unknown factor.”
What assumptions do you carry?  Where do they come from?  How can you break the cycle?

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