Organizations across Corporate America espouse having a meritocracy—and in my discussions with many companies and executives, it’s clear they believe that they do. But can a true meritocracy exist if you have operated in an environment in which one gender has the majority of the power and sets the norm? In the work we do at SHAMBAUGH across a wide range of industries, we have seen firsthand that most organizations have deep-rooted bias and blind spots that prevent them from gaining a clear view of their culture. This unconscious bias prevents a genuine meritocracy—in which the system provides opportunities and growth for all—from flourishing.
These points are validated by Emily Chang, author of Brotopia, while being interviewed by Beth Comstock last week on the topic of meritocracy. Toward the end of the interview, Chang expressed her belief that companies could be making more progress in diversity and inclusion, saying: “If there is a will, there is a way.” I often subscribe to that view too, with the caveat that reaching “a way” isn’t a given. Progress toward a more authentic meritocracy will only come when bold women fully step into their own power, rather than adapting to traditional leadership styles.
So yes: if we want to collectively achieve meritocracy, organizational cultures do need to change—they need to awaken and truly examine their hardwired beliefs, breaking down and reframing the narratives that limit a truly inclusive environment, since a vast amount of (in this case, female) talent is being under-utilized. But there’s a second part to this mandate. Women need to change as well by joining men in being bold, stepping into their power, and claiming their own leadership voice.
I’m more energized and hopeful about this topic than ever before, because I’m seeing more women diverging from their comfort zones. In doing so, they’re busting old stereotypes that have been engrained in our collective psyche for decades, and generating new archetypes of women. When I get a call from a young aspiring woman who is, for example, starting her own company, I generally hear her talk about creating a new culture that’s inclusive that will flourish with collaboration and innovation, with power redefined to focus more on contributions and partnerships than hierarchy. This is a move in the right direction.
We’re currently at a tipping point that calls for a new model of leadership. This moment for women to tap into their ability to help reharmonize our workplace cultures aligns with larger forces that are pulling us in our society and world. Women are well poised to help transition all of us to this next chapter—but for this to happen, women need to believe this is their role and know they can achieve it.
When I ask myself why we still haven’t achieved gender equity despite all the work and talk, conferences and research, one answer comes to mind: As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We need to be bold and creative to overcome traditional headwinds and change course. The time has come for women to not only define and claim their power, but also be the catalyst to influence change.
Easier said than done.
Consider these four short steps as quick starters for women to begin crafting a new future:
- Start at the basic level. To understand and actualize your power, know you are already powerful. Press the pause button and be intentional in creating a narrative that aligns with the vision you have for yourself, and for the situation or environment around you. Understand that real change will not happen if you simply go along with outdated definitions of power rather than creating your own.
- Delete self-sabotage. Real power that’s needed today starts with deleting self-doubting or sabotaging thoughts—what I call “Sticky Floors.” Your internal narrative creates how you show up every day. Reframe disempowering thoughts like “I am not ready,” “I am not smart enough,” “I am not included,” or “People won’t like me”—these thoughts will only dilute your power and creativity. Tap into your ability to conquer these self-limiting mindsets. Refocus your mind to intentionally reflect courage, confidence, worthiness, and curiosity.
- Focus on inclusive leadership. The new model of leadership is one that connects and brings everyone—including men—along. Inclusive leadership can awaken and unite a collective forum of intelligence—one that’s universal and breeds hope, trust, openness, collaboration, empathy, and intentional action to create a better place for all.
- Move beyond the old scripts. Still watching mental movies about how women should act or fit in? Instead, be intentional in making choices about actions and behaviors that support who you truly want to be and what you think needs to happen. I encourage women to redefine what it means to be powerful, embracing a style that’s less ego-centric and doesn’t focus on winning or losing. It’s less about job titles, wealth, or aggression; instead it strives to collaborate, include, and unite.
Am I asking women to change the world and take a huge risk to be the change that needs to happen? In some respects, yes—consider this a call to action. As the saying goes, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” I don’t know about you, but I am fatigued of the same old narrative of where women are not, or the demand for a new inclusive model for today’s leaders. It’s my belief that women have a huge opportunity and role to play for being that voice of change and bringing others along—including men. It’s time to begin.
Ready to leverage a new model of leadership that’s in tune with today’s shift toward more inclusive, gender-balanced leadership? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebeccais the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.
At SHAMBAUGH we’re on mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive. Find out more about us at: www.shambaughleadership.com