It Would Change Everything

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We keep hearing about how the system must change for women to have more advancement. But the question everyone returns to is how do we change the system?

Here’s an observation that might make you uncomfortable: How often do you sit idly by while injustice happens? We think it happens all the time. When the boss says, “can we all just agree that our start time around here is 8:30am,” people may grumble and get uncomfortable, but everyone quietly finds a way to comply. But this “complicity” in the system’s injustices only perpetuates them. In New Zealand, the school uniform policy limits girls to wearing skirts and this is mandatory. The impact? Girls don’t ride their bikes to school or play much outside at recess. This limits their participation in physical activity and has a measurable impact on their long-term body sense. Everyone grumbles about it but nobody has spoken out or changed it.

Why do we resist confronting this stuff? A major concern is that nobody wants to be “The Screecher.” The “Screecher” is that person who reacts aggressively and creates a scene with the goal to expose the injustice and lecture everyone about how unfair it is. People back away, seek to stifle the emotional energy, and abandon Screechers. Screechers are the fringe and most of us want to be on the inside of the circle where it is friendly and safe.

So we do nothing. We may mumble. We may document it. We may even blame the system. But we do nothing and thus become part of the problem.

Instead, let’s think about a different way to respond: We can resist. There are a myriad of ways to resist. We don’t have to be “The Screecher.” And when we become familiar, even confident with alternative methods we can apply the right technique for the situation.

For example, a group of female professors at MIT noticed that female professors earned less money, were designated smaller lab space, and received less institutional support. What did they do? They banded together and made a business case. They explained the impact, unemotionally, using data. And the administration responded by redistributing the resources fairly.

What would happen if a large group of parents sent their daughters in New Zealand to school in slacks? Or if a colleague noticed that a woman was uncomfortable with the 8:30am start, supported her by questioning its necessity for the group. What would happen if we all resist?

What would happen is it would change everything.

Top 10 Ways to Resist:
1) Speak up
2) Physically move next to the underdog
3) Challenge on behalf of others
4) Socialize the idea first: Have the meeting before the meeting
5) Seek to understand the opposing perspective
6) Coach and educate others on the impact of the behavior
7) Mentor others to speak up
8) Strategically use emotion
9) Perform so you build credibility to use later
10) Reframe the situation to open up new possibilities