The mistake I made when I first tried to “lean in”, was that I thought I had to do it by myself. I thought the onus was on me to pave the way for the women around me, to push for progress by being the best I could be. I didn’t realise that attitude alone would not help women to overcome systemic barriers and achieve equality in the workplace. I also didn’t realise how narrow-minded, judgemental, and isolating that approach would ultimately turn out to be.
I had inadvertently assumed that none of the women I worked with at the time were also interested in “leaning in”, and I thought I was helping by being brave enough, and determined enough, to ask for more and expect to receive it, so we would all get more in the end.
I didn’t realise the message I was sending was: “I’m better than everyone else”.
So instead of getting that elusive C-suite role and a corner office, what I got was a sharp awakening.
The message I got from the women around me was clear: “stop making us look bad”.
The message I got from above was devastating: “stop being yourself.”
So I retreated, heartbroken and confused, resentful and rejected.
I turned inward, and made changes to my life, trying to find somewhere for me to be myself with people who could understand and appreciate my passion. Eventually, I created ToGetHer Further, to help women to support each other with their challenges at work, realising that it is only through collaboration that we can all ultimately succeed as one.
We achieved a lot of good through ToGetHer Further – creating space for women to be themselves and connect with what they truly wanted to achieve with their lives. Thinking beyond the corporate world, and creating possibility for fulfilling working lives – sustainable, meaningful and full of purpose.
Unfortunately for me and my mental health, I couldn’t sustain the stress of building the community into a business while also grieving the loss of my mother, so I returned to the corporate world last year. Back to somewhere I had been before, but with a completely new perspective – no longer caring about that corner office or trying to “get ahead”. I just wanted to get along.
And then, this year, with the death of George Floyd, so soon after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, along with the Amy Cooper incident, I felt the scales fall away from my eyes. In all my years of focusing on helping women to be themselves, I had been completely ignorant of how race would be such a significant factor in achieving this. And, despite my efforts at inclusivity in ToGetHer Further, I realised I hadn’t consciously made it my priority to learn about anti-racism, or to even finish my copy of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race!
So I threw myself into my anti-racism journey, through this blog and my social media feed, and by not only joining the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team at work but by signing up to courses on the subject to learn more alongside my anti-racism education. I wrote articles, signed petitions, attended events, and helped arrange them too. I helped my company create a new initiative to facilitate and encourage intersectional allyship – for us all to understand the spectrum of passive to active involvement.
But, can you see the trend?
I’m doing it again, even though it may not be immediately obvious.
I’m assuming it’s on me.
I’m assuming I need to be the “best ally I can be”, and the “most educated anti-racist”. That I need to do this so I can help everyone else to do the same.
But what message does this send?
- That I think I’m better than everyone else.
- That there is a competitive ranking of allyship & anti-racism education, rather than a need for us ALL to play our part.
As the most honourable Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
There is no point in there being ONE Best Ally, if it alienates everyone else.
There is no need to become an Overly Educated Anti-Racism expert, if you cannot explain, recruit, or engage with those who do not yet understand the issues.
So, what did I learn last time? I can’t go it alone. I can’t do this by myself. I need help from other people. I need to create space where it’s safe for me to learn with other people. For us to support each other with our anti-racism journeys.
To paraphrase RBG, I believe that ALL women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I didn’t make that clear when I created ToGetHer Further – I thought it was obvious. Evidently, it isn’t. All lives do matter, but until all lives are treated fairly, and have the same opportunities, then we cannot say all lives actually matter. Not yet. We still have a way to go. That’s “we”, not “you” or “I’ – you can’t go it alone, but we can do this together.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) – May her memory be a blessing, and a revolution
Ps. If you’re not familiar with the “Notorious RBG” and her groundbreaking work on gender equality, I highly recommend watching “On the Basis of Sex”:
Pps. For balance, and looking at life through a more intersectional lens, I also encourage you to read this short Instagram post, which celebrates her achievements, while also respectfully critiquing some of her actions as well. This is not to detract from her legacy, but to show she gave us the freedom to do this – it’s a relay race, and she’s passing us the baton. Now we get to run with it.