I checked my privilege long ago and now I’m just mad.
But I can’t be mad because, Karen. So that just makes me even more angry.
In my anger, I’m writing to make some sense out of this new world. To catch my breath. Because there are things that matter to me and current issues that are worth addressing.
If we want to find new ways to lead.
If we want to create a new future.
Because there are limits to leadership as we have known it.
And we know it.
Because there are limits to income and wealth creation as we have known it.
And we know it.
Now, on catching my breath.
Was it (really?) only a year and a bit ago that Collision tech conference brought in 25,711 attendees to Toronto, from 125 countries, with 45.7% of those Collision tech attendees being female.
Almost parity. Unheard of in my beloved industry. But it was. That was May 2019. That was not just a figment of your imagination. It happened: https://collisionconf.com/blog/collision-2019-by-the-numbers
But then COVID. And the ‘she-cession’: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/women-and-the-pandemic-talking-about-the-she-cession-301173900.html and a beacon of light, Move the Dial, headed up by Jodi Kovitz had to pause operations: https://movethedial.com/pausing-operations-statement
The irony of all this was not lost on us, 2020.
There are known disconnects for leadership, income and wealth creation that will not be built back better post-pandemic unless we address some of the root problems at play. This image says so much. It’s not a level playing field for women who want to advance their careers. Our lane is typically all cluttered up: https://www.mother.ly/news/working-motherhood-viral-comic
Meanwhile, I’m an everywoman because I try to do-it-all and find myself, at times, threadbare, having lost the balance between self-care, professional ambitions, and adulting responsibilities. Toss in a smidge of social vigilantism fueled by a strong bent towards evidence-based scientific findings, and it can get messy. Sidebar: We can finally say goodbye to anti-vaxxers after all this, can’t we?
I’m the 1% because I have the luxury of hitting pause in those tight moments. To re-balance. Many people don’t ever have the luxury to hit pause and must simply carry on.
Likewise, I’m the 1% because my career is so pandemic-friendly that 2020 wasn’t all that weird for me. Being in tech, it is just so easy to pivot to virtual. Many of us have been there for years. As the @charlieamber94 meme from March 16th, 2020 circulated, all the tech introverts nodded in silent agreement - when you find out your daily lifestyle is called ‘quarantine’.
We already ordered everything online, so we never needed to leave our keyboards.
STEM professions create focussed work that attracts introverts. Or, at the very least, ambiverts who can hyper-focus for bursts of time and creativity. Small teams. No work-life balance. Big innovations.
When I was coding, there was no compassion (sorry April Wensel https://compassionatecoding.com). Not for anyone else and certainly not for myself. I regularly slept under my desk. I dreamed up what I thought were perfectly rational new business models for service industries like dentistry. “Come to me, my mobile dentist”, in the parking lot or front lobby of my office towers so I can keep coding and sleeping under my desk. I am not exaggerating this lifestyle.
I thought it was normal and I was happy in my obsessive productivity. For a time. And try as I might, now, I can’t replicate that time. I’ve built in trigger switches and trap doors within my life that actively prevent me from going back there again. Even if I might want to. And frankly, I’m healthier for it. But am I more productive? Not sure. Maybe, but not as productive at pure-play coding, that’s for certain.
There have been times in my career when I’ve been so consumed by coding, testing, developing, designing, debugging and hitting a release date on time, that I’d concluded the world should revolve around me and my brain. I’ve been the main character in the “Queen’s Gambit” – minus the little green pills, and plus a heck tonne more social supports (thank you family and friends, aka: the trap doors and trigger switches of my life). But, I’ve also fallen prey to some of the tendencies of the “Where’d you go, Bernadette?” character. Burn bright and fast.
Time for a trip to Antarctica. Just not in 2020.
And by golly, the lane clutter! The children (home from schooling) and the spouse (home from officing) and the anxieties of the world (on your shoulders). Thanks, COVID. Now instead of having only five jobs (business owner, homeowner, daughter/sister/friend, wife and mother), I had six jobs (teacher!) and the sixth was suddenly excruciatingly important.
Lane clutter, beyond words.
The upside of having six jobs is that you can’t micro-manage, so you become an excellent accountability coach; a leader who truly empowers others to excel. Systems thinking and efficiency seeking.
An excellent manifestation of all this comes in the form of Servant Leadership as espoused by Rola Dagher: “Serve your people, you’re there to support them; you’re there to empower them; you’re there to inspire them; you’re there to help them make an impact and have a purpose”: https://www.canadiansme.ca/thoughts-on-business-leadership-by-rola-dagher/
Lay the train tracks, so the trains can run smoothly.
In times of high demand, when it is hard to stay on the tracks, let alone lay fresh ones, I fondly remember the “Inbox Challenge” that TELUS (then BCTel) put me through before being hired. If you haven’t had the pleasure, the bottom line of the challenge is that you’re given a time limit and too much work to do. You must prioritize the overloaded work and address what you can, showing that you choose the right things to work on, knowing that you couldn’t possibly do them all.
A few years later when my Executive MBA orientation program had a run through of a similar exercise (moral of the story, there is never enough time – what can you do with the time that you do have) my time and task management skills were tested again. 2020, COVID – you top them all. I’m grateful that I’d long ago learned the lesson that what really matters is prioritizing as best you can, given the circumstances.
One really refreshing thing about all this upheaval is the democratization of the word ‘work’.
Never has it sounded so stupid to say “I’m going to work” when that currently means going to the next room to login to a virtual conference call or meeting. By now, we should all be able to see that ‘work’, by definition, is non-leisure – it is the sum-total of all your adult responsibilities.
The ‘she-cession’ of 2020 showed that many women never stopped working, they simply had to quit one (or more) of the jobs where they got paid.
The STEM industry talks about issues of diversity as not being ‘pipeline issues’ but retention, motivation and development issues. Binders full, people. Binders full. https://blog.interviewing.io/we-ran-the-numbers-and-there-really-is-a-pipeline-problem-in-eng-hiring/
So, will you help prevent a K-shaped recovery? Can you see how, and why, it matters that leaders understand the lane clutter that women face, and to understand the hiring, retention and motivation tactics required to help bounce back from the COVID-induced ‘she-cession’?
To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48) echoes around the corridors of the 1% who normally like to host charity balls and galas and make generous philanthropic gestures. The 1% and the resilient just get on with it. Because they can. Even in a global pandemic.
Some are trained to be highly effective and to have good habits. Thanks, Stephen Covey.
Many are supposed to have strong executive functioning and excel at long-term planning.
COVID-19 really tested those assumptions.
Yet have you ever stopped to think (and thank) great Canadian leaders like Jim Balsillie who consistently tackle the tough issues that will shape the future prosperity of our country (the Northwest Passage, Patent Collectives, and more).
I’m thankful. Thank you, Jim, for being such a patriot and for being the rare leader that can take in the big picture, prioritize the important things, and make an impact that benefits us all. Thank you.
I guess I can’t spend too much time feeling angry because my inner nerd inevitably speaks to me with Jedi phrases about fear and hate and anger (and the dark side).
Troubling as the comedian is, Louis C.K. had a great bit back in October 2008 with his commentary “everything’s amazing and nobody is happy” which rang so true in 2008.
And in 2020, everything was awful, and nobody was… angry?
Well, we can’t be angry, Karen – who are we, so privileged, to be angry?
It’s a confusing cultural landscape.
And, Dear Canada, we have ever so much to look forward to – to fight for.
Ah shoot, now I’m not angry anymore.