Yesterday I had the privilege of lunching with a couple of female footballers currently playing with the Western Bulldogs. I was working with them to prepare for their respective International Women’s Day events next week. Their stories are truly extraordinary, and there were many moments when I found myself wiping the tears from my eyes in awe at what they’ve overcome, or feeling the hair on my arms stand up as they inspired me! But what struck me most was how they have described the culture of the club: inclusive, respectful, authentic. Each feels they are able to be themselves, to bring their whole self to the club environment, and that their contribution and potential is both celebrated and acknowledged. There is no fear about being vulnerable – openly same sex couples in AFLW a prime example.
But we still seem to have a long way to go to achieve equality if men don’t feel able to be vulnerable too.
There is little doubt that one of the keys to unlocking gender inequality and the potential of women in our workplaces, is in our ability to create a world in which men too can experience the freedom that comes with embracing vulnerability. But for as long as social norms encourage men to hide their vulnerabilities and to strive for independence, men will not be valued for being vulnerable. And since vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness, it is especially risky for men to practice vulnerability.
In her work on shame and vulnerability, expert researcher Brene Brown, (who’s TED Talk on Vulnerability has been watched by some 24million viewers), found that messages of shame are organised around gender. For men, the overarching message is that any weakness is shameful. What surprised me from her research was that men’s shame is not primarily inflicted by other men. Instead, it is the women in their lives who tend to be repelled when men show the chinks in their armour.
A ‘gendered expectations’ lens on vulnerability and shame tells us that leaders have a significant role to play in creating freedom for men and women to realise their potential, to be who they are and live life in accordance with their values. They must be able to bring their whole selves to work – not the version we want them to be. For only then will we be successful in driving innovation, creativity and productivity in the workplace. For as Brene Brown rightly says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, change and creativity.”
So as leaders, then, how do we enable people to let go of who they think they should be, in order to be who they are?
In this inspiring interview with a man I would describe as a truly authentic leader, Andrew Hagger suggests that equality is actually about choice, and that leadership is about a combination of hope and reality. And just like us, he HATES discrimination.
Andrew is the CEO of NAB Wealth, a husband and father to 3 children. It’s 26 minutes of awareness, advice, wisdom and inspiration for, well, really everyone, from a man who believes the human spirit is ultimately to serve, that leadership is ultimately about serving, and that that is what delivers a rich life.
I guess you can see why NAB is sponsoring AFLW!
I’d encourage you to take a peek…his most golden nugget is at the end!