A Little Bit Further Down the Road to Gender Equality

Happy International Women’s Day 2022!  

Last year, on this same day, I published a blogpost on gender equality in the workplace and, particularly, about how and where I fit in as a young female consultant. Little did I know that within a year, everything would change. 

In the aftermath of a strange and devastating year – and I cannot overstate the significance of the continuation of COVID, the loss of our dear Xenos, the departure of several of our core team members, personal losses, and other world events that have continued to add to instability and stress – I found myself no longer in the backseat, trying to figure out how to make my voice heard, but indeed in the leadership position as GGA’s President.  

I wrote in the letter announcing my new role about how we have adapted and shifted as a company and how we rediscovered our identity. My own personal journey has mirrored a similar trajectory. In my blog post from last year, I started off by listing the personal questioning and small existential crises that arose within every interaction and project. I described the imposter syndrome that I felt – and that sometimes still creeps up on me – and how carving space is particularly difficult in the virtual world. Since then, I must admit that everything has changed, although I cannot say with certainty if those changes are temporary or permanent.  

The year 2021 sent me on a journey of adapting and pivoting to a series of obstacles that kept me on my toes. It was necessary for me to show up every single day, navigating through the grief that overshadowed every one of our interactions. I had to simultaneously face difficult and sometimes confrontational situations and discussions, while also setting my boundaries and learning to say no. In some cases, I questioned the ways that some things were done in the past, while honouring the GGA ideas and best practices that have clearly worked and that make up my toolbox for facing the future. I also examined our systems and realized, truly, what we were doing as a firm that was sustainable, and where key changes were necessary. Through the whirlwind of the year, though, two things occurred: 1) I did not have the time to question myself and my role and 2) I was so caught up in the tide of adapting and pivoting that I simply had no choice but to trust my instincts, make my voice heard, and carve space for myself. In the end, the year that I resented and scorned gave me more than any previous year ever had, in terms of skills, strength, and resilience.  

Last year, I theorized on possible best practices for paving equality. This year, I found it necessary to question, unlearn, and lean into both the support of mentors and the strength of my team. I wanted to share here three key lessons that I learned this past year that I think can help us get to better interactions, both from organisational and individual points of view:  

  1. Boundaries. As a soft-spoken woman, I had internalized ways of effacing myself, making excuses for my “intrusions,” and always compromising. I shied away from making myself loud and demanding to be taken seriously, and I believed that those were the only two possibilities. This year, I found out that there was another approach: listening deeply and empathetically, being sensitive to the issues, ideas, and powers at play, taking pause, and then being firm in insisting on being heard and advocating for what I felt was right and fair. From there, I think the next step is to not only be heard, but also to be intentional about every choice. Boundaries seem to be instrumental in allowing for those interactions – without them, we risk faltering in our resolve or losing the thread.  
  1. Questioning. This year, I found strength in having the humility to ask questions to which nobody had answers, particularly when it was most awkward to ask the questions. I learned that opening the discussion with curiosity is one of the best ways to invite all of the voices to the table – particularly those voices that are sometimes more quiet, softer. When we start from a place where nobody has the answers, I think we are able to genuinely consider those golden goals of collaboration, participation, and engagement.   
  1. Trust. In times of change and turmoil, I think we really need to be able to trust. But trust requires a lot of pre-work. First and foremost, we have to make sure that our systems and structures are set up to be fair, equitable, and sustainable. If the core values and tenets are worked into every component of our actions, interactions, and decisions, then I think we have room to examine and question when crises happen and grow in times of opportunity and stability. Trust is also important in two other key areas: trust in ourselves (and hopefully the space to be able, as womxn, to be agents of advocacy and change), and in our team members, who are there to bolster, support, and drive when needed to keep things moving.  

Now, as I look to the year ahead with renewed energy and trust in myself as a female entrepreneur and consultant, I am working on becoming the best leader that I can be, recognizing that I have the unique opportunity to make the changes that I had always hoped to see. So far, I have uncovered four major areas to work on, and I believe that each of those areas can contribute to the ultimate goal of gender parity.  

First, I want to continue trying to find the perfect balance between empathetic leadership and making decisions from the perspective of the “good of the business”. I think these two elements can be complementary but require the perfect balance. Second, I want to continue setting boundaries and being clear in every way, including in the way I share and protect my time and space; in setting and adapting HR policies (an area that needs constant evolution); in decision-making and planning; and in setting expectations and providing feedback. Third, this year has taught me the value of trusting rather than questioning strengths and instincts – both my own and my team’s – in the face of change and tumult. I now want to see how we can continue to build and keep trust in ourselves and our organization as we shift towards a growth mindset. Finally – linked to the trust component – I want to continue to share responsibilities and delegate, with fairness and in respecting each team member’s strengths and weaknesses.  

Ultimately, the journey since the last blog post on IWD 2021 has been exciting and terrifying in equal measures but I could not be prouder of our resilience and accomplishments as a core team of female consultants. I never would have imagined how things would look today, and for all that this year has taught me, I am immensely grateful.  

Eva Maxwell