On Having the Courage to do What Matters

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We have let our busy egos trump the quiet voice of our soul; in our culture we often celebrate the mind and neglect the body; we often value the masculine above the feminine; we have lost community and our innate connection with nature.

Frederic Laloux – Reinventing Organisations

Anne Marie Slaughter, she of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”, (the most read in the history of the magazine) is back. Three years after incurring the wrath of many women for letting the feminist side down (although in my view she was just honestly telling it how it is), Slaughter advances the female work life balance debate in her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.

Unfinished Business, discusses how caregiving (caring for children, elders and society more generally) is undervalued in society and how we could all benefit if this was corrected. In it she asks that women change their expectations not only of themselves, but also of men, particularly when it comes to their role in parenting.

In Give and Take Wharton Professor Adam Grant provides compelling evidence in support of Slaughter’s view, redefining the road to career success, not as winner takes all, “I can only win if you lose”, but one marked by generousity and caring for others.

Unfinished Business is undoubtedly thought provoking. Shifting the agenda to include men and calling for the advancement of a man’s right to have the same range of options that women have in choosing between care-giving and career. And ending the book with some genuinely creative thoughts on how organisations could be more family friendly is helpful.

However, I question Slaughter’s ambition for women, men, work and family. Unless they dramatically reinvent themselves, large, complex, corporate organisations are screwed. Arguing for more family friendly policies so more women can participate in leading the screw-ups on the surface appears valuable. We know that companies with women on the board perform better. The Grant Thornton report, The Value of Diversity suggests the opportunity cost of diversity in the three markets surveyed (US S&P 500, UK FTSE 350 and the Indian CNX 200) is US$567bn, US$74bn and US$14bn respectively (as measured by return on investment). In the US and the UK this equates to about 3% of GDP.

In this worldview of business, more women means more value created, there is no one can argue against Grant Thornton’s data. My only question is, given the current business paradigm – decision making driven by fearful egos and management by measurement, targets and control and the resultant calamities – why would women seek to be a cog in that machine at all?

In Frederic Laloux’s inspiring and visionary worldview, humanity has shifted to a new stage in consciousness and business needs to reinvent itself:

“Many of the corporate ills today can be traced to behaviours driven by fearful egos: politics, bureaucratic rules and processes, endless meetings, analysis paralysis, information hoarding and secrecy, wishful thinking, ignoring problems away, lack of authenticity, silos and infighting, decision-making concentrated at the top of organisations and so forth”

Maybe I’m feeling a little hopeless about business because I’ve been writing about VW which has now being likened to Enron. Or maybe it because I have yet another client who’s had a compromise agreement slapped on her. A woman so impressive you wish she were running the country. A single mother, who heads the division that delivered the best sales results in her company’s history. A woman with a track record of business results over a decade in a company headed by a man paid over £7m and regularly ranked top in CEO surveys, who does a lot for charity and seems like a really nice guy. Two years ago that man suggested she might have a shot at his job.

Her mistake? To ignore an organisational sociopath who’s been undermining her for over a year because he wants her job. She was too busy, mothering, daughtering and delivering business results to do the politics thing.

My advice? Negotiate the best deal you can and get out. Find an organisation that’s worthy of your considerable talents.

Laloux offers her and I hope that she might find such an organisation. He is one of the few business thinkers able to cut through the complexity to arrive at truly a truly holistic imagining of how organisations must reinvent themselves. Laloux calls organisations that have reached this new level of consciousness (and there are many pioneers referenced in his book) “Teal”. Teal organisations make decisions guided by purpose, rather than profitability, growth or market share. They focus on culture and empowerment to achieve exceptional employee motivation. Whereas the guiding metaphor of current business is the “machine”, teal’s have “family”.

In 2012 Slaughter wrote in The Atlantic article:

“I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”

In 2015, she does advance the argument, and as a senior women reflecting on her choices offers a compelling view. Her book is worthy of being shortlisted for the FT Book of the Year. However, she should’ve read Frederic Laloux – he does much better at providing actual solutions.

Much as I enjoyed Unfinished Business, I find the whole “have it all” debate irksome and tiring. My question is “what is the “all” we are seeking to have and why?” If it’s to increase GDP a bit, sorry Grant Thornton, but $655bn simply isn’t enough to offset the cost to our collective souls of being a cog in a machine. If we’re going to lead and mother and daughter and be active in our communities, let’s at least demand that we do that in a place where we can be authentic and whole, in a place where we don’t need to pretend there are other important commitments in our life.

In a place where we don’t use language like work life balance – vocabulary that betrays the painful separation and choices we must make to “have it all”. Let’s move the debate on – it’s not either-or, it’s and-both. Let’s do work that matters and let’s care for our children, parents and communities. And-both.
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