My 8 year old came back home from school yesterday and said: "Mum, they need to fire the P.E. teacher".
[Side note: I blame the Apprentice for his questionable suggestions on how to deal with employee issues]
In his school, boys and girls go out to play football every day after lunch. White tights and boys' joggers get muddy in equal measures. Their faces get equally red from the effort of giving their teams their absolute best. Gender equality.
That day the teacher suggested that football is a "man's thing".
The girls didn't say a thing, but it registered. The boys didn’t say a thing, but the comment chipped away at the masculinity of those who don't like to play.
On the face of it, the event would go completely unnoticed if my son didn't stand up and challenge the teacher.
[Side note 2: Her line of defence in response? Football gender statistics. Also, it made me so proud to learn about him speaking up this way that it dimmed my mother's guilt about my occasional bad TV choices]
But here’s why this is important. Conditioning for inequality happens in those seemingly irrelevant moments.
When the teacher, a supposed role model, makes a fleeting comment about you being bad at maths.
When you hear that a husband's role is to man up and provide for the family.
When you're made to feel guilty because a mother's place is by her children, and not on a business trip.
Their compound effect is powerful. It can add to our view of "normal" and it skews how we measure what we're capable of. We carry this view with us and it can get in the way of us wanting more out of life and work.
The consequences of how we're primed for inequality show up in coaching sessions all the time:
A mother has spent the last few years at home looking after children. She wants to return to work, but her guilt about leaving her kids with a childminder gets in the way.
A husband in a dead end job with an ambition of starting his own business. As the traditional breadwinner, deep down he believes that wanting to follow his passion is a weakness.
A woman hesitating to start her own business, having heard all her youth that she doesn't have brains for it like her brother does.
When it comes to equality, change is on the agenda, but it's slow. There's a lot that still needs to change in the environments that shape us. It takes time, and many courageous souls willing to stand up and call it out. Many leaders living these values every day in the workplace. And no, talking about it at a diversity event is not enough.
But that doesn't mean we're off the hook until it happens.
We can do so much by challenging the stories we tell ourselves. Someone else may have planted the seed but it's up to you to let it grow into an oak tree.
Any old inherited beliefs you can let go of?
Any rules you don't want to live by anymore?
What beliefs do you hold that are stopping you from reaching for what you really want?
Can you change them to a more helpful version?
"I'm bad at business" becomes "I don't have much business experience yet, but I'm smart and determined to learn"
Put your new beliefs into practice straight away. Let them grow some roots, and watch the new tree grow...