It’s funny how the conversations we overhear in the most random of places can create clarity on something we’ve been thinking about for a long time.
This morning, I was waiting for my oldest son to finish a refereeing shift. I was sitting alongside a playground adjacent to the soccer pitch, enjoying the sunshine and some quiet moments before said son was finished and the rest of our soccer-filled Sunday lay ahead waiting for us. In the park, two eight- or nine-year-old children, a boy and a girl, were playing on what looked to be like a make-shift obstacle course they had designed using different pieces of playground equipment and skateboarding ramps. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation while they ran through the obstacle course over and over again. At one point, just as they had started in on yet another round, I heard the following conversation:
Boy: “How do you get started so fast at the beginning of all these turns?!?”
Girl: “Because I’m a girl and I’ll always be smarter than any of you boys!”
Boy: No response. He carried on running through the course on the heels of his playmate.
The two continued playing this game as they had been for the last 15 minutes or so.
Such a small, innocent interaction between these two children, but wow, it really made my ears perk up and set my mind racing.
I had two immediate thoughts as I observed their play and overheard the interaction. The first, “You go girl! You are smart, You are fast! Don’t ever let anyone shake that confidence!!” My second, “Keep going little guy. Good on you for being curious and asking your friend what was helping her perform so well and continue to keep playing round after round as opposed to shouting out a snarky response or quitting altogether.”
From the outside looking in, there didn’t appear to be any mean-spirited competition between the children. They continued running through the course, stopping to debrief what part of the game they liked best and how they could change it up on the next round. They were openly communicating with each other, collaborating, and most importantly, laughing and having lots of fun.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the little guy’s silence as he continued on during that particular round made me wonder what was going on in his head. Was he internalizing her response? If so, was he thinking of it from the perspective of being impressed and wanting to learn more from her, or was he interpreting it in a way that made him feel inadequate? Or, alternatively, did the response not even phase him?
As a mom of three teen/pre-teen children of my own (boy, girl, boy), I am always amazed at how very different they are from one another despite parenting each of them exactly the same.
I grew up in a family full of girls. Poor Dad. I’m sure we were responsible for his receding hairline long before those genes would have kicked in!
When I look at my pre-teen daughter, I am in complete awe of her self-confidence and laser sharp focus on academic success and all that she is passionate about. It’s taken me forty years to have the confidence in all kinds of areas that she has now at the age of 12. I’m so proud of her and am impressed daily.
Another parenting amazement I continue to experience is just how sensitive (and loud!) my two boys are.
Not having any brothers, I had always just assumed that boys were rough and tumble and that they went through life without anything ever really bothering them too much.
Now having two boys of my own, I’m seeing this very differently. Both boys are insanely active in a variety of sports and activities, they are fiercely competitively natured, they are rough and tumble (that assumption proved to be spot on!), but they are also the most loving and sensitive souls I know. Since they’ve been little tots, I’ve always been amazed at the things that would sometimes upset or worry them.
I truly had no idea just how observant and high on the emotional intelligence scale little boys (and now bigger boys) could actually be. As a side note: this learning has also completely changed how I look at my dad. No longer is he the insanely overprotective father with the strictest rules. He is now the softest teddy bear I know.
So, I can’t help but contemplate what the future of our organizations will look like when I’m long retired and my children’s generation is at the helm.
My goal is to raise happy, healthy children who have the confidence to shoot for the stars as they journey through their personal and professional lives. Yet, sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how the boys will fare as they transition out of childhood, into adult years and eventually enter the workforce.
So much attention has been focused on empowering our girls (and rightly so!) and creating opportunities for them to excel in roles and industries that were predominantly male dominated. We need to continue breaking down barriers and closing the many gender gaps that still exist.
I do believe that if we want to change the world we need more female leaders. But what about the boys? Are they getting left behind?
I believe that empowering our girls also includes empowering our boys. We need to create the space from an early age that girls and boys can indeed work together collaboratively and respectively. Strengthening the confidence and leadership skills of our girls and boys will support the equitable success of everyone; this will be key to their future leadership development, team effectiveness and organizational success.
How will this happen in the era of #metoo? How is it impacting our boys? I will be the first to say that I support and honour the many women affected by abuse and harassment. All claims made to such intolerable behaviour in any workplace must be treated seriously, investigated thoroughly and dealt with accordingly.
Engagement, organizational unity and team building — including an understanding of what’s required for successful effective results-driven collaboration — requires a feeling of belonging, a feeling of creating impact together, a feeling of closeness and an “I’ve got your back” mindset amongst our leaders, teams and employees. This will be difficult to achieve if the impact of the #metoo movement creates a divide that could potentially instil a level of insidious distrust on both sides which could eventually permeate the work environment.
For me, as a mom, it makes my job of instilling our family’s values of respect, responsibility and compassion even more profound as I raise my three beautiful children to be the best leaders they can be in whatever capacity they may most desire.
So, what does this mean for our current leaders?
I believe this means that now more than ever, leaders need to unite and foster an environment where respect, support, trust, empowerment and equity are the foundations of our organizational culture. I have seen time and time again that doing this can go a long way towards strengthening productivity and employee engagement, and THAT is always worth fostering and preserving!