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Challenging the status quo

I had the privilege this week of being the keynote speaker at the 18th annual Young women in Public Affairs Award for women with a global vision, coordinated by Zonta.  The awards bring together female students in year 11 and year 12 from schools all over Sydney, with students challenged to answer the question: “What could I do to advance the status of women?”

At the time I accepted the invitation, my brief was to inspire and motivate these young women as they make the transition from high school into the wider world.  By the end of the evening, it was me who was inspired.

I was amazed at what many of these students had already achieved in their young lives; at the projects they had planned in schools and communities and even internationally; at the research undertaken and the consideration they’d given to the status quo for women around the world; and most importantly at their willingness to challenge the status quo and express their intentions into well formed opinions.

It really got me thinking about all the little things you and I could do to challenge the status quo for women in leadership in our workplaces.  Surely if we each took even one action this week or this month or this year we could make a huge difference.  We could put ours hands up and put ourselves forward for roles.  We could recommend colleagues and friends for roles as they become available.  We could ask the hard questions of our bosses and our boss’ bosses about why there aren’t as many women as many in our senior executive roles.  We could simply be prepared to challenge the status quo.

Now I realise that often it’s easier said than done.  It can be hard work speaking out, putting yourself out there and questioning the status quo.  You might be accused of being opinionated or of rocking the boat or of stating the obvious.  But is that really such a bad thing?

Challenging the status quo can be daunting, but I reckon it’s a sure fire way to get people’s attention on an issue.  I told you last week that I challenged why there were no female speakers at the recent TedX Ideas Exchange in Sydney.  Since then one of the speakers came back to me and said “Its a great point. Was raised prior to the event. Thanks for focusing attention on it.”  I don’t feel any better for knowing that the organisers had considered the lack of women and decided to proceed anyway; but perhaps next time they’ll make sure there’s some women on the team (lest I raise the issue again and again).  In my previous executive role I stood up in front of an audience of 1200 people during question time and asked the CEO of the company why only one member of his leadership team was a woman when half of our customers and staff were women.  It certainly got his attention too!

In another context, Ronni Kahn is the founder of OzHarvest and is a fabulous example of what can be achieved when you’re prepared to challenge the status quo.  Having spent her working life in the hospitality industry and event management, Ronni realised how much beautiful food went to waste in hotels and function centres and set about putting it to use in feeding the needy.  But before she could get started, her first job was to lobby parliament to have legislation changed to permit the food to be used for consumption instead of landfill.  It’s crazy that at the time – because of food handling laws – food in 5-star hotels was being dumped while people in our own cities were going hungry.  Ronni thought so too, and so she retained a lawyer and successfully lobbied to have the legislation changed.  Since then OzHarvest has provided 3.5million meals to needy people (they’re probably eating better than we are!) It was obviously worth her effort.

If you’ve ever come across a dumb policy or practice in your workplace (who hasn’t?!), if you’re dissatisfied with the promotion of women in your workplace or if you are tired of seeing other people get promoted ahead of you, then I encourage you to challenge the status quo too.

And if you could do with some ideas on just how to do this, consider joining us at this month’s Take the Leadgroup mentoring program (in Sydney or by webinar on 23rd June at 4pm-5.30pm Sydney time).  Ronni Kahn will be the guest mentor, and will share her tips to help you challenge the status quo and to get the outcomes you need in your career.  Registration is free for members of the sphinxx leadership program and available to non-members for a small fee.  There are only 7 places left so I encourage you to book quickly via the sphinxx networking calendar at to guarantee your place.  Perhaps I’ll see you there?

And in any case I hope I’ve inspired you to challenge the status quo around you in your own unique way.  And just remember: “Anything’s possible, if you’ve got enough nerve!” (JK Rowling)


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