Nikki Watkins_Sticky Floors

“What are you going to do today to free yourself, or someone else, from sticky floors?”

I am sitting on a flight to San Francisco and have just watched two films back to back (a rare and wonderful thing for a busy woman): Suffragettes and The Intern – both very different and yet with a similar message about the challenges of discrimination.I confess to being deeply moved by the Suffragettes film; the whole wrongness of it all burnt into my heart, especially at the end when the dates for women having the vote scrolled up.  Whilst Finland got theirs in 1906 and we in the UK managed it in 1912, it took most of our European colleagues a lot longer – France 1944, Italy 1945, and Switzerland . . . 1971!

It was shocking to see the indignation of the men towards women wanting to have a different – more equitable – life, and the intolerance of other women towards those who stood for something important. Seriously. Even more shocking is the realisation that this was over a hundred years ago and yet we still aren’t seeing true equality.

I am heading out to run two Global Women in Leadership workshops for LinkedIn in San Francisco, and one of the topics is ‘Sticky floors’. The premise of this is that the real problem women are faced with is not the well-known glass ceiling but a sticky floor – created by ourselves and our need to be worth something.  It’s tied in with a desire to not ‘rock the boat’, to not upset people, and with the ever-present belief that we aren’t good enough.  In the Suffragette film, it became clear that the passive, tentative waiting game, which women had been playing, did not bear fruit, and the women eventually became aggressive – breaking windows, starting fires, and taking down the communications’ network in a desperate attempt to be acknowledged; to be heard.

This still holds true. Women need to find a way to be heard, to stand out and stand up, to stop limiting themselves by their beliefs and values, and to get off that sticky floor. Women are equal; they are strong; they are bright; they are powerful; they are gentle; they are everything they need to be in this world. By acknowledging that, women will to take their rightful place as equals, rather than subordinating themselves, and remaining absent from the annals of history. As a coach, I know that women and men share the same inner doubt but somehow women express it more, behave in those less courageous ways more, and limit themselves more.

Women are naturally more resilient (said the author and Leadership guru Daryl Conner), and yet are currently exhausting themselves with multiple roles as worker, mother, carer, cleaner, wife, cook, accountant, coach, sounding board etc. etc. We are torn between the freedom that the vote gave us and the shackles that tie us to the guilt of the past, inherited from our parents. Women need to learn that their rightful place in the world is to be both life-creator and life-liver. I work with too many female executives who constantly feel guilt in all parts of their lives.  We need to learn to be gentle – firstly on ourselves, and secondly on . . . ourselves.

Women play a critical role in the world; we are the only ones who can produce the next generation; we are one half of the human race . . . and yet we are still paid 20% less than men for doing the same work.  We are as competent, as bright and as capable as men, but we are also different, and that’s a good thing – we need to know that. The world needs women in the workplace.. A recent study by McKinsey showed that we would be $28 Trillion dollars better off in the global economy if we got women fully deployed in the workforce.

The Gender movement is a movement towards a better future. It needs the sacrifice and courage of women and it needs women to find their own voice. It also needs men and women to own up and say “We are the problem; I take ownership for having allowed this to happen; I will be angry and disappointed if I enter a meeting or business and everyone looks like me; I acknowledge that our business is less customer-sensitive, less innovative and less team-oriented because we have less diversity.” It needs ‘ManBassadors’ (to quote Paul Frampton, CEO of Havas Media).  It needs ‘We will not be part of non-diverse panels at events’ (to quote Stephen Foreshew-Cain, ED of Government Digital Services). It needs us all to be speaking up. Sticky floors will only continue to be there if women and men allow them to be.

On 20th June TLA Women In Tech, of which I am a co-founder, will be opening the London Stock Exchange as part of the beginning of London Technology week 2016. We will be hosting a number of exciting events and are on a mission to change the world.  Speakers and panelists will be helping us to celebrate, and raise awareness of, the important role diversity plays in our thriving tech ecosystem in London, whilst challenging ingrained prejudices that are restricting greater progress. We plan on addressing key issues around how Corporates can keep driving the diversity agenda.

Our question to them is as relevant to you: “What are you going to do today to free yourself, or someone else, from that sticky floor?”

By Nikki Watkins, Chief Evolution Officer at Tyche Leadership Consulting Ltd