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Balance is hard to achieve

Imagine you are walking a tightrope, carrying a pole laden with your commitments, needs and wants on the one side and expectations and demands on you on the other. That’s what we try to do every day.  And for most of us it’s not a perfectly executed experience.  It’s no wonder balance is hard to achieve.  #BalanceforBetter.

The Book of Joy

I’m currently reading “The Book of Joy” from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and they recommend we should not be so hard on ourselves.  Humans are programmed to constantly evaluate situations and our harshest critics are often ourselves. This is why the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu ask us to be kind to ourselves, much as we would be kind to others in the same situation.

These feelings of pressure are often an issue raised by participants on my workshops or coaching clients and one of my favourite tools for dealing with pressure is mindfulness or meditation.  These two religious leaders spend many hours in meditation of some sort, I’m not suggesting you need to do that.  I do recommend a daily 10-20-minute practice and taking a couple of minutes of mindful breathing as and when you need to feel grounded and resourceful during the day.  For instance, when would you fit those 10-20 minutes into your day?  The benefits of feeling centred and in control are well worth it.

Our culture is out of balance

It’s fascinating listening to how conversations in the workplace have changed.  Inclusion and diversity are now widespread concepts and most organisations are actively seeking to expand people’s understanding and change behaviours.  However, this is not a quick fix as society has many habitual patterns of thinking (biases) which are hard to break and will take concerted effort from all.  Inclusive balance is hard to achieve.

One client I was coaching recently said that she didn’t want to be the person who is constantly correcting the language used by colleagues.  The company promotes inclusion and diversity, yet she still finds that managers tend to refer to “he” signifying an assumption that leaders are male, even though she is in the room as part of the senior management team.  Those with the habit, think that a little thing like “he” is not important. They couldn’t be more wrong!

The words you use signify your thinking habits and how you think drives your behaviour.  Your thinking is a product of your values and beliefs, based on experience.  We know from neuroscience that humans seek the lowest energy path, so it’s easiest to rely on our habitual thinking and behaviour.  What will it take to change a “little thing” like using “he” to using “they” habitually? 

Behaviour model: beliefs and values drive your thinking which drives your behaviour.
Behaviour model

Unconscious bias

“He” is an indicator of the unconscious biases in our thinking.  These biases are absorbed as we grow up without consciously thinking about them.  This means they are typically difficult for us to spot as we have to ask ourselves, “when is the norm wrong?”

We know balance is hard to achieve, so here are some frequently occurring biases that women in the workplace suffer from, as highlighted by Lean In in their campaigns. When you put these into your conscious awareness, you can choose an inclusive response.

Performance bias

People tend to underestimate women’s capability and overestimate men’s.  This means that women have to prove past performance, whereas for men past performance is assumed from their position. This is more pronounced when the criteria are unclear. 

Attribution bias

We give women less credit for success and more blame for failures than men.  Women’s contributions are undervalued, for example women will be interrupted significantly more often than men in meetings. 

Likeability bias

Women pay a penalty here and find it hard to get the balance right.  When women assert themselves, people react unfavourably, even though the same behaviour in men would be found acceptable.  Yet when women are likeable, they are described as too weak!

Maternal bias

As soon as women have a child, managers assume they don’t want challenge, because the children will take priority.  Interestingly, fathers who take time off for parental responsibilities also find their career trajectory slows. 

Affinity bias

We gravitate to those who are like us and give them more favourable evaluations.  As the more senior levels in most companies are populated by (white) males, that puts women at a disadvantage. 

Given that these biases are common, it’s easy to see why we will all have to make a conscious effort as balance is hard to achieve. 

Start with you

The only way to counteract unconscious bias is to bring it into your conscious awareness.  As these are lazy thinking habits, you need to do something to break the habit. That means stopping the thought before you say or do anything.  Take a deep breath and challenge the thought – “what am I assuming here?”  Then choose your response.

Grammatically odd as it is, I look forward to hearing more “they” pronouns.  We know the English language is dynamic, this is one change I’d like to see happening soonest. 

Do you agree that balance is hard to achieve? Let me know what you think.  Either post a comment here or email me.


  • Jean says:

    Very interesting post Amanda. Your client must have found it very difficult if she was the only one correcting the gender unbalanced language. A lonely position massively helped by your support. Change is coming – slowly …

  • Amanda Bouch says:

    Thanks Jean, Yes we worked on who else in the organisation is a good role model and would be willing to carry the baton. We identified 2 leaders and one is male.

  • fiona says:

    Is unconscious bias in some ways the worst form? As people are not aware of what they are doing.

    I often find that I say something in a meeting to no response the a little later a man will repeat the same idea as if it was his.

  • Amanda says:

    I so agree Fiona. I’ve had that experience too.

  • This was an interesting read Amanda. In some ways people are trying very hard but I often wonder how much of this is lip service and little more. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older but I do feel that I notice the imbalance more now. That’s odd in itself given that I started work in the 80’s when things were very different indeed. Maybe it’s because we become more empowered as a result of our growth and less willing to accept being cast aside so easily. It’s certainly interesting to see the differences in behaviour across the generations and cultures as they all come together from the perspective of an ‘older’ woman in the workplace.

  • Really interesting read, especially learning about all the different biases at play in business.

  • I recognise these biases in the workplace from when I frequented it daily. I’m still conscious of how much I notice this kind of thing outside the workplace. Thanks for reminding us that we all have responsibility to affect change. Whilst being mindful of our own self-care.

  • Amanda Bouch says:

    I’m with you there Nicky.
    I work with consultancies which are highly diverse and inclusive. It’s interesting to note the differences when I work with the client companies, who are generally still working hard on inclusion.
    Leadership workshops tend to have at best 25-30% female participants. The topic of inclusion is something all are open to discussing and still many of the unconscious biases are still at play in the organisation.

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