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The Cupcake that Broke the Camel's Back

Cupcakes and how loaded they are for female leaders.

I recall years ago a friend sharing a story with me about baking cupcakes to take to a morning tea with a group of new school mums. No one paid much attention to what anyone bought along, and her cupcakes looked bloody delicious. The crowd started to disperse and she overhead one mum say to another "Those cupcakes were absolutely crap. I can't believe I wasted calories eating them".

Now, like me you might be shaking your head and thinking time to find another group of mums to hang with. The truth is my friend was able to see the ridiculous side of it and decided next time it was carrot sticks and homemade dip. Shamed for crap cupcakes. Can you imagine?

Cupcakes are so loaded for so many people.

An innocent cupcake has come to represent so much pressure for working mums.

Is there a mum out there who hasn't felt the panic of finding out at 9pm (if you are lucky) that everyone needs to bring a plate to school tomorrow? Is there a working mum out there who hasn't, at least once, looked up Pinterest to find the most impressive looking, lowest effort option possible? Who hasn't looked in the cupboard and googled how to make cookies with 3 ingredients, butter, vanilla extract and golden syrup. Or made the emergency dash to the supermarket to source something you can "make" that looks homemade? (For the record, the picture above is NOT an actual picture of me at the supermarket, nor it is how I feel about those late-night dashes. Do you know how hard it is to find an image of a female at the supermarket looking unhappy?)

In a recent interview with Kate Christie, Author of The Life List, Kate shared the day she dropped her son at school cupcakeless. She missed the memo, her son was in tears, she was in tears, and she headed to work. Arrived late into a board meeting and there was a momentary pause before everyone continued as if she wasn't even there. Looking around the room she realised she was the only one without a wife/partner at home.

It was the cupcake that broke the camel's back.

Cupcakes are loaded.

Then International Women's Day comes along and takes it to a new level altogether.

Last year the sentiment was really starting to change. I think people (men) were confused.

Hang on we are celebrating women and recognising progress still needs to be made. We are listening and focussed, and you are still not happy. You are rejecting the cupcakes and the celebration? Huh?

I think for the most part, it is how the cupcakes get there that rankles. Most IWD celebrations are co-ordinated by volunteers on a committee. Go and have a look at the committee. Who is leading the event. I don't mean who is deciding to have the function. I mean who is actually making it happen.

I think International Women's Day is at risk of becoming like Valentines Day. Everyone feels pressure to do it because everyone else is. Same conversation, different room, not much change. Maybe adding a card is a good idea and we can write encouraging statements to each other!

Last year I interviewed Simone Clarke, CEO UN Women Australia. We talked about cupcakes and the shifting sentiment. Our conversation is released next week. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

This year the official UN International Women's Day theme is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress.

Timely that the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency released Gender Gap data for organisations with more than 100 employees this week. Read it here if you missed it.

This level of transparency is really the only way to make the problem visible. Once it is visible, then we can dig into it and truly create meaningful action plans for change. Sadly, the rhetoric I am hearing to "explain" it is the same things we have heard time and time again, women choose to stay at home, men prefer fly-in, fly-out options, girls need to study maths and science. I loved the response from Diane Smith-Gander in The Financial Review that " we have these preconceived notions about what women want to do and should do and that's what we need to blow up."

We've seen the data and to borrow a line from Taylor Swift and Bon Iver in Exile, "I think I've seen this film before and I didn't like the ending"... the song goes on to perhaps the most telling and appropriate line for this situation "You didn't even hear me out, cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)"

So, if we are getting real and counting her in, send this article to your leaders and colleagues. 

I have listed 5 practical tips to reflect on this IWD, to move the equity needle and ditch the cupcakes.

#1 Share your whole experience with your leader. Yesterday in a new Women's leadership program I am running, a question was raised about interacting with sponsors. The question was how much do we share with our sponsors about the barriers? "They are not counsellors and so I don't feel I can share the personal stuff about home". 

well blow that one up.

A good leader absorbs all of the information about the pressures that are getting in your way. I'm not saying they will be able to respond or fix it, but I am saying they are not a mind reader, and one good honest vulnerable conversation could make all the difference. Let's get brave about the conversations.

#2 Start having genuine career pathway conversations. There is so much talent locked up in our organisations. I know this is particularly true for our female talent because I ask them. The number one reason they share with me is due to lack of opportunities. They can't see the future pathway for them in the organisation. Do whatever it takes to make it clear there are options. For yourself personally, ask leaders across the organisation for their insight to support you and if you are a leader ask - Can you see the next role for yourself here?

#3 Read  How Women in Leadership are Being Overlooked: Understanding the Invisible Workload & Why We Can't Switch off from Work. based on my conversation with Professor Laurie Weingart and the book she co-authored, The No Club, Putting a Stop to Women/s Dead End Work. Truly fascinating and such a big piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

#4 Learn/teach the language of business. All of us come to the table better prepared if we understand the basics of the financials that drive the business. It helps us decide on the strategies, recommend the best course of action and importantly it helps us contribute strategically. If there is one investment you make this year, please make it this.

#5 Legislation has changed, and you can have open salary conversations without repercussions. Find a willing colleague and if you suspect there is a difference, explore it. Gather the information and data you need and then ask for parity. My hot tip is to keep a record of all of your achievements, so you are not digging around the find them when the time comes. I know these are challenging conversation but that is what good self-leadership is all about. Engage in an open minded and curious way and seek to understand first.

This year I will be joining a gathering for an early breakfast. I like to think of it as an Empower-Meal: A chance to nourish and empower a group of leaders who are all committed to see real change.

How will you be spending International Women's Day this year?