I can often be heard complaining about the relative dearth of women leaders in senior roles and the glacial pace of change to resolve this. But is my venting just a moan, or am I actively working to change this unacceptable situation? The former perspective portrays me as a victim, the latter as a champion for change. I know which label I prefer!
The psychology of victim thinking is that we look to blame others, or external circumstances out of our control, for the things that are not going well in our lives. With regard to the lack of women in senior healthcare positions it is easy to blame employers, the government, or even men! When we do this we are giving our sense of control and power away. This can foster negative feelings such as helplessness, frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety and low self-worth. Inadvertently, we risk portraying women as poor unfortunates who need to be rescued from this stuck, unhappy state!
The reality is we have a choice. We can opt for victim behaviour, and wear people down with our endless tales of woe about how the world has conspired to prevent women getting the roles and opportunities they deserve. Or we can choose the role of change champions, in which we hold ourselves and others to account for helping make the new desired state happen.
As an executive coach I recently completed assignments for two different healthcare leaders. For the purpose of the example I will refer to them as John and Jane. Both were at a similar career level and had applied for appropriate new career positions. Both were unsuccessful. I was struck by the difference in their responses to the situation. John talked earnestly about his situation using phrases like “it’s their loss” and “I’ve spotted an even better job so I am glad I didn’t get it”. When Jane discussed the situation she (initially) told me “I think it was a stitch-up” and “I could tell that they didn’t like me at the interview”.
John instinctively took on the role of change champion. He refused to be a victim to his circumstances, and placed changing the outcome within his locus of control. Jane, however, did the opposite, and displayed victim behaviour by assigning the outcome to factors outside of her control. Clearly, my sample of two people does not constitute scientific evidence! However my observation concurs with research studies which consistently report that men and women do differ in their aspirations, mind-sets and confidence.
To impact on the relative number of women leaders in healthcare, we must ask ourselves what part are we (inadvertently) playing in perpetuating the status quo. Are we thinking from a victim perspective? If like me you sometimes find yourself complaining and blaming others, then we are edging towards victim behaviour. Conversely, when we accept that events are largely a result of our choices and actions, we are likely to be more pro-active in shaping our own lives and helping the talented women around us.
I for one am ready to reject blame and a victim mind-set by accepting responsibility for improving the situation. This is not about minimising situations where people have fallen victim to abysmal or unlawful circumstances. Such circumstances clearly warrant our unreserved empathy, compassion and support. But, to be effective, I know that I must first embrace the belief that we can control the situation and take positive action to improve it. In doing so, I place the issue within my locus of control and acknowledge that I, alongside others, have the power to make change happen. I encourage you to do the same.
[A version of this blog was first published in the HSJ on 8th February 2016]