Me Too!

This past month women have been raising their voices, telling their stories and healing relationship systems that have long tolerated sexual harassment. Women in my generation often have a “Me Too” story, or at the very least, know of someone who does. Daily, it seems, these women are coming forward and shining a bright light on a significant factor that impacts career success for women. Some people are critical of these stories, wondering “why now,” but I see the telling as a powerful affirmation that women are rejecting the role of victim. “In fact, recognizing our impotence is the first step in finding our power” according to Psychology Today. While I have my own stories, what has given me pause, is my hesitation to share them. In part, one has to consider the world we grew up in, and then passed on to our daughters. Girl’s in my generation were raised by women who lived in a world that did not honor their voice. They learned through experience and observation, that careers and lives could be ruined by voicing their concerns. These women taught us an unspoken code of silence as we learned to dance nimbly around unwanted advances, ways to avoid notice, and how to sweep the unspeakable under the rug. We learned that speaking-out can cast a long and dark shadow, not on the perpetrator, but on us.Woman holding sign "#METOO"

The provocative question: why does this persist?
At first glance, my own lack of response to the “Me Too” movement, felt complex, and I rationalized it was a bit personality, part generational, and to some degree old news. But there was also this nagging sense that my reluctance was rooted in my own “code of silence.” My stories, I suspect are all too common, and of less significance to me then the reasons for adherence to the code. As I sought to answer the question, why does this persist in the American workplace, I discovered that women react similarly to those who have been bullied, or otherwise harassed. Some of the reasons that people stay silent, they:

• stay silent while they try to figure out what to do.
• are ashamed and embarrassed
• feel powerless or weak
• fear retaliation
• would rather weather the storm than have the situation escalate
• want or need acceptance from the victimizer
• are worried no one will believe them
• don’t want to be known as a complainer or snitch
• feel they are somehow at fault, or deserve it

Cultures of Silence
Families and organizations that operate with a secret agreement to keep silent about an occurrence, situation, or subject and especially in order to promote or protect selfish interests, are operating within a Culture of Silence. Our secret agreements are inherent and deeply woven into the fabric of America’s Patriarchal way of operating. In Raine Eisler’s book, The Power of Partnerships, she describes two very different relationship models, the Domination Model and the Partnership Model.

Domination Model
The Domination Model, is hierarchical in its simplest form, or takes the form of a triangle, meaning someone is on the top and someone is on the bottom. According to Eisler, the top controls the bottom, and the bottom takes orders without question and are socialized through guilt, fear, and force. The world is divided-up by two groups, in-groups and out-groups, which inherently operate as a competitive system where the in-group fights to remain in power.

Partnership Model
A Partnership Model, “supports mutually respectful and caring relationships,” and takes the form of a circle. Without the need to maintain rank and control, there is not a “built in need for abuse and violence.” Power is exercised in ways that empowers rather than disempowers people.

The way our society operates, and organizations within it, has deep roots in a history that required authoritarian models to ensure safety. Today that old way of operating is fraying at the edges, and we are experiencing some of the chaos that comes from letting go of the Domination Model while in transition to a Partnership Model. Because systems naturally seek to maintain equilibrium, we all have an active role to play in evolving to a new way of operating. This should not be looked at as a battle of the sexes, but an awareness that an antiquated system is putting us all on notice that something new is trying to emerge.

Evolving Beyond Cultures of Silence
Those who avoid speaking up do so because they perceive it isn’t safe. To evolve beyond Cultures of Silence, we must become practiced at cultivating respect, caring & connection, valuing other’s perspectives, genuine curiosity, commitment, collaboration, and fun. Women must not allow themselves to be victims, nor do we need to be conquerors. Evolving beyond the Domination Model will require that we become observers of our own behavior and change agents within the systems we operate within. As a systems worker by trade, becoming aware of the system is a necessary step toward intentional evolution.

For thousands of years, men have been in positions of power and authority over women. This is not going to change overnight. Today, in American organizations and political systems the faces at the top are still disproportionately male. For men and women to move past the awkward dance, it will take a concerted effort to engage in real dialogue. There are endless opportunities for teams and workmates to change the conversation, and to practice new behaviors that advocate for a Partnership Model. Cultures of Silence go beyond gender bias, wage inequality, or sexual innuendo and harassment. A shift will require that we change the way we interact with each other. It is long past time for new agreements to be made in the workplace, agreements that propel us toward a higher level of transparency and accountability. My dream is that our future stories will not be born out of shame and fear, but rather rise-up from a sense of pride in our collective humanity. Someday, I hope that “Me Too,” becomes an affirmation used to describe being a valued member of a coactive group, or team. The time has come for us to work together to create that new reality.

If you’re interested in engaging in the kind of conversations at work, that empower rather than disempower, give me a call at 303-238-9733. Xponents Creating Collaborative Partnerships offers a path to developing a coactive work team.


HighResolution_Warnke_ DebSiverson20121208-9332-EditDeb Siverson is an author and president of Xponents, Inc. Her book, “The Cycle of Transformation: Igniting Organizational Change through the Leader Coach”, encourages transparent and emotionally-connected conversations at work. Her company’s focus is to bring out the best in people by recognizing the unique talent, values, and purpose inherent in all

Pattern of Integrity

I recently delivered our Leadership Basics program to a really great group at Bureau of Reclamation.  This is a fun program to lead because the participants really love reconnecting with who they are.   The morning of the first day, I do this exercise on values; because I believe that a component of leadership presence comes from living your values at work.  Someone that I had invited to observe the session was noticeably touched as she gained a deeper level of awareness about who she is at her very center, and what is crucially important for her.  Our lives can get so full and yet we can feel so empty.

There is a little model I keep playing with that helps me make sense of the larger complexity that is life.  I have this acronym that I call the Power of Y.  I go back and forth thinking it is a bit cheesy and then later I fall back in love with the symbolism and meaning it creates for me.  Anyway, I think of it as a pattern of integrity.  If any of you have ever read the book Steering by Starlight, the author Martha Beck tells a story about how this guy had to have his nose reconstructed from a piece of his ear, and how from time to time his nose kept trying to grow in to an ear as the cells tried to regroup into the essence of what they were intended to be.  It sounds a bit far-fetched, I know, but there you have it.  I had to do a little research myself, because it felt unworldly to me like something from a Dr. Seuss book.  That created this image in my mind of a caricature with an ear growing from the place that his nose should be.  It is not my intent to make light of another’s tragedy and the real lesson here is there is a pattern integrity that tells a cat to be a cat rather than a dog, an ear to be and ear, and you to be who you were meant to be.

So back to my main point, this Power of Y that I was penciling out and fixated on some time ago, only recently reentered my awareness when I came across it again while going through some old notes.  Take a look at the diagram below. What do you see?

Do you believe like me that it is your life’s work to uncover the truth that lies within…to remember who you really are and what you have to offer?  I know you might be thinking that if the Power of Y truly is like a blue print of who we are at the core and it conspires to shape us in to what we were always intended to be then doesn’t that feel a bit like fate?   Yes and No.  I’m not advocating fate as the preferred explanation.  I do think fate gives us the pieces and the parts but it is ultimately up to us to align them in such a way that they create a kaleidoscope that is rich in texture and color. The perfect pattern that makes our heart sing and the heart sound we create is exactly what the world needs… and the possibility of it already exists embedded within you.

Why fight it?  If an ear can’t forget it’s an ear, then you must be working really hard to not be who you are meant to be.

If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
HighResolution_Warnke_ DebSiverson20121208-9332-EditDeb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.

The Values Lens

I’ve noticed that when I’m challenged about the choices I should make, it’s a signal for me to look at the situation through the lens of my values.  I was reminded again of this approach this week.  My husband has been struggling with a situation, and he took a stand based on what was important to him.  He said, “This does not line up with how I intend to live my life.”  I respect that, and am reminded of how easy it is to fall in the trap of making a decision, or worse yet going along with something you can’t get behind, and then regreting how it doesn’t support who you are or the kind of life you want to live.

Living one’s values in the workplace is critical.  If more people were clear about their values and used those as the guidepost for how they lived their life, in and out of work, engagment and job satisfaction would soar.  Many companies  focus on communicating the organization’s values and what the organization needs, without recognizing the impact of the individual’s personal values and needs being met at work.   And because the price they pay is hard to quantify, no one recognizes the opportunity cost of lost production.  The Power of Y is how I describe the xponential factor that dramatically impacts performance.  Why it matters is directly tied to bringing values, vision, purpose, and mission to work.

Are there work places where value-alignment just isn’t practical?  Someone recently said to me, “In a professional work environment I can see putting forth the effort as a manager, but what about in a blue collar environment, or food services, is it even realistic in those cultures?” I read a great book last year called The Dream Manager.  The author told the story of janitors and how connecting them to their life dreams increased profits dramatically.  In the parable, the company hired Dream Coaches to support employees in identifying what would most improve the quality of their lives.  The coaches would then assist in developing a clear action plan so that the goal was attainable.

At the end of the day, no matter who we are or what we do, isn’t it about living our dreams?

(Click here to order The Dream Manager now)