(5 min read)
Happy New Year 2023! I wish this year brings you professional and personal success.
This post is inspired by a great conversation I had with my lovely mother-in-law this morning. She’s a fantastic woman that — as myself — is ambitious. Unlike myself, she didn’t have the support of her parents to attend university or to do any other kind of studies after secondary school. But her brother did have that opportunity. The reason? He’s a man, she’s a woman.
The same happened to my grandmother, an extremely brilliant woman. Her only brother was sent to pursue further studies after he finished school. Neither my grandmother nor any of her 3 sisters were given that opportunity.
Until this point, hopefully, none of this surprises you no matter where you live in the world.
So what made that conversation relevant? My mother-in-law told me that believes that things will continue to improve steadily for women in the next years and that they cannot be speeded up.
When I reiterated that I don’t want things to improve “steadily” for women and people of underrepresented groups but that I want them to improve “dramatically”, she reminded me of all the progress achieved for women’s rights since she was young. As proof, she compared what happened to her professional ambitions with her great expectations for the professional future of her 10-year-old granddaughter — who happens to be my goddaughter.
She also conveyed to me that she believed that I was being unreasonable. After all, it has taken centuries to get where we are now regarding women rights.
I used two arguments to support that (a) we need to upend the status quo now, (b) that it’s possible to deliver that change in an extremely short time.
Why we need to upend the status quo now
My mother-in-law told that whilst none of the two of us would see equality in our lifetime, my goddaughter would because
- She’s intelligent.
- She’s ambitious.
My reply? As Dame Stephanie Shirley, my head is flat from so many people stopping me from my ambitions and creating artificial ceilings for my career.
I told her that her granddaughter may be very talented and determined and still have bosses that won’t promote her because
- She will need to prove her competence over and over. This effect is so pervasive that it even has a name for it: The prove it again bias.
- Even if she’s a top performer, research shows are that her potential will be underestimated by her managers.
If that wasn’t enough, I told her that the UN estimates that it will take more than 150 years to reach gender equality.
To be more precise, only four months ago — on September 7th, 2022- the UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released the report Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): The Gender Snapshot 2022 that forecast that at the current rate of progress, it will take up to
- 286 years to close gender gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws.
- 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace.
- At least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.
That is, we’ll have to wait three centuries to achieve full gender equality!
After that, my mother-in-law was more willing to see the urgency for change but she was adamant that systems cannot be toppled on a whim.
Why systems of oppression can be knocked down swiftly
If there is a useful learning we can get from the covid-19 pandemic is that extremely fast change is possible.
Within a year
- Three vaccines were developed.
- In many countries, people were house-bounded and were required to use masks when stepping outside their homes.
- Many employees worked from their homes even when previously they had been told it was impossible.
- Millions of people without previous medical training learned about pandemics, how to perform covid-19 tests, or what a coronavirus looks like.
All that with the support of many democratic countries and billions of dollars.
What does that tell us about change? That dramatic change at a worldwide level is possible when that change becomes our priority.
Moving from SMART goals to impossible goals
I’m currently finalising my certification as a life coach. One of the topics covered is how to set goals and develop a plan to achieve them.
After 20+ years working for corporations, I’m very well acquainted with SMART goals. This is how you set annual objectives, 5-year plans, and roll out new initiatives.
This is how it works: You pick the objective/deliverable/goal and you ensure that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound; hence the acronym SMART.
And that’s how you get things done in organisations.
So I was very surprised that in the coaching certification they taught us how to set and achieve impossible goals.
That is, a goal that is so extremely bold that you don’t know how to achieve it. Yet.
What’s the value of impossible goals:
- They remove limiting beliefs you didn’t know you had about what you can achieve.
- It enables you to embrace uncertainty.
- You allow yourself to entertain the idea that you can learn on-the-fly what will take you to achieve that impossible goal.
Case studies: Impossible goals to advance DEI
Imagine that Mahatma Gandhi, Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela, or Florence Nightingale had used SMART goals instead of impossible goals to achieve the kind of changes they led.
And I’m sure a lot of people tried to “knock some sense” into their heads — told them that the transformations they were pursuing were foolish, unreasonable, unattainable.
What if they had complied?
What if they had said “Yes, you’re right. This is not a SMART goal”? Or “Indeed. I don’t know exactly how to achieve independence, get the vote for women, end apartheid, or found modern nursing, so I better stop until I figure it all out. “
Maybe we’d still be grappling with those issues…
My 2023 impossible goal
In 2022, I coached five women and nonbinary people that got promoted.
In 2023, my impossible goal is to coach another 50 women and underrepresented people to get the promotion they deserve!
Is it a SMART goal? No.
Do I know exactly how to achieve it? No.
Will not knowing how to achieve it stop me from trying? No.
Is it worth it? Absolutely yes!
What am I doing towards achieving my impossible goal? I’m running again the Joyful Annual Career Assessment Week in February, after the sucess of the first edition in January. This is a one-week event from February 13th to February 17th where I help women and people from underrepresented groups get a clear picture of their professional accomplishments in 2022, tell their career story in a compelling manner, and be ready to discuss their career aspirations for 2023 and beyond.
“Patricia talks about how to frame our accomplishments without seeming arrogant, declare our desires in the professional sphere, and get managerial support for them, and learn about how to advance, despite upbring that may teach us to downplay our skills and contributions. It is amazing!
I wish I had learned this in my 20s- my career path would have been different, and I would have known the invisible rules, so that I could advance in the way I wanted to!”VHA, Director, Business Development
BACK TO YOU: What’s your impossible goal in 2023?
Let me know in the comments!
Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate.
This resonates on two levels: First, I recognize –in head and heart– both your and your mother in law’s arguments.
Second, 20 years ago I was involved in creativity trainings and executions; basically ‘brainstorming’, but done right, so you end up with actual, actionable plans at the end of the day. This is how we started the process: by setting an impossible goal. And every single organization we helped with this ended up being very happy and very surprised by the results.
I’m delighted the post resonated with you!
I love the concept of starting a brainstorming session with impossible goals. Thanks for sharing!.