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Spontaneous vs Authentic, that is the question


Women looking up at the title questioningly


I SHOULD have made notes. Of course I should. 


But I didn't. And now I'm only left with my memory of a webinar, where ONE word stood out to me like a sore thumb. 


I'll tell you about it in a minute. 


Because I need to tell you about the webinar first. 


It was all about women leadership.


It was one of many webinars in which we were being told, by a man, that women are perceived to be much better leaders than men. 


After which I could imagine the - invisible because webinar - Diversity and Inclusion practitioners rolling their eyes and told to get on gauging to what extent THEIR organisation was realising this and what THEY were going to do about it.


Don't get me wrong, it's GREAT that there are organisations doing the research, talking about the studies.


But it's not as if we don't know this already.


Of COURSE we're better at leadership!


Like we're better at juggling many balls at work and at home. Like we're outperforming men and boys at school and in universities. Like we're better at being empathetic, stepping in other people's shoes, engaging others, listening.


Because we HAVE to be!


Because women are still judged on past performance rather than on potential.

Even though the cultures we work in value confidence over competence. Visibility over performance. Talking more than listening. Personality more than value.


It made me wonder: Telling a weary bunch of D&I practitioners that women are more competent? How is that going to get the culture shifted, the pay gap closed, the boys club opening up to girls, more women leaders promoted?


But what non-note-taking me took away MOST from this webinar was this one word: Spontaneous.


Women were rated highly for being more spontaneous.


And it sat like an overripe grape in my mouth, all squishy and hairy.


Spontaneous:

  • performed or occurring as a result of a sudden impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus.

  • having an open, natural, and uninhibited manner.

  • (of a process or event) occurring without apparent external cause.

Is what a quick google tells me.


You see, the association I have with this word is of someone who blurts out what comes rolling out of her brain.


Someone who doesn't think too much. Who acts on a 'sudden impulse'.


I get it. There's this big call about being 'authentic' at work (and I wrote a blog about being authentic a while back which I'll share below).


And being open and natural might be a great asset to have in this respect. Uninhibited? I'd like to think less so.


Because, like it or not, work is not a 'natural' environment.


Work is - hopefully - where we get to use our skills and strengths for something we care about.


But it's also working with people who we largely haven't picked ourselves. Supporting others so that they can do their best work. Navigating politics and difficult stakeholders.


Being seen to perform at a consistently high level. Moving towards a common goal together.


So yes, spontaneous? Blurting things out without thinking? Doing 'spontaneous' things (whatever they are)? Being - heaven forbid - 'uninhibited'?


No. It didn't sit well with me. It still doesn't sit well with me. And I wonder to what extent it's the wording and the interpretation of that wording that's the problem here.


Because it's fine to come across authentic. Of course it is. But it's authentic at work, not the authentic you in your leggings finishing off the last of the chocolate biscuits on the sofa, whilst binge-watching Netflix.


Not the blurt-out-anything sort of spontaneous.


But instead the stepping away from being productive and creating real connections sort of spontaneous. The let's relax for a moment and get to know each other, so that we get engagement and respect and trust and more likelihood of us achieving that goal.


In other words it's professional-spontaneous, planned-spontaneous.


Which is a contradiction, I know.


The lessons I took from this?


1. Language is important. My spontaneous is different from yours. And I can't help but thinking that there are types of spontaneous that are more and others that are regarded as less helpful AND less professional in a work environment. Women being perceived more spontaneous? Yes, it probably makes them more likeable. But is the perception that it makes them better leaders? Spontaneous vs authentic? I'm on the fence.


And on an entirely different note:


2. Choose your webinars wisely. Choose the ones where you're likely to learn something new. Where you get genuine takeaways you can apply straight away. Your time (and mine) is precious. And yes, that is a note to myself as well as you.


(Oh, and take notes. That too).


---


Tineke Tammes supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artistnever-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler.



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