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Gender & COVID - Part III: Working the 'Intentional Invisibility Syndrome' to your advantage

In my previous blog I spoke of privilege, the 'Invisible Advantage' and 'Intentional Invisibility'.

In the Pacific, as is the case across the globe, women are significantly under-represented in leadership positions in both political and organisational contexts. These contexts have been severely exacerbated by COVID-19 - meaning there are now, even less women in these leadership positions than there were before COVID... and if a little girl cannot 'see it', it is very unlikely she will aspire to 'be it' in the future.

As millenials (those of us born between 1981 and 1996), I think we are in a very unique position to influence this change, because of the uniqueness of our dates of birth. More on that in a later blog, as I don't want to take away from the current subject, but we are the generation that knows our traditions and questions it - picking from it, what makes sense to us the most and finding our own path.

This is how we can bridge the gaps we find in our working lives - and work with our cultures. In this case, how we as Pacific millenials and as women, work past our intentional invisibility and work this towards our advantage, as a woman.

To refresh ourselves on 'Intentional Invisibility', please read here.

By doing so and rather than heading towards some negative connotations, I thought we'd look at what Soren Kaplan speaks about in his book on 'Invisible Advantages' and encouraging the culture of innovation.

Kaplan's idea is to focus on specific areas holistically, as addressing one or two in isolation would not work.

So in response to my initial questions in part one of this series, of what we should be challenging (noting the #ChoosetoChallenge hashtag from IWD), and the COVID implications of not putting women at the centre of our recovery pathways post-pandemic, we should be asking ourselves the following questions, challenging the norms in these six sectors:

1. Leadership:

  • What can our leaders do to more explicitly promote innovation?

  • What symbols, stories and assumptions should leadership reinforce?

As a suggestion, given we need a start point, I think the inclusion of women in leadership and male gender champions supporting the narrative that women are also leaders, is one way to begin this conversation.

2. Structure and Processes:

  • What current organisational structure and processes get in the way of innovation and need to be reinvented?

  • What structures and processes should be created to foster greater innovation?

Our patriarchy is a stark answer to this - and a start point to this is the number of women in our current Parliament (also, encouragingly, currently the highest number to date).

3. Metrics:

  • How can we best quantify and measure our innovation success?

  • What metrics can we use to inspire innovation-focused behavior?

There are many ways to cut the pie on this one, and you would need to quantify and contextualize to your work or environment. Some suggested innovation metrics are: Number of active projects; or, Number of ideas submitted by employees.

4. Rewards and recognition:

  • How can we formally recognize the type of innovation we want more of?

  • What formal and informal rewards can we provide that reinforce the value of innovation.

All work should be recognized, and attributed (in my opinion), even if to a team. Would a certificate be what your team would want, or a promotion, or bonus? Please read here for some strategies for sustained innovation.

5. People:

  • What mindsets can we instill in our staff, and what skill sets can we develop to drive innovation?

  • What tools, frameworks and resources can we provide to get greater levels of innovation?

Mind over matter on this one. Having a gender aware team, and providing tools to ensure the mindset is maintained and sustained is important to break hurtful, generational norms. For example, expecting your sister to be the person cooking or cleaning, or minding the children (the appropriate answer to that expectation is a "Hell no!" by the way. Equity over everything). See here for how equity is also important in an organisational setting.

6. Technology:

  • What tools and technologies can we use to engage people in the innovation process?

  • How can we best use technology to obtain external insights and ideas?

See here for the tools we can use - or contextualize - to leverage technology to assist our innovation process.


The Intentional Invisibility paper I refer to continually throughout this series, drew this conclusion, after conducting their study:

"Although scholars of gender and leadership have a strong theoretical grasp on the ways in which organizations fail women, they have a weaker understanding of how women internalize and respond to these organizational constraints in ways that influence their career outcomes.

Our analysis of women’s aspirations and decision-making highlights both the nature of the challenges women encounter as well as the tools they can leverage to navigate these challenges.

Particularly, in tracking women’s professional aspirations alongside the strategies they employ daily to navigate workplace responsibilities and relationships, we find that women’s use of “intentional invisibility” helps them as they continually confront and navigate maze-like barriers to professional advancement.

Together, our findings demonstrate the importance of workplace policies that not only level the playing field, but also recognize the gendered baggage and tool-kits that employees bring to the workplace."


Reading that, and walking through Kaplan's little checklist myself, I found that this was a very handy tool [the checklist] to help myself as a Pacific millenial (and specifically a woman), work through my intentional invisibility and use it to my advantage as a woman professional, a mother and a daughter.

To work past intentional invisibility, I need to speak up more often, please a lot less - and get things DONE! In order to do that I choose to challenge everything that stands as an obstacle in front of me.

Choose everyday to challenge hurtful generational, gender, societal and institutional norms. This is the only way we can exemplify and enact change that is heard - and sustained.
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