Why women (and organisations) need to stop being scared of change

Change is often scary. But it’s also essential – without it, organisations and people stagnate. Gender business coach Maria Zarotiadou explains why women and businesses need to stop being scared of change.

‘’Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.’’ Syndey J. Harris

One year and three days ago, I looked in the mirror and said ‘’I want to change’’. I wasn’t just referring to my looks, hair, weight and style, but to my attitude towards work, my stress levels, my time (or lack of it to relax) and my approach to happiness.

I knew I had to make an effort to change, and the steps I needed to take. I knew that change is not always a road paved with roses, but it is essential, necessary and sometimes inevitable. I also knew I lacked the initiative to do it.

I kept stalling myself, coming up with excuses that were justifying my fear. The fear of change we all have, whether that change is work-related, family-related or relationship-related. Fear that leads our minds to negative thoughts and ideas of everything we may lose.

As professionals, this fear hold us back, and prevents us from benefiting from the amazing potential of change management.

What is change management?

Change management‘ is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that the lasting benefits of change are achieved. It’s the process, tools and techniques that manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome. It also incorporates the organisational tools that can be used to help people make successful personal transitions.

The phrase ‘change management’ is used often, and can mean many things to many different people. Sometimes it is a scapegoat for less than stellar results: “That initiative failed because we didn’t focus enough on change management.” And it is often used as a catch-all for project activities that might otherwise get overlooked: “When we implement that new process, let’s not forget about the change management.”

It’s also used as:

  • A noun: “Change management is key to the project.”
  • A verb: “We really need to change manage that process.”
  • An adjective: “My change management skills are improving.”
  • An expletive: “&*@! change management!”

Changes can range from a simple process change, to major changes in policy or strategy to help an organisation to achieve its potential.

Change management skills are essential in the workplace

How are women in using change management to their professional benefit? A recent roundtable event jointly hosted and organised by Frazer Jones, the global HR recruitment specialists, and the European Professional Women’s Network (EPWN), concluded that good change management skills and experience can help increase the number of female senior managers.

The roundtable found that change management experience is beneficial for a number of reasons, including the opportunity to learn. Change frees you to operate outside of the norm, to surpass your ‘day job mode’ and prove your worth. A change project that has a beginning, middle and end in particular, provides tangible proof of your skills.

Getting the opportunity to take on a change project can be difficult, and it’s important to actually put yourself forward. It’s also a good idea to volunteer for projects you enjoy, without being too picky – the perfect role for your development may not exist.

To gain from change-management projects you need to package yourself correctly to convey not just your experience but your personality, qualities and skills. All too often women underestimate their experience and potential, specially when it comes to taking on ambitious roles, but in doing so you risk being passed over for exciting opportunities.

Organisations need to change

And it’s not just women who need to adapt to new opportunities – organisations need to change too. Sally Krawchek, one of Wall Street’s leading ladies, suggests, “Educate managers on the business differences between men and women in the workplace.” While this may sound obvious, it is extremely rare for any gender initiative to include men at all. Most companies’ efforts on ‘gender’ are still exclusively focused on women.

The shift in all this is that after a few decades of asking women to adapt to organisations, companies are starting to adapt their organisations to women. They are asking managers to learn new skills to manage a new more gender-balanced workforce and customer base.

The lesson beginning to emerge as companies’ progress on gender balance stalls is that we have relied on the wrong analysis of the problem. We have spent decades thinking that the lack of balance in business was caused by women doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or even wearing the wrong thing. This led to elaborate panoply of “fix-the-women” “empowerment” programs. But now that women represent 60% of the educated talent on the planet and half the incoming recruits of many companies, this argument is wearing thin. Half the population can’t be “wrong.”

But at last the collective wake-up call is hitting the mainstream. CEOs know it, yet still need to learn how to share their new-found understanding across global cultures and management levels. Doing so will take courage, conviction and clout.

What does the future hold for change and women?

Research from the Academy of Management shows that women leaders usually seek a higher purpose for their work that goes beyond their individual context. If we can create the change that supports more women into leadership positions and recognises their impact, we may see the development of a completely new leadership identity that connects with the needs of society as whole.

For this to happen, organisations need to identify and nurture female leaders – not because they’ve been told to or from some fuzzy notions about equality’, but because they recognise the benefit. Only then will they start thinking more creatively about their recruitment and retention strategies, and leadership development plans.

And let us not forget the wise words of Jim Rohn: ‘’You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.’’

Maybe it’s time we all stopped fearing change?

Maria Zarotiadou is a certified Gender Business Coach and Gender Trainer, working in Athens, Greece. She has also been consulting on career development issues and HRM at companies for more than 10 years.