Wednesday, 1 May 2013

LGBT Careers Unconference: Part two : Personal Reflections

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for... yikes...just over a year. A pretty good reminder that I'm sometimes like an over enthusiastic puppy that takes on a little too much, but sometimes forgets to go back, tie up the lose ends and finish things off. Having said that, coming back to the post and re-reading it, I've realised how much I've gained over the past year from attending this unconference, and it has enabled me to reflect on what has changed in that year - and whether that change came from me or from the external environment. I've posted the draft as it was intended to be posted at the time. I'll write a reflective post shortly. The post which introduced the themes of the Unconference is available here: LGBT Careers Unconference: Why do LGBT people need specific careers advice?

A few weeks back, I attended an LGBT Careers Unconference within my own workplace and blogged about why LGBT people needed specific careers advice. I noted that I felt being a working single mother held me back more than being openly queer at work. I left the workshop feeling enthusiastic about possibilities that had appeared to open up. And just as I was ready to blog and take some positive action something happened: My child was threatened with  permanent exclusion from school. It was a reminder that actually, my first job will always be a Therapeutic Parent.

For those that follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that I'm a single adoptive Mum to a child with special needs. I choose to work part-time, and I'm aware that this choice limits my ability to get involved in CPD activities, to develop contacts and network, travel to other offices and attend training events. But I'm as active as I can be in my own development. It's my career. It's up to me to push it in the direction I want it to go.

As anyone working in government libraries will know, the sector has changed a lot over the past few years.

I was lucky in that job restructuring. I didn't get the job I wanted, but I did have a job. I spent the next year Being Grateful. The job I loved changed shape. I lost a lot of what I saw as 'professional responsibilities  to another team. Took on old responsibilities that I thought I had long ago left behind when I accepted a promotion. But took a deep breath and got on with it.

One year later, I stopped being grateful for having a job. I was bored. I looked around me. The organisation had changed a lot. Could I step outside of the comfort zone of  the library team and find a role elsewhere? I wasn't sure. I went on a mission to fall back in love with my job again. I had no idea how to do this, but it looked something like this:

1. Figure out what I was unhappy with.
2. Remember what used to inspire me about working for the organisation
3. Which parts of the role did I dislike?
4. What did I still find exciting and motivating about this role?
5. Talk to my boss

My boss was sympathetic and helpful and helped me take stock and develop an attack plan. I stuck my hand up. I volunteered for everything I could feasibly do inside of work, and a few things outside of work. I worked on improving my relationship with key colleagues in the team. And then an unexpected opportunity came up for a promotion within my team. I applied.

I didn't get it.

It floored me. Totally and utterly floored me. I'd been working for the organisation now for seven years with one promotion. The feedback I had was that I 'wasn't working at the level above'. Yet I felt I had outgrown the role I was in. I scratched my head. Time for a rethink. I needed inspiration. An advert for the LGBT careers unconference came through. My first thought was that I didn't have a career. There was nothing I could contribute. And what did being gay have to do with it anyway? The second thought was 'Sod it. Attend anyway'.

So I arrived feeling a little like a fraud, with the expectation that most others attending would be much further on in their careers with more to contribute. I left that day with a notebook crammed full of notes and ideas and lots of things to consider.

The first thing I discovered was that almost everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Even Executive Managers. What I hadn't considered was how much this fear of being found out was holding me back.

The second thing I realised was that I had made a crucial mistake around two years ago, when I developed a goal for myself to progress within the organisation and based it around a particular team and a particular position. When that team shifted, my goal had been taken away. It was no longer there. So here is my first tip.

Describe your idea role. Describe what skills you want to be using. Don't describe the team or the place. It might not be there.

The rest of this post may well look like a scrapbook of idea's, prompts and questions. But I'll put them here because I found them useful. It's my own personal reminder, and maybe it will be useful for you too...

Once you've figured out what skills you have, the next task is to consider what you want from career progression. What are you looking for?

  • To improve your own performance?
  • Personal growth?
  • More recognition?
  • To develop others?
  • Increased pay and rewards?

And how are you going to get there?

  • Vertical promotion - moving sideways into a different role
  • Structural responsibility - moving up in your current line of command
  • Line management
  • Increased productivity - taking on more responsibility within current role

Consider what options you have for developing opportunities. I made a list. It looks like this.

There are two priorities for me:

Keep a reflective diary
Expose yourself and consider what is it you are avoiding? Figure out what scares you - and do it more! An Executive Manager, having progressed past Grade 7 dug out his diary from 10 years ago, when he worked as a Grade 1 assistant. He read an entry from his early days. He was scared of standing up in front of people and giving a presentation. He says he reads this now and laughs. He's known throughout the organisation for giving engaging and inspiring talks, motivating people to take action. He did it simply by doing it more often and asking for feedback.

Stop asking for permission
Where you have come from has an impact on your self confidence and career. My career path has been rocky and shaped by early experiences that left me with a lack of confidence. It means I'm often grateful for opportunities, but stranded by a fear that I don't have the skills to deliver what I've promised. I've also got a habit of asking for permission, rather than making a positive suggestion and creating an environment where I give managers the confidence to say 'yes'. I want to present a more positive version of me, and project a persona that instils confidence rather than gives away ideas to someone else to implement.

In terms of 'what does being gay  have to do with it anyway'? We considered how the organisation benefited from our diversity. It turns out that there are some positives to being a gay manager. We are more likely to allow people to be themselves. And we understand when people break rules. On the negative side, we're more likely to be hyper-sensitive to criticism.

I wonder whether the research evidence supports this? Sounds like I've got some research to do on the benefits of diversity in an organisation...

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