Power imbalances play out every day in the workplace. Junior members of staff might want to talk to a senior leader but don’t have the nerve or the way in. Even when you get the chance, you may fluff your lines.
As a senior lecturer, Dr Jummy Okoya FCMI was keen to get in front of her vice-chancellor but didn’t know her personally. Jummy made an approach via the vice-chancellor’s PA but got no response.
So, like many will do, she turned to LinkedIn and made a direct approach. It worked, and she was invited for a face-to-face meeting.
Unfortunately, nerves got to Jummy at that meeting, and she couldn’t bring herself to ask the one question she wanted to: would you, vice-chancellor, support my idea of investing in a development programme for Black female academics at the university?
But – and here’s the key management lesson – the vice-chancellor noticed her nervousness and put Jummy at her ease with the classic open-ended question: “is there anything else you’d like to ask me?” After that, things fell into place: Jummy was invited to pitch her idea to the executive team, got the support she needed, and actioned her plan.
The network gap
Sadly, power imbalances don’t always play out so well. What is called “the network gap” can hit people from minority groups hardest. “A lack of social capital and access to power networks means that people from minority groups find it difficult to access or network with senior leaders in their organisation,” says Jummy who today is the academic director for inclusive practices at the University of East London. “And, when they do network with them, the power imbalance makes it difficult for them to maximise the opportunity.”
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