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As an OD consultant I have become well-aware that my self is the best tool in a change process. So I found someone to talk my work issues through with during regular counselling sessions. One issue that kept surfacing was how much my life was dominated by wondering what others will think - whether they disapprove if I am going out of the established norms.

My new work as a freelance OD consultant brought these issues to a head. My work requires a lot of travelling away from my family. My three sons needs do not wait for me to return. My friends, extended family and church community have clear expectations of my role in looking after my family and keeping it stable. When I say I am about to travel, I get worried looks and frowns: ‘Again!’ they say, ‘be very careful, this job may cost you your family.’ Some have suggested that I give up the job and get one that can enable me play my role properly as a wife and mother. This makes me tense and I feel guilty. I feel like I am doing something wrong, so I try to be a super-woman so that I can leave everything in order before I travel. When I am away I still try and manage my family from wherever I am. This sometimes makes me lose concentration at work and fail to rest enough after a long day’s work.

I also discovered that whenever I return home, I walk on egg shells trying not to destabilize the situation or upset anybody. I feel obliged to ‘pay back’ in one way or another. I even hesitate to share a different opinion in family conversations or make contributions that may seem to be contrary to what others may have.

I am realizing that my struggles are partly rooted in the way I was socialized about what is, and is not expected of a woman in my culture. Much as I was brought up in a family that believed in me and built my confidence to stand up to the world, there are deep inclinations to live by the gender expectations that are unconsciously, but consistently, operating in my life. I have begun to see connections between my excessive worry about other people’s opinions to certain statements I always heard as I grew up; ‘moderate ambition suits a woman, otherwise she will be taking the man’s position’, ‘a woman should not challenge a man’s opinion’, ‘a woman is not allowed to fall sick’. Society expects that it’s the man who should travel away from home and not the woman.

In my work, I now see that some of my struggles related to my work as an OD consultant are a manifestation of gender expectations in my culture. For instance I noticed that in my facilitation work I sometimes find it hard to intervene strongly particularly if it involves an elderly man. Being stuck in these expectations has also denied me the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the fact that I have a very supportive husband who believes in me and my work and is more than willing to manage the family whenever I travel.

Knowing this has set me on a new path.

I am steadily developing more confidence to express myself without worrying too much about what others think especially because I am a woman. I am constantly challenging myself to let go whenever I am away from home and celebrate my husband’s contribution to our relationship when he takes on my ascribed gender roles in the family context. This sets me free to commit myself fully to my work.

I am also challenging myself to provide leadership in my family beyond trying to fulfill the prescribed roles and position; there is more that I can contribute to the partnership. I also celebrate the fact that through my work, I am able to contribute to creating a better world- using the talents that I have been given by God. I also hope that some of those I meet along the way are able to see that it is possible to do this work as a woman. Being stuck in fulfilling prescribed gender roles will not enable this to happen, and yet I cannot ignore their existence and influence over my life. Hence the need for me to develop the capacity and constantly seek the grace from God to manage the two tensions if I am to develop towards being what he intended me to be on this earth.

Doreen Kwarimpa-Atim

Independent OD Consultant and EASUN Associate consultant

This article is part of Space for Grace Bulletin 2-2014

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