Actress Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, recently announced her decision to take a yearlong break from acting to learn more about gender equality and to focus on the UN’s HeForShe campaign.
This new role is an unexpected turn for audiences who have watched Watson grow up on the silver screen. Because she evolved from a precocious, young girl into a formidable young woman before our eyes, it’s hard to see her as anything but simply Hermione.
But, she’s changing our perception of her in a big way.
The same type of pigeonholing can happen to women who grow within organizations. As they stretch to take on bigger challenges and more responsibility, they naturally expect to be noticed and recommended for bigger roles inside their organizations. Yet, all too often, the organization’s leadership fails to see their growth and labels them as one-dimensional or who they “used to be”. As a result, they are consistently passed by for promotions and pay raises.
Rather than be typecast forever as one character, Emma Watson decided to step WAY outside of what was expected of her and allow people to see her in a new light. Her new role as UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador is one where she uses her passion, heart, and conviction to affect the lives of women and men around the world.
Your Current Title Doesn’t Define You
What if Watson had allowed people around her to define her as only an actress? What if she had allowed others’ perceptions of her to stop her from pursuing a role that’s shaping the conversation around gender equality?
What is the cost when you allow others to classify you into only one role? You lose more than opportunities for advancement. You lose creativity, innovation, and your passion. If you have talents that could serve your organization in a wider range than what you are currently doing, then it’s time to step out of the box. Raise your hand for the challenging assignments; consistently deliver more than they expect; speak up and ask questions, take a stand. Like Watson, you might have to do something totally unexpected to shatter perceptions of what you are capable of.
You Will Always Have Critics
When Emma got the courage to speak in front of the UN in 2014, you could have heard a pin drop. In my opinion, she was brilliant. Poised, passionate, confident, and vulnerable all at the same time. Her speech launched the HeForShe movement, which has shaped a new discussion on gender equality and women in the workplace. While many people applauded her efforts, she had her detractors who felt her speech was too basic.
Whenever you take a stand for something, there will be people who disagree with you. Your new idea could be revolutionary to the strategic direction of your department, yet there will be naysayers who grumble that it has no merit. What will you decide to do at the moment? You can choose to move forward with due diligence in spite of them, or you can shrink down and allow yourself and/or your department to be pushed back into the box.
Don’t Try To Do It Alone
Watson has enlisted the help of prominent CEOs, actors, and politicians by enrolling them in the HeForShe movement. She now stands on the world stage and is encouraging a dialogue about what’s not working and how to change it. Now, a role that at first seemed unexpected for her is a perfect fit.
You, too, should rely on supporters, mentors, or a coach to help you break out of the mold you’re stuck in. Taking on the establishment and trying to change their perceptions about who you are and what you can do isn’t easy. You need people who can champion you, help you see the big picture, and become advocates for helping you move your agenda forward.
Let’s start a dialogue around these and other important lessons that will continue to advance us forward. Please share your thoughts below.