This morning, I came face to face with the source of one of the issues why we are under-represented on women leaders in the workplace. And it is … anxious parents fretting over their young daughters’ (first) outdoor adventure camp with their school cohort.
My second daughter will be going camping with her peers for 3 days 2 nights next week. The adventure camp is organized by her school and has been an annual rite of passage for Primary 5 students and includes activities such as rock wall climbing, abseiling and an elevated obstacle course. Today, we had the parent’s briefing running through the program, venue, logistics, safety and operational management of the camp. And I should probably mention that my daughter attends an all-girl school.
The camp’s lead instructor who was doing the briefing was peppered with questions that parents had about the camp, arrangements and activities, many of which were practical or curious. But there was an undercurrent of anxiety amongst some parents, evidenced by a suggestion from a well-intended father that parents be allowed to attend the first day of the camp with their 11-year old daughters and a question by a mother asking if parents could drop in for a visit at some point. And when parents were told that “no news is good news” in response to questions on staying in touch (the girls’ phones will be kept during the camp except for the free time in the evening; the contact number for parents to call the campsite was to be used only for emergencies), I could feel the nervous energy climbing quietly around the room.
I wished I had stood up at some point in the briefing to tell these parents that their nervous energy will likely show up in well-intentioned but misplaced behaviours they could exhibit in the coming days as their daughters prepare for camp. This wasn’t just about parents taking a chill pill and letting go so that the girls can enjoy their camping experience in the here and now. It is also about how the anxiety underpinning the parents’ behaviours will lead to the unconscious inception of an idea in many a girl’s mind that will take root and grow over time to predispose them to risk aversion, a preference for safety and a fix mindset. All of these mental frameworks are factors that will unwittingly hold them back when their turn comes to climb the corporate ladder years down the road.
So parents, if you are reading this, what I wished I had said to you was this: “The camp instructors have all the safety harnesses, safety helmets and safety procedures in place for your child to have a great learning experience. The one risk factor that they cannot manage is your anxiety, and that anxiety can be more dangerous than a slip or fall in camp might be. So please set your daughters up for success in the workplace of the future by encouraging them to try new things at camp and to take risks and find out just how brave they can truly be.”