Imagine a room, containing an elephant and a mouse.
“The elephant knows almost nothing about the mouse, while the mouse survives by knowing everything about the other. Herein lies the dynamic between the dominant and nondominant groups in the workplace. Nondominant groups develop certain skill sets, including vigilance, attentiveness, and adaptability. In business, for example, Microsoft is an elephant and Mozilla is a mouse.”
As an American woman living in the Netherlands, I’ve found the “mouse concept” to be a perfect model. The dominant group has advantages built into the system. They can make jokes that everyone will get. They can speak fully fluidly in their native tongue to each other. They know the polite moments to interject and when to let things slide. They share more hobbies, common experiences, and family dynamics. This brings together analysts and board members, etc.
“The institution had all sorts of rules and behavior and people who had networks. How do you figure out who these people are and what their tasks and rules of behavior are? Who talks to whom? Who are they? You have to figure all that out. You have to develop the skill to watch. Which is not what people recruit leaders for. They don’t say this person is a good watcher…I had to watch them as much as they watched me. They had the knowledge. I had to figure it out.”
By the way, the smaller the room, the more the mouse has to take care. Scarce resources heighten competition. Watching is not enough. You must also predict.
For me to thrive in an environment where everything has changed and the social rules are different, I have to learn fast. Vigilance, attentiveness, and adaptability. See, if you’re a mouse, you can’t succeed by pretending to be an elephant. If you’re a woman, you cannot become a man (well, perhaps you can, but work with me). Blacks cannot becomes whites, etc.
Sure, you have the choice to flip industries / continents / etc. The mouse could decide to leave the elephant’s room for the butterfly tank. But what if you are actually so passionate about your field that you don’t want to quit? It’s easy being a finance guy — do finance guys ever think about how much passion a girl must have in order to go against her “programming” (pink doll sets and being told we aren’t good at math)?
This concept goes far beyond education. Education helps of course, but being a “good watcher” will teach you things that they’d never dare to put in textbooks.
‘A white man with a PhD may know little about a black man’s life,’ says megachurch Bishop T. D. Jakes. ‘But a black man with a GED knows almost everything about how white men live.’
But there is a positive spin:
Imagine that the elephant occasionally likes to play poker with the mouse. How well do you think the elephant reads the mouse? Not well, I can assure you.
And lastly, an explanation for the famed “women’s intuition.” Once again we find that intuition is not a trait: rather, experience (pattern recognition) and observational abilities could be the explanation.
I have always been intrigued by where the concept of women’s intuition comes from, and whether there is evidence to support this notion. President Robinson noted that women are often more likely to observe, have better listening skills, include others not normally included, have more emotional intelligence, be less hierarchical, and develop more intuitive observations. However, she also told me that she felt that while traditionally these were considered female traits, she believes they are traits acquired by most groups or individuals who have been out of power historically.