Personal agency is the first step in building a #BalanceForBetter society

How women can define their success on their own terms, without following anyone’s rules but their own, by taking charge of their own personal agency.
By: | May 15, 2019


About the Author
Jennifer Martineau is the Senior Vice-President of Research, Innovation and Product Development at the Center for Creative Leadership.

Earlier this year, all the buzz was around #BalanceforBetter – the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day.

Governments, organisations and individuals around the world banded together, pledging to fulfil the promise of building stronger economies and organisations by enabling a healthier gender balance.

It’s unanimously agreed that gender balance goes way beyond being a women’s issue – and is in fact a business issue, essential for economies and communities to thrive.

In Singapore, there has been a concerted effort by the relevant authorities, organisations and institutions to facilitate greater balance in the workforce.

For one, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) announced in January that it would be widening its scope, to include increasing the representation of women on the boards of organisations in the people and public sectors.

However, despite the efforts, the harsh reality is that the gender gap remains a problem. As a case in point, the Ministry of Manpower recently reported that in 2018, the gender wage gap was the widest it had been in a decade.


A gender-balanced society begins at the level of the individual

The question then is, what more can we do to facilitate a more balanced society, beyond policies, campaigns and taglines?

While policies and regulations will continue to be an imperative as we strive towards this ideal, I would argue that there are key actions that women themselves can take.

Ultimately, we can only have truly balanced societies when women are engaged and fulfilled in the things they do.

Recently, I co-authored Kick Some Glass with Portia Mount, a former colleague at the Center for Creative Leadership. We took a deep dive into how women can define their success on their own terms, without following anyone’s rules but their own, going against the grain of self-help books telling women they should fix themselves to fit a certain mould, in order to advance their careers.

One of the key tropes we explored in the book is the concept of agency. Coined by psychologist David Bakan, agency can be described as the human desire to control one’s life and to excel. Agency motivates us to achieve; it propels us to ask and work for what we want.

The key to being your own agent is to make decisions that are aligned with your priorities and unique contributions.

While some women exercise more agency than others, it is something that can be practiced and developed. In the first of a two part series, let’s look at four ways women can develop the agency muscle:


1. Clarity of direction

Identify your intentions and core values. This is the important foundation for building your clarity of direction. Next, be clear on what are your goals and desires – why did you chose these goals?

Are you seeking to achieve just for achievement’s sake? Women need to think about the long-and short-term implications of their actions.


2. Planful action

Have a plan for yourself and consistently advocate for yourself. Keep your eye on the prize by always working towards achieving your long-and short-term goals.


3. Take calculated risks

Women who have agency know to take calculated risks, as they have a growth mindset. Take a risk – overcome your fears and push yourself out of your comfort zone to go for opportunities that aligns with your career and life, but also be smart by being aware of what you’re signing up for.


4. Self-awareness

Women with agency know themselves extremely well. Know your values, and make decisions based off them. You have to recognise that for each choice, there’s often a trade-off.

This is just half of the agency picture – in the next article, we’ll look at the other qualities that enable the agency muscle – adaptability, resilience, learning and letting go.