scarcity mentality - there's more than one pie

The Vanishing Pie Myth: Is Scarcity Mentality Eating You?

We live in a world of injustice. There is injustice towards non-dominant, marginalised groups of people in our society. People’s voices are silenced, people are kept from positions of power, and marginalised voices are not the people leading the power structures of the world and making decisions. Those are facts. I could present reams of statistics, graphs, reports and pie charts to demonstrate this.

As the world progresses, those marginalised voices gather pace, gather strength, get organised, campaign and drive change. They take action, protest, make demands, campaign, and gradually make changes happen to drive us towards a fairer world for everyone. It’s a tough slog though! 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still not achieving equal pay. People of Colour are not routinely represented in positions of power in our society. It’s hard for those from working class backgrounds to progress to the highest levels of structures in our society, and for many people with disabilities, simply being able to move around our world freely is a struggle.

Here’s the thing though; there’s this myth that pervades that there is one pie and that anyone working from the margins to gain power takes a bit of that pie, leaving less pie for the others. It’s often driven by the green-eyed monster. Jealousy can cloud everything.  My theory is that it’s actually driven by fear and the imposter syndrome behind that jealousy. 

Not only does it make dominant groups dig in and close ranks to keep non-dominant groups out so as to protect their own bit of the pie, it even drives those working towards change to fight amongst themselves. People think that if they are working on a gap in society, and someone else joins them in working in that space on fixing that same gap, that people might…shock horror…think they’re better than them! That fear drives people into irrational behaviour, and that in turn drives away the people they could collaborate with to fight the same battle together and win more victories. More voices are surely better than one lone voice when we’re campaigning for the same rights? If someone else has success in achieving things you are campaigning for, surely that’s good? That’s what it’s all about?

If we’re campaigning to end discrimination faced by women in the workplace, for example, surely we want as many people as possible working on this? I don’t care how many people get involved, I am happy for as many groups as possible to be created, we all want the same thing, so let’s get to work. And if we can collaborate on projects and help each other, then let’s do that! Our collective voices will be louder than lone ones.

What are the clues it’s happening?

We know that change will happen faster if we all work together. We know that businesses would be more successful if non-dominant groups were better represented. Sadly, scarcity mentality very often prevents these things from happening, so you see jealousy and rivalry from people who would benefit more from supporting each other. So how does this scarcity mentality manifest itself? And what does it mean? Well as someone who has experienced this a lot, here are some of the clues:

  • Imitation sure, it’s the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also feel a bit like stalking when someone literally tries to copy everything you do
  • Concealment – you start to hear more and more examples where people have asked to be put in contact with you, or asked about things you’re doing, but those messages never get to you
  • Obsession – this one happens a lot; people with scarcity mentality start to become obsessed, you start to get weird ‘likes’ on things you posted months ago (they’re checking out your social profiles), they start mentioning things you might have casually mentioned ages ago… in short it feels like all they do is obsess about what you’re doing
  • Dismissal – this can manifest itself in different ways, it could be dismissing an idea you mention in a meeting, or it could be posts, articles, blogs written in direct contradiction to things you say to undermine you
  • Detachment – sometimes, sadly, people who are suffering from scarcity mentality cut off from you completely as your mere presence drives their jealous mind crazy; it can be sudden, and fast, and it’s a tough one to deal with
  • Sabotage – you start to hear things that have been said about what you’re doing that indicate someone is spreading dangerous rumours and lies about you to discredit you

Initially, when you see that someone is experiencing scarcity mentality in response to things you are doing, it can feel very, very personal. It’s a tough one to handle, as it can often be someone you thought was a friend or ally. There is a process you have to go through to be able to deal with this type of behaviour. It requires empathy towards them, and a sense that they actually need help to make them feel secure enough to continue the fight you are all on.

It takes years to really figure out how to deal with it all. As a sales person, I remember many years ago facing this situation. I had joined an all-male sales team, and I started to hit the highest sales numbers of anyone in the team. Most people were really happy for me and I gained new-found respect. There was, however, one person who started behaving weirdly towards me. They started undermining me, copying me and turning people against me. On it went, on and on. Initially I retaliated and started undermining them. Until I had a chat with a good friend and mentor who helped me to see that this person needed my empathy and understanding at their scarcity mindset. Instead of seeing that all sales won were good for the company, they couldn’t stop themselves being jealous of my success. Through careful thinking, I worked out how to behave towards them. It’s a good thing we figured it out, as I eventually became their boss!

What can you do about it?

As scarcity mentality is something I am subjected to on a regular basis, it’s something I have had to develop strategies for. Working on equal inclusion for everyone in the workplace ironically means I often face people who struggle to embrace the inclusion of lots of people working on these things. So, as time has gone on, I have developed some ways in which to get through this

  1. Acknowledge the problem sometimes people are not aware of what they are doing,  and can’t  see there is a problem, so it’s down to you to recognise the signs,  acknowledge there is a problem, and decide if you want to call it out, and how you want to do that.
  2. Find your allies – when you experience this, you really need people to talk to about it, who can help you work out what’s going on, and how to address the problems. I am lucky to have a tribe of wonderful people I can talk to about this; we can rant and laugh and it gets me through it.
  3. Maintain the moral high ground whatever you do, do not resort to the same types of behaviour to match theirs. You are a success, which is why they are behaving like this; don’t let them drag you down to their level of behaviour. As Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high”.
  4. Continue with what you’re doing – don’t, whatever you do, let this type of behaviour stop you from doing the positive things you are doing. You need to continue on your quest – there’s lots to do!
  5. Silence is power – when you are experiencing this type of difficult behaviour from someone, often, what they are looking for is a reaction so they can prove you are in the wrong in some way. The best thing you can do is go silent towards them and don’t react negatively.
  6. Offer friendship this one is only for when you feel strong enough. Often, people behave in this way because they feel alone in their battle. If you feel you can, then offer to chat to that person and you might find you can make a friend from the situation. It’s rare, but it does happen.
  7. Fuel your success ironically, for every person who has tried to undermine me, sabotage, detach, imitate or derail me, what they actually do is fuel my success! It makes me more and more determined to achieve my goals; it makes me want to be spectacular. So, in a way, they are driving the success of the very thing they are trying to derail.

In the end, if someone, or several people, are behaving like this, it’s down to you to be the bigger person and continue with the important work you are doing. There are always more pies; it’s a myth that there’s one to fight over. You can afford to be generous, kind, open-minded and forgiving as you are the one enjoying success and gaining traction.

Let your star shine brightly, continue with your work, be fabulous, be dazzling and surround yourself with people to celebrate all of that with you. 

Do you want to know more about how your organisation can reimagine a better world and shine brightly? Get in touch.

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1 thought on “The Vanishing Pie Myth: Is Scarcity Mentality Eating You?

    • Author gravatar

      This is such a good article. Thanks Mo. I think a lot of people will have a really hard time seeing this in themselves and I think you’ve approached a possibly tough subject for people with a lot of kindness and compassion. We should all be helping each other, not competing or feeling put out be each other!

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