After listening to an interview with Claire Zammit of the New Feminine Power, I want to share some of my insights into why women these days are so frequently confused about both their roles as corporate leaders and their roles as women. These insights point to the direction women and men can take to create a fully integrated world for both sexes.
Many women want to lead and make a mark on the world; leave a legacy in business, government or other organizations. And many have tremendous capability to do so. Indeed capable and motivated leaders are sorely needed. But those same women are often torn between their natural desires and capabilities and the competitive demands for individual achievement in corporations. They face dilemmas that force them to confront their roles as women.
The first dilemma is that they find they have to learn to act more like men if they are to succeed. But at the same time their attempts to act with masculine power are often not well-accepted. They are labeled as bitches. They are side-lined like tokens. There’s a sense that they are not authentic and cannot be fully trusted.
Another dilemma is that in becoming the leaders that the business environment calls for, they can’t maintain satisfying family lives. They are forced to put their families second to work demands, against their natural tendencies to put family first. They frequently settle for more junior roles than they are capable of, in order to retain the flexibility they want for their families.
Thirdly, business women often struggle in personal relationships because they have learned to embrace the masculine qualities that society values (self-sufficiency, competition, rationality, single-focus etc.), and have not learned to value and express the feminine qualities that strong lifetime relationships require and that sexual and love attraction on built on, in combination with male characteristics.
Women are either too feminine for business, or too masculine for life. What to do?!
To put this situation in context, it is a very new phenomenon. In most cases, our mothers, and certainly our grandmothers, did not have the choice to serve as organizational leaders. It is only in the past 50 years that average women in progressive countries have gained the right to take leadership roles at all. The years leading up to this change were fought by suffragettes and others demanding women’s rights. Many pioneering female leaders in the past two decades have been learning how to fit in and thrive. They have taken the initial steps but we still see very few models for women to follow regarding how to successfully express our femininity while succeeding both as leaders and in life.
We’ve now reached a third phase of feminism where women must increase their influence to form a new way of working that values and uses both male and female qualities to greatest advantage.
I summarize the 3 phases of feminism thus:
In the 20th century and continuing now in many developing countries, women are fighting for the right to be educated, to fully participate in society and to lead according to their abilities and preferences.
2) Fitting in to a world built by men
As women enter traditionally male-dominated segments of the workforce, they must learn to adapt to the male way of behaving and to male expectations, in order to gain the respect of their (mostly male) colleagues. Women’s ways of doing things are naturally subjugated as it is not clear how they are relevant in the organizational models that have been built by men.
3) Forming a new way of working for both men and women
As women become better established as leaders, and as dissatisfaction with the status quo becomes more evident, women and men have the opportunity to renegotiate and reinvent their ways of working in order to unleash the maximum benefit from both male and female tendencies.
This trend is happening alongside changing demands in modern organizations. As businesses become more service-oriented, more complex and more global, there’s greater focus on creativity, diversity and the development of human potential. This means there is more need for the feminine qualities of intuition, relating, nurturing and multi-tasking.
And in our personal lives, family formation and child care is changing radically, often through huge efforts and great expense to women. Although women, driven by the promise of fulfillment, have been leading this charge, men are also affected and in some cases are willing to make radical changes to their roles in order to create a new balance.
Of course, I’m not saying that only men or only women can have the respective male or female qualities. Quite the contrary, as when all these qualities are valued, individuals are free to express the traits that come most naturally to them within a diverse working culture.
The good news is that women leaders are on the forefront in creating a massive shift in the way the world works. We have the opportunity to promote female values in a world that sorely needs to reassess and redesign businesses and governments. The values of scientific rationalism, competition and individual achievement have served the world very well in the past century, and are ready to be rebalanced. The challenges we face now, from the financial crisis, to climate change, to unresolved problems of poverty and social inequality, need a stronger dose of feminine power to resolve them. This is part of our inevitable evolution towards an integral worldview where we can value all the existing worldviews: female/male, east/west, collective/individual, to create the ideal solutions for our place and time.
The challenge is that there are no models to follow. We cannot copy the models of business and society that have been created so far. The male models of business leadership are not sufficient and the existing female archetypes cannot serve our needs. We will not be going back in time. The only way forward is to tap into our own wisdom and creativity to form something brand new.