The group who gathered this morning on the 28th floor of the Deutsche Bank building, with spectacular views over Sydney harbour, were almost gender balanced. The conversation about Feminine Leadership was aimed at men so it was refreshing to have over half the group representing the male gender. Everyone was open-minded and the consensus at the end was: how do we get some of the other guys who don’t “get this” or are not as tuned in to their feminine side, to show up for a conversation about the changing role of women and the rise of feminine values in society?
Breakfast pre-working meetings always have to be quick so we honour that little gap we have to give some new ideas between people getting up extra early and being at their desks for their normal routine. With just over an hour I jumped straight in with a 40-minute slideshow and talk which I so wished we could have expanded into at least double the time. We made time for small group discussion and report back afterwards but both segments, equally valuable, could have gone on for much longer.
After sharing my passion and interest in the domain of women’s empowerment, feminine leadership and more balanced decision-making, I highlighted recent press coverage about the lack of women at the top of corporations and on boards. It’s a big conversation in Australia since the numbers seem to be going down, plus the just-released Global Gender Gap (GGG) report published by the World Economic Forum shows that Australia has dropped down nine positions in the rankings from within the top twenty down to 24.
This is an unusual move in a developed nation expected to maintain its leadership. When I asked if this was a concern the men in the room said Yes… quite clearly they do appreciate the important role women play at the highest levels and the positive impact which their influence has.
Despite girls and women having very equitable access to education and opportunities (Australia is number 1 in the GGG’s report category for education) this does not translate into women moving through the ranks of work and getting to the top. Somehow they are getting lost in the pipeline. A Sydney Morning Herald article highlighted this in an article last week called “Ahead at School but behind in the Workforce”. My talk addressed the reasons why women disappear from, and take themselves out of, the pipeline that supplies the top jobs.
I wanted to share three main areas of data with a few insights into why the feminine mindset, values and characteristics can change the reality for women.
1 Brain Difference:
The gender equality conversation has been stuck in talk about “sameness” and now desperately needs to move on to address “difference”. Equal but not the same. And we must respect those differences and leverage them.
I referenced the recent discoveries made in the new field of brain science and particularly the work of Dr Louann Brizendine and Dr Daniel Amen. Very clearly, little girls grow up differently to little boys and it’s not any old family programming and cultural stereotyping being played out. A girl baby has an exceptional ability to read faces while little boys are interested in activities and things. Girls are wired for connection. Dr Brizendine points out that the centre in female brain which processes emotions can be likened to an 8-lane super highway. Meanwhile in the male brain that same centre is, relatively speaking, a narrow country lane. (see the slide)
Dr Amen says that his study of 45,000 brain scans show that female brains are radically more active that male brains in 85% of the brains. With dramatically more activity in the front of the brain Dr Amen asserts that women are actually wired for leadership since their brain structure pre-disposes them for:
- self control
- appropriate worry
All of these traits and qualities, which women find much easier than men because they are more naturally embedded in their brain structure, are qualities increasingly being required of a modern leader in our turbulent, uncertain times. Latest research also shows the ‘plastic’ and flexible nature of the human brain (common thinking was that it was fixed and unchangeable) which means that we can learn and take on new skills and traits, with conscious practice. So we are not trapped in old circuitry that was developed there for a purpose millennia ago.
2 Why bringing Caring into the Economics conversation is a game-changer
I quoted the work of Dr Riane Eisler, social scientist, attorney and bestselling author of a number of paradigm shifting books. Her work on Caring Economics in her latest book “The Real Wealth of Nations” shines some light on how most of humanity has a tendency to hierarchical thinking from a culture of a Dominator mindset. This leads people within the system to believe that one party/group/individual is either superior or inferior. We have ended up with a hierarchy of races, ethnicities and religions etc (the basis of all conflicts) and a clear belief in the superiority of the masculine gender over the feminine. This hierarchy of belief is held in place by control and fear and expresses itself to greater or lesser degrees in societies, organisations and governments around the world.
Dr Eisler talks about how this way of seeing the world is sitting on a continuum where at the other end of the spectrum, the Partnership mindset is one where there is greater equality. Here a more collaborative culture exists where power is used in relationships to empower each other through mutual respect and mutual benefit. She cites the Nordic countries as all being examples of this ‘advanced’ cultural thinking. All those countries have emerged as prosperous economies and happier places to live (OECD reports.)
What happens where the Dominator culture prevails or still has influence is that inequality remains. Equal rights laws may be in place but there still exists within the conscious and sub-conscious mindset, deeply embedded codes which play out as the subjugation of the female gender and anything associated with feminine values, roles and work. We end up with a world where all work and money making endeavours are held as significantly more valuable than the daily human work of caring, care-giving, household, home-focussed nurturing tasks and roles largely provided by women at no or little cost.
That is what makes the value system associated with the word “feminine” loaded with often negative meaning and being worth ‘less-than’. Dr Eisler is a huge advocate of establishing the work of caring and care-giving as valuable work that should be respected and valued in the economy in a way it is not now. In her book she gives numerous examples of companies that have realised the value of caring for people, as a priority over money and other stakeholders, and have found it the most effective route to profit. Caring pays dividends. Watch my video interview with Dr Riane Eisler
3 Feminine Traits are needed for the new leadership paradigm
Another brilliant book is called “The Athena Doctrine: How Women (& the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio. Their research involved 64,000 people and the authors travelling 150,000 miles for interviews.
The authors made a long list of human traits and characteristics and asked half their participants to rate these as being masculine, feminine or neutral. The other half were then asked which human traits are now important for modern leaders to be successful in these times, which traits were important for success and which for happiness. In summary, some of the skills that people felt were required to thrive in today’s world were honesty, empathy, communication, collaboration, most of which come more naturally to women and were seen as feminine traits by the group. Their extensive data showed them that feminine qualities were now being more highly valued, whether these are expressed in women or men.
Two thirds of the 64,000 people surveyed in thirteen nations, feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. This marks a global trend away from the winner-takes-all, masculine approach to getting things done. Drawing from interviews at innovative organizations in eighteen nations and at Fortune 500 boardrooms, the authors reveal how men and women alike are recognizing significant value in traits commonly associated with women, such as nurturing, cooperation, communication, and sharing. The Athena Doctrine shows why femininity is the operating system of 21st century prosperity. Book Link.
Andrew Sinclair also tweeted this link after the event which is a very succinct 2-minute summary of the book.
Action is needed to correct the imbalances which unconsciously and unwittingly penalises one gender that has a different way of operating, different needs that can revolve around caring and different drivers and motivations.
A summary of suggested actions follows:
- Be better at really listening – create structures where people can be heard. Women often hold back in their verbal contributions in a mixed group.
- Change the way promotion is done: reach out to support women who hold back in putting themselves forward. Men more naturally step forward and women can tend hold back, they are culturally supported and conditioned to do so.
- Look at the values that underpin the organisation culture – note the importance & impact of caring. Where is it in the culture.
- Acknowledge, celebrate & leverage difference. Each individual has a contribution to make and will do so in a different way. Diversity is crucial for businesses to innovate and be more creative with problem solving. Once the gender gap is fully closed the increased participation of women with inclusive thinking will help reduce the gaps that exists for older people, other ethic groups and social class etc
- Understand the differences in communication for both genders: training would be helpful so people could really get what is invisible and unspoken yet which influences and pervades everything creating misunderstanding and disengagement.
- Men: consult the women in their life more. Female mentors for men would open them up to new thinking and also help them express their emotions more, if they are not already doing so.
- Men: can think like fathers. Daughters help men be more empathetic, generous and other-directed.
- Consider: what is the new masculine? The old thinking of the male provider and the man’s identity wrapped up in achievement, financial success and sometimes aggressiveness no longer works or has value. It is a massive conversation about men and women now want and expect from each other.
- Create a women’s community. Women’s circles of mutual support inside organisations will be hugely beneficial in helping women become more empowered.
- Better mentor structure for women. Create champions for women.
Resources referred to:
Link to blog post re daughters needing Fathers
Recommended video: good for fathers to understand what their daughters take on board consciously and unconsciously from their parents. Called: “Watch A Student Totally Nail Something About Women That I’ve Been Trying To Articulate For 37 Years”.