I was invited to Deloittes Netherlands to talk about how women can develop an edge in their leadership by embracing more of their feminine qualities and values. The world in the second decade of the 21st century is one that is requiring more collaborative working styles and more empathetic, intuitive, compassionate environments that are increasingly being shown to help people thrive … and as a consequence these are bringing in more profit. With some of the largest companies in the world now showing a greater profitably when they have more women on the Board and in executive positions, compared to those led by male-only boards, the question of how to leverage the power of women in a way that is not being done now, needs to be at the top of every company agenda.
Deloittes have a Women-to-the-Top initiative and three of their women leaders, Marieke Treffers, Kelly Pender and Hilary Richters invited me over from the UK to speak at a women-only session where they planned to play a Business Game that tests your leadership and collaborative decision-making skills. I was to providing the pre-game content that spoke of the power of feminine leadership. Here is a brief summary of what I talked about with other blog posts (to come) that will share more insights from the day ……
- I noted how unusual it is for women to gather in a business professional setting without any men. We don’t often have that chance, if at all. Usually, if we ever meet as women-only it is in more social contexts and environments. Today we were going to play with that opportunity to experience the difference of just using our feminine energy.
- My passion is to explore new solutions to create change in the world. This includes looking at new kinds of leadership and specifically what women can bring …not just ourselves as part of a gender headcount, but our feminine qualities and traits. These are so often held back because they are not welcomed and embraced by the Dominant Culture. As most corporate people say …. that soft stuff is a bit of a distraction and not seen as relevant to the main thrust of business.
- In explaining my work and writing about the Rise of the Feminine (title of my forthcoming book) it is important to note that the bigger picture is about men and women working together and blending their different energies and contributions, once they have been recognised. It’s all about balanced teams, balanced decision-making and balanced leadership.
- I noted that progress has been slow. The journey that women have made in the last four decades in particular, from the kitchen and home to being able to be Captains of Industry, and not just half the workforce, is stellar when you look back over hundreds of years of being held back and marginalised. However in the second decade of the 21st century, women are anything from 2% of CEOs (top 100-200 companies) and 5-20% of Board Members. Will we ever make it to 50% or the 40% that some countries are regulating for? New thinking is needed.
- Whilst regulations for Company Board positions are a key driver, they don’t necessarily solve the problem and keep women in the pipeline that serves those top exec positions within companies. Women are not always leaving because they can’t get through the glass ceiling .. some don’t like what they see on the other side of the glass and are unwilling to pay the price. Big change is needed and that takes a higher level of engagement by women, actively supported by men. In fact, there’s a need for men to move from simply approving female-focussed initiatives to driving them and really getting behind the problem.
- So why don’t women make it up through the pipeline? I talked about how many women report that they feel unseen, misunderstood, unheard by men … yes there is actual research to show that some men (and it amplifies with age) cannot hear the softer higher tones of women. (I have written about that before).
- I explained the cultural undercurrents that form so much of the conscious and unconscious conditioning of human societies. The work of Dr Riane Eisler and her book “Caring Economics & The Real Wealth of Nations” provides an excellent blueprint for explaining how so much of what women stand for and contribute is perceived as being worth less in society today. Dr Eisler talks about the two opposing paradigms for organising human behaviour: Hierarchy and Partnership.
- The Dominant Culture today, so very steeped in hierarchy is having challenges adapting to the changes that are coming as women and feminine values rise. A recent example I quoted is the news article reporting that female CEOs are more likely to be fired than their male counterparts…. seven times more likely if they have come from outside the organisation. Men are far less patient of any perceived failing performance by women. I recently discovered a new phrase that describes this … the GLASS CLIFF.
- I documented my own journey from being a bullied senior exec leaving a top job in the newspaper industry in the mid 1980s (now that’s a LOOOONG time ago!!) which then spurred me into being a successful and award-winning business owner. I was definitely Action Woman completely embracing all my masculine achievement traits (quite unconsciously), even in my own enterprise, and that led to serious burn-out and a long period of re-invention in new fields. Over the years, and a phase feeling very invisible and lost as an older woman in a society favouring youth, I found my new direction and energy by understanding what my feminine qualities could bring to my life and success. My latest incarnation, called by poet George Hardwick an “entrepreneurial queen of grace” feels a better description of a new and more productive, wiser, authentic self.
- I proposed that the era of women striving to be seen as Equal and the Same, where the conversation is about women being able to do a job as good-as-a-man, needs to be replaced with Equal and Different. Now it is the time for women to reconnect with their unexplored feminine side, become familiar with these traits, and bring them to bear in the much-needed transition process to a new way of working, living, being and leading.
- The Athena Doctrine book and research data of 64,000 people was referenced. This is a superb resource. Co-author John Gerzema writes about 32,000 people canvassed for their opinion on which of a long list of values were either feminine, masculine or neutral. Another 32,000 people across the globe were asked to list the qualities of the ideal modern leader. Not surprisingly (well not to me) 90% of those traits are feminine with the research vocalising that people (men and women) expressly want to turn away from proud, independent, uncollaborative leadership styles… so very much a signature of the Dominant Culture. If ever there was a mandate for women to step forward and lead change as their authentic selves, the Athena Doctrine provides the evidence and blueprint.
- These feminine values and traits have been left out of the corporate sphere for so long that it is very difficult for most people, men and women, to grasp how to bring them in. I shared stories about where I have seen collaboration, community-building, inclusive-thinking, healing and compassion played out at the highest level on the world stage. Change is happening and role models for different decision-making and leadership practised by both men and women, are there for us to follow now.
- Practical tools were promised and I talked through a number of ways that women can act, think and speak differently to leverage their feminine power. The two main recommendations were 1) to utilise the circle as an advanced and simple methodology for communication in meetings where everybody is more engaged, and 2) for women to focus on community-building in their organisations instead of simply networking. It is in these community gatherings, women can practice holding their personal power in a different way. The rewards of both circle communication and women-only gatherings are outstanding for higher levels of engagement, performance and success.
- My Keynote now completed we moved on to the next part of the event which was the playing of a business game that allows teams to explore (in an online business fantasy world) the impacts of risk-taking, and the pressure to make quick decisions in a fast-changing world to sustain a profitable business where the context is securing the needs of people, profit and planet. Of course, working together as a team is important to the game so as a primer, I led a pre-game session of community building.
- There is nothing quite like sitting in a circle sharing stories to bring a group of strangers together quickly and help build relationship for effective working.
- Sharing a personal story that introduces you is a particularly powerful way to bond.
- Read my next blog post for more insights from this day
If you want to review the actual slides then check them out on my slideshare profile