Having started my career during the heady or challenging days of the Thatcher era I never questioned the principle of equality or the ability of women to play their part in any aspect of society, work or life. It’s only with hindsight that I was able to see the truth of my own situation and that of many other female leaders in the world of work – that most of us succeeded by developing our masculine traits.
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In my case traits such as logic, action focus, assertiveness, busyness, organised and so on. Many of these are, in my case at least, natural and very helpful capabilities and are especially prized within the business and organisational worlds. However, like anything that is favoured too much they can become unhelpful and exaggerated or dysfunctional – not the traits themselves of course but the way we rely too heavily upon them.
It’s not about gender although on the whole, I think it’s fair to say that women are generally more naturally disposed to understanding and potentially expressing the feminine traits. That’s the beauty of ‘nature’ – she has a system and it works.
So, assertiveness, for example, can crystallise and become controlling, inflexible, myopic or aggressive. Or being action focused can become short-termist, overly driven or rushing. If we then think more broadly about how many organisations are functioning today, we can see the impacts of these behaviours and more like them as they respond to the pressures of our current world. In many cases we see excessive activity creating not only stress but physical, mental and emotional harm. Or a tendency toward silo-ism or independence when everything calls for collaboration, mutuality and joint exploration in order to innovatively and creatively ‘change our world’. And this is where accessing our feminine is so important whether we are male or female. It’s not about gender although on the whole, I think it’s fair to say that women are generally more naturally disposed to understanding and potentially expressing the feminine traits. That’s the beauty of ‘nature’ – she has a system and it works.
As we learn to succeed in a less linear and more complex world, our organisations are crying out for more nurturing, more care, more space to allow the new to emerge, more relationship building and cooperation, more mutuality and less competition, more opportunity to explore ideas and concepts and to expand into the creative process and a deeper surrender into ‘not knowing’. All of these are expressions of the feminine.
I’m sure many people will recognise times when they have accessed some or all these traits, but my question is – how consistently and in what circumstances? Do they feel like they have the right to co-exist alongside the more well-developed and organisationally acceptable masculine traits within your place of work? Are they encouraged, cultivated and celebrated?
Herein lies the job of leaders, to recognise the need and the value of balancing the culture of their organisations and then create the climate and the environment where these feminine traits can come alongside the masculine to create a more wonderfully balanced and multi-dimensional organism. How fabulous would that be and feel? And what miracles of creativity could it produce to help drive new and innovative solutions?