by Nikole Reaksecker
I will not lie.
Being a woman in a leadership position is hard. Everywhere we turn, we receive conflicting messages. Be assertive, but not too assertive (or you will be labeled a bitch.) Negotiate for a higher salary, but be careful because if you are too aggressive in asking for what you want people won’t like you. Be smart, but not too smart because you don’t want to intimidate your colleagues. Be attractive, but not too attractive because you won’t be taken seriously if you are too pretty.
Have you ever longed for the day when you could bring your full self to your profession, where you don’t have to hide or diminish your own value, where you can speak your mind without fear of the repercussions, and it really doesn’t matter what you look like? I know I have.
I also wonder how to balance everything. I’d like to start a family, have a meaningful career, own a home, and be of service to a greater cause. But, how is this possible when it takes two incomes to buy a home in the Bay Area, when many of the household duties still fall to women, and most companies do not offer paternity leave?
For the longest time, women were told that we needed to be more like men in order to be successful in the workplace. However, we operate within a system where traits that are rewarded in men are frequently punished when you are a woman. Women are also subtly (and not so subtly) told that the skills we bring to bear, such as compassion and empathy, are not valued in most professions. We work in a system where neither men nor women are truly encouraged to be themselves, to express their emotions openly, or to attend to matters that take them away from the business at hand. There is extreme pressure to succeed, to earn a healthy salary, and to work excessive hours. As a result, we spend less time with friends and family, we feel continually stressed and overworked, and we often fall ill. When you are working within a system that does not support you, it can be incredibly difficult to see alternatives and the pain can be unbearable. But, there is hope. The world is changing. And, these changes have profound implications for the concept of leadership and the role of women in society.
At this point in time, we are more connected than we have ever been. We live in a multi-cultural, multi-dimensional, global world. Confronted by a myriad of issues that cross geographical, cultural, social and economic boundaries, leaders can no longer be one dimensional and traits that are solely masculine or feminine will not serve us well. Because the issues are so complex, the world needs holistic thinkers with a vision, with the ability to empathize and with the capacity to bring people from many diverse backgrounds together to solve problems. As women, we are uniquely suited to stepping into the leadership roles that will transform the world.
But, how do we step into our own leadership potential when we are trapped within the current system that ultimately will not serve us or society? Now is the time to redefine our collective understanding of leadership and to appreciate what being a leader truly means. If you have wondered or struggled with the following, you are primed to undertake this task:
- Are you passionate about your work but feel the pain of working within a system that is broken?
- Do you want to go beyond, to put forth your best work while working towards a better future?
- Have you wondered how to take the power of your knowing and turn it into sustainable change?
- I believe that we can change the system by fully embracing our feminine leadership potential, being authentically and unapologetically true to our values, speaking our truth, and claiming our power. As women leaders, we have the unique ability to:
Develop a deep understanding of people who are not like us. Foster collaboration and share power with people from all races, genders, and creeds (rather than asserting our dominance and power over others.)
Work on multiple issues at one time, seeing the whole picture and the connections between seemingly very different issues.
Hold all viewpoints as valuable and consider a wide range of perspectives as we shape our vision for the future.
Will it be easy? No! But, here’s what I know is true:
- Daily practices to care for your spirit are critical while you navigate within the system.
- You have to pay close attention to the truth of the system and learn how it works so that you can change it.
- You need support. Not only is there strength in numbers, but having a mentor, an advisor or a colleague that you can strategize with can help you generate new ideas.
- We need to be honest. Change will not happen overnight. It will take time to achieve gender equality.
- And, last but not least, the voices of both men and women need to be heard and valued.
Together, we can re-imagine, re-shape, and re-invent what it means to lead. Working together, we can be the change we want to see in the workplace and beyond.
Questions? Thoughts? Ideas?
Do you have a story about how hard it is to be within a system that you want to change? Do you have personal practices that help you through the hard days? Do you have a different understanding of what it means to be a powerful woman leader or a different view of what the world needs most? The more we share, the more we are able to see clearly the path to a new way. I’d love to hear your stories! Please contact me at Nikole@Eco-Engage.com
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