“Femininity is the operating system of twenty-first century progress. Women—and the men who can think like them—are creating a future we’ll all want to inhabit” John Gezerma.
On this International Women’s day I’d like to ask you to celebrate inclusion by forgetting about the number of women you have in a leadership position. Instead go talk to them about feminine traits in leadership. Are you comfortable discussing this? Are these women comfortable talking about it, and do they give their definition of what feminine traits looks like in the workplace? I dare you to ask men the same questions. The level of clarity, confidence, safety that people show in answering these questions will give you an insight on how inclusive is your workplace.
I do not think we can close the gender gap just by counting how many female CEOs are in the world. A number doesn’t tell us much about the level of inclusion of a specific organisation or the world in general. I am talking here especially of inclusion of both feminine and male traits into a business model that values those traits as equally important and necessary in a leader, regardless of their gender.
What the culture of a truly inclusive workplace looks like?
Let’s start by looking at the language used by your D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) initiatives. If you have programs that speak to make women more confident, more assertive, and if you advocate leaning in more, or if you are talking about empowering women, my personal perception is that your program is designed to make women (and everyone else) fit into an outdated business model.
Often, in those type of programs, the underlying message women hear is to ‘buck up’, be tough, competitive, and never show weakness, compassion or vulnerability, because if they do, they will instantly lose respect or will be considered too emotional to climb the corporate ladder.
And then there is the paradox of being called abrasive, or even aggressive once they do so. The last thing to do is to try to be like a man to succeed — to try to fit in rather than belong. Why should a woman be more like a man to succeed?
Women are perceived often as less self-confident than men. Is it because they are truly less self-confident or is because we ask them to fit into a current business model that is not designed for them or around them? How do we do that? Every time we ask women to practice power poses or, pressure their personality to match their role. This is perpetuating the old cultural habit that wants women to fit in, to comply, to conform before they are granted access or if they want to be acknowledged.
I do not believe women lack confidence in general. Instead I believe that is normal to feel not confident in a foreign, at times hostile, environment.
It is normal to feel not confident playing or acting as a men when you are a woman.
A long road towards inclusion that needs first to address the tendency of focusing on the numbers, on the “how many” women, races, you name it, rather than on inclusion. It has become a battle of numbers that will increase the gap as it does not address the real issue: lack of inclusion.
Whatever the work is, do it with authenticity and integrity. After all it means embracing both the feminine and masculine within us. It might seem stating the obvious but it must be stated again and again and, not only on International Women’s day. We all hold in our hands this responsibility, everyday!