The Blog

Women as Transformational Leaders

Marking the 50th anniversary since Betty Friedan authored The Feminine Mystique in 1963, recently published books, blog discussions and articles focusing on women, work and leadership are in rich abundance.  In preparing to lead a discussion at the University of California at Riverside on this topic, I loaded up my Kindle with a handful of the most intriguing offerings and dug in to see what emerging developments might inform and enlighten my perspective.

Taken by surprise, I found a degree of optimism and inclusion that opens new opportunities for dialogue, understanding and action.

Yes, women are still sorely underrepresented on corporate boards and in executive leadership positions.  It certainly remains true that all too many women still make less than their male counterparts performing the same job.  Further, few would dispute that the bulk of housework and childrearing responsibilities disproportionately fall to women.  There is no doubt that much action remains to be initiated and completed — by men and women as individuals, citizens, business leaders, policymakers and elected officials.

Yet this is not the whole story.

I invite you to check out the following two books:

  1.  Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World, by Alyse Nelson (2013).  This book chronicles the evolution of the organization Vital Voices, founded by Hillary Clinton following the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.  Initially started as an nascent initiative within the State Department, Vital Voices Global Partnership now supports the work of twelve thousand women leaders in 144 countries, with over one thousand global staff and partners. vital voices book cover

Early to assert that sustainable global progress cannot happen without supporting the rights of women and girls, Vital Voices is a beacon of hope offering a model for transformative leadership that transcends culture, gender, race and religion.

Recognizing the need for a new paradigm of leadership in our rapidly changing world, Vital Voices identifies key elements required for this transformation:

** “An ever more interconnected world needs participatory leaders”

** “Anyone can make a difference”

** “Big change often begins with small endeavors”

** “Leadership calls for patience, and commitment to stay the course”

** “Leaders are defined, not defeated, by setbacks”

** “Everyone has a platform from which to lead”

** “Opportunity is waiting to be seized”

This book is essential reading for all seeking to understand how women leaders are standing up, often under unspeakable conditions and at tremendous personal risk, to imagine a better world and to work tirelessly on behalf of their families and communities.    Their compelling stories of perseverance and promise illustrate the Vital Voices leadership framework in action and validate its legitimacy:

** “A driving force or sense of mission”

** “Strong roots in the community”

** “An ability to connect across lines that divide”

** “Bold ideas and bold action”

** “A resolve to pay it forward”

This book is a definite “must read” — you will gain renewed hope for what’s possible.

2.   The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio (2013).  These authors set out to discover if, given the disruptive global influences of technology, economic upheaval, generational change, globalization and other factors, people might be more prone to value the feminine aspects of human nature.  To this end, they administered a special survey to a representative population of 64,000 individuals selected to mirror the populations living in 13 countries accounting for almost 2/3 of the world’s gross domestic product.9781118452950_cover.indd

The results are striking — 66% of adults agree that ‘the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.‘  This belief, shared regardless of age, income or nation, seemed to reflect a consensus that traditionally masculine mindsets and behaviors, characterized by control, competition, aggression and zero-sum calculation, have led to many of the pressing societal issues facing us now and threatening our future.  Interestingly, this view is most strongly held by male Millennials in strongly masculine societies!

These findings led to two follow-up studies — the first asking half of the global sample to classify 125 different human behavioral traits as either masculine, feminine or neither; and the second asking the other sample half to rate the importance of the traits to specific virtues (with no gender attribution) characterizing what most people mean when they talk about a ‘good life’ for themselves and others: leadership, success, morality, and happiness.  When all of the data was analyzed, the results were again remarkable. People around the world are strongly consistent in their views of masculine and feminine traits; further, they believe that feminine traits correlate more strongly with making the world a better place.

Based upon their studies and personal interviews in all 13 countries, the authors conclude that we are now living in an ‘Age of Athena‘ within which innovators and leaders, men and women, who demonstrate feminine values such as collaboration, transparency, empathy and inclusion actually have a ‘competitive advantage‘ relative to their peers. Further, 81% of those surveyed agreed that men and women ‘need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world.‘  In other words, this work takes us beyond the tired gender debates focused on “either-or” / “stronger-weaker” / “better-worse” zero-sum assumptions.  Rather than seeing feminine values as exclusively embodied by women, the authors posit that balancing masculine values with feminine ones may be thought of as an emerging form of innovation for the world in which we now live.  The benefits are clear, ranging from higher per capita gross domestic product to higher reported quality of life.

The authors conclude that the best way to advocate for the rights of women and girls is by men adopting their ‘wise, courageous, humane and cooperative’ approach.‘  These ‘Athena-style‘ values can in turn exert an enormously positive impact on multiple workplace domains, including leadership, innovation, organizational management, career management and change management as well as within individuals, families and communities throughout the world.

Another “must read” — providing fresh and illuminating evidence for the criticality of feminine values.

To close for now, these books and others demonstrate that our changing world — and its premium on feminine values — has the potential to catalyze generative changes in attitudes, behaviors, policies and relationships that will benefit us all.

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