As we move further into the 21st century and away from the inequalities of the past, more and more women are taking their equal place as leaders in the world, as business owners, creators, scholars, powerful human beings with talents and intelligence to contribute to the world.
Society and culture has come a long way (and there is still a way to go). Women have enabled themselves more opportunity by realising their own leadership… but not without growing pains.
For example, if you are a leader and a woman today, chances are you are still living out some of the outdated frames of last centuries expectations, whilst carrying all of the of the new frames of “having it all” and “doing it all” by the standards of 21st century expectations.
The expectation to be:
- Professionally successful - climb the corporate ladder.
- Fit, healthy.
- An incredible and attentive mother, spouse, friend, sibling, daughter who provides for needs of those in her world.
- A supportive partner.
- Financially independent.
- A leader in business who is also tough, masculine, and unemotional.
- To balance home life and work life.
- To have a well organised home, happy healthy children.
Expectations are everywhere - check out any glossy magazine - “yes you can have it all” - “a new you for 2018” all offered with the presupposition that you are not already good enough or woman enough and that unless you have it all you haven’t quite made it.
The expectation to be everything traditionally expected of women, plus now everything traditionally expected of men. And if you could nail most of that whilst trying out the new facial yoga class to minimise those fine lines and wrinkles that would be the ideal thanks.
This paradigm is not only unrealistic (nigh impossible), it can encourage self-sabotaging behaviours:
- Trying to manage it all by sacrificing your own personal needs, and/or;
- Being someone, you think you are expected to be, by sacrificing your own personal authenticity and power as a female and human being.
Sacrificing your own personal needs.
When was the last time you did something for you? Do you feel torn between your competing roles as a woman - career, wife, mother, lover, sister etc? Does it feel like each role has so many things to juggle, and it’s a little (a lot) more than you can sometimes handle? The family needs attention, your staff/team need attention, there’s upcoming deadlines for work you haven’t quite finished yet, you can’t remember the last time you had a day off for yourself. It’s like being on a mouse-wheel of work and responsibilities, meeting everyone else needs with the Queen song in your head “I want to break free” on constant repeat. You’ve been saying to your girlfriends “yes, we must catch up” for months and when you final sit down in the evening realise that you have to do it all over again in less than 12 hours.
Of course, you would love to slow down, look after your own needs, but you have unconsciously bought into the frame of “having it all” and “doing it all” so you feel guilty and shame yourself about it. Guilt and shame are wonderful motivators to keep women on the mouse-wheel. Am I doing enough? Am I successful enough? Are my kids doing well at school? After some time, you don’t even know what your needs are as they have become so neglected. Worse, through your neglect you unconsciously teach everyone around you to neglect your needs too. Do you know what your needs are? Do you know how to meet them and ask for them to be met?
Wearing a Masculine Mask at work.
Do you feel like you can’t fully be yourself because you might be discounted as a woman? Maybe you avoid bringing your full expression of yourself including your emotions to work because you might be relegated into the “you’re just being emotional” category? Perhaps there’s a sense that you simply have to fight harder for the same opportunities? These could be cultural fears or outright cultural realities in your workplace.
So, potentially you wear a masculine mask at work, fully expressing the “tough” and competitive parts of you, and steering clear from emotions, and your femininity. Perhaps you would love to be yourself, but it seems like a choice between authenticity and career progression and you have worked too hard to just let it all go.
Unfortunately, this approach requires that you suppress your authenticity and the full extent of your power as a human being. It buys into and therefore encourages the existing (or imagined) cultural paradigm that leadership is exclusively masculine and that you need to be exclusively masculine as a woman to succeed. This takes a toll on your morale, inhibits your best and generally causes you to relate to others from a shallow and less genuine place. Worse it encourages others, particularly fellow women to do the same. The biggest loser of all of this is the culture in which you work. It is missing out on ALL that you possess BOTH your masculinity and femininity. It is not necessary to disown one over the other. Why as women do we not realise that our feminine qualities are unique and equally valuable to masculine qualities in leadership?
What’s the answer?
It might be tempting to lay all of the blame on culture and assert that the perpetrators of all of this should change and then you as a woman could be who you are more fully. But this answer suffers from two flaws. One it places the answer outside of your hands, and two, you are one of the perpetrators.
If you have struggled with some of the issues brought up in this article, then you have engaged in some of the behaviours outlined in it. Meaning that, at least in your micro hemisphere of the world, you have embodied, and therefore co-created the very paradigm you wish were different.
You have done this every time you have:
- Felt guilty about having your own needs.
- Felt unheard and unvalued but haven’t voiced your needs.
- Voiced your needs and then proceeded to contradict them by putting everyone else’s first.
- Squashed emotions, femininity, and your authenticity at work in service of being a more tough and masculine stereotype leader.
- Felt competitive toward, and projected perfection and “having it all beautifully together” to other women.
- Listened to the inner critic of self-judgement telling you that you could do better.
These are the behaviours and attitudes that perpetuate the underlying paradigm.
The answer is so easy - yep it's YOU……….
If you feel like this old way of showing up in the world doesn’t quite fit you any more or if you have realised that you can choose how you would like to show up, then what’s needed is a paradigm shift, a different way of being in the world.
This means sitting down and redefining the following;
- What do I believe about myself as a woman ?
- How do I choose to define myself, as a woman?
- How will I honour both the masculine and feminine in me?
- How will I express this in my behaviour?
You can do this on your own with pen and paper, or guided by others with support, but nobody can do it for you, and it must be you who does it.
- How will you define your role in life, at home, at work? Is it determined by your gender? Or will you choose to define it by something else? Your will? Your uniqueness as a human being? If you want others to abandon the notion that it’s your role to be everything for everyone – you need to abandon that notion yourself.
- How will you behave? If you want your needs to matter, you will need to voice them, and stand behind that voice.
- How will you relate to others? If you want to be treated differently, you need to show up differently, have accountability conversations and back up what you think of yourself/needs with congruent action.
- How will you set up systems to support this new way of being? This can be as simple as sitting down with your team and/or your partner and redefining responsibilities, workload allocation, and what you can sustainably commit and not commit too together.
There is no template or one size fits all and the answers you come up with from this process will evolve and change through time. In the world of the glossy magazines can you be authentic to the answer that fits for you? This is about women checking in with what they really need and want and how the responsibility is theirs to be checking in with what frames of reference they are buying into and how resourceful those frames are.
This all sounds easier to do in theory than in practice, I agree but how do you know unless you try it on? And aren’t you deserving of this? If you won’t choose to merit your own attention and care from yourself, how will anyone else? Carrying on with an existing way of being that doesn’t support your happiness or your ability to thrive isn’t sustainable, and in the long run is the much harder option.
So is it time to make it easy on yourself, set some dedicated ‘me’ time and get some support to focus on you and your development?
Unless you are able to transition out of these outdated paradigms and redefine your way of being in the world on your own sustainable and healthy terms, you are headed for more of the same ‘mouse-wheel’ burnout and worse you will be pointing others in the same direction.
Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through you. Take the leap and risk being seen in all your glory.