International Women’s Day is celebrated today, one of the United Nations’ days designated to a key global issue. Although not well known, it seeks to highlight and honor the many roles that women play around the world, the progress that has been made to ensure equality, and to focus attention on the progress still needed. One of the 8 Millennium Development Goals, adopted by UN member nations to reduce poverty and improve lives, is to promote gender equality and empower women by reducing disparities in primary and secondary education, increasing literacy rates, and increasing the proportion of women in governments.
This International Women’s Day comes at a critical time – a time when the world is crying out for models of sustainable peace and healthy ways to collaborate, partner and nurture in relationships, organizations and between nations. It’s time to support the peacebuilders and develop models of leadership that are collaborative and effective. It’s time to value the qualities of the feminine (collaboration, partnership, nurturing, intuition long term thinking) and bring them into full partnership with the masculine. In the past this was an issue of social justice, today it is an economic and human imperative.
What is it that women bring to leadership? What does feminine leadership look like? How do successful women managers motivate, make decisions or plan for the future? How do their experiences as women – as wives, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters – help or hinder them in developing an effective leadership style? What is the impact of this style on those around them?1
Developing women as leaders has focused in the past on the cognitive/male side. The first book written for women managers talked entirely about how to fit into the existing paradigm of management, to develop the ability to work well in the hierarchy. We were told to attend football games and learn sports metaphors to fit in. Women were trying to function without all their tools or resources when they left their feminine sides at home.
Women leaders today are redesigning diverse cultural landscapes at all levels – economic, political and social. Amplify their work and increase their sphere of influence - ask them about their wisest leadership, when their feminine guides them to link their heart felt state of being and their insight with knowledge and assertive action for remarkable results. Listen to the stories of women bringing fresh approaches that reconcile a concern for bottom-line results with a concern for people and values. Women relate their decisions to their larger effect upon the family, community, environment and even world peace, and typically place less emphasis on status and build their authority from connecting to the people around them. These women leaders share rather than hoard information as a source of power, building a web of inclusion and utilizing circles as they set up project teams, staffing or office lay out.
Emerging women leaders are part of a vanguard, a “rising tide” of wise leadership around the world. These women achieve positive results every day in building peace, education, and robust development, reducing child and maternal mortality and ensuring justice, gender equality, health and environmental sustainability.
In many ways women are the peacebuilders. Women are community leaders, often at the center of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), popular protests, electoral referendums, and other citizen-empowering movements whose influence has grown with the global spread of democracy. Women are adept at bridging ethnic, religious, political, and cultural divides. Social science research indicates that women generally are more collaborative than men and thus more inclined toward consensus and compromise. Women often use their role as mothers to cut across international borders and internal divides.
Women have their fingers on the pulse of the community. Living and working close to the roots of conflict, they are well positioned to provide essential information about activities leading up to armed conflict and record events during war, including gathering evidence at scenes of atrocities. Women thus play a critical role in mobilizing their communities to begin the process of reconciliation and rebuilding once hostilities end. “After the genocide, women rolled up their sleeves and began making society work again.” Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
Rwanda was 70% female after the terrible genocide in 1995. These women set out to rebuild their society through a web structure. A few women came together under the shade of the eucalyptus tree. They cried a lot at first, weeping endless tears of shame for the slaughter of their children, families and friends. When the tears dried up they decided to do what they knew how to do and began making hand woven baskets from coiled papyrus reeds. They created an organization called Avega that now involves 25,000 widows and is a place of support and healing. They quickly turned their attention to the children orphaned in the genocide and formed new families no longer divided by tribal lines, sleeping under one roof, sharing food and laughing together. This is one example of the power of women’s wisdom in action.
Women are highly invested in preventing, stopping, and recovering from conflict. Women are motivated to protect their children and ensure security for their families. Despite--or because of—the harsh experiences of so many who survive violent conflict, women generally refuse to give up the pursuit of peace. “If we’d had women around the table, there would have been no war; women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other people’s children.” Haris Silajdzic, former Prime Minister of Bosnia
Women are attuned with the cycles of the body and cycles of nature. We care about and understand renewal and regeneration, developing longer-term perspectives rather than maximizing short-term gain. The feminine is aligned with the Native American core
belief of planning for seven generations to come. We know what it means to give life, to preserve life, and sustain life. The feminine also embodies a deeper awareness and heightened perception, a tracking of what’s occurring before it becomes visible.
We pay attention to the nuances and are often able to perceive changes in the air before they actually become visible. This awareness helps us to understand what’s underneath the tension or conflict, so that it can be truly healed and transformed, not just temporarily resolved while continuing to fester.
Women are collaborators for change. We are the primary carriers of the feminine qualities, qualities that are not separate but an equal and necessary part of the whole. Men possess these as well, and some men even more than some women! For both men and women it takes work to appreciate the wisdom and power of the feminine. As we build a partnership of both our masculine and feminine attributes we can be both focused and expansive, objective and compassionate.
Whether driving innovative technology, organizing human affairs, developing business strategy or pioneering sustainable economics, we are faced with a timely opportunity to more effectively organize human society so that it is sustainable and truly prosperous. It’s time to value the feminine qualities in our society, and integrate the feminine into every process and assumption we make. An integrated leadership that is up to the task needs the masculine and feminine in a healthy and balanced relationship. It is time to embrace the power and wisdom of our feminine selves and discover what that can mean for business, the world, and each of our lives.
Karen Buckley is the principle of Communicore, a consulting firm with 26 years experience in the for-profit and non-profit arenas. Karen is also the founder of the Wisdom Leadership Initiative and a recognized international speaker on visionary women leaders who are making a difference because of their feminine wisdom. Karen will be speaking at the Women Seeing Beyond Today conference at the South San Francisco Conference Center on Saturday, March 25. http://wisdomleadership.org.
Kimberly Weichel is president of the United Nations Association of Marin, and a social pioneer, educator, and specialist in global communications, conflict resolution and cross-cultural work. Kim is co-founder and co-director of the Institute for PeaceBuilding, offering courses, training, mentoring and consulting in peacebuilding and feminine leadership. She co-authored a chapter called “The Feminine Front Line” in a new book called Healing the Heart of the World. www.kimweichel.org.
1 Helgesen, Sally. The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership. New York: Currency/Doubleday. Paperback edition includes User Guide.1995.