Feminine Wisdom at Work
Consider these commonly held assumptions about the masculine: decisive, action oriented, controlled, linear.
Consider these commonly held assumptions about the feminine: compassionate, receptive, holistic, connecting. At work what set of qualities is most valued? Which set of qualities do you operate most from?
We live in a time of great volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, a time where rationality, discrimination and analysis are no longer sufficient to take us where we need to go, a time where we need to be able to sense into, articulate and hold the container for a new collective future to emerge through us, so that we can find a new way forward. There is an urgent need now for us to cultivate strengths, which will help us to navigate the intangibles within and between organisations, which are difficult to grasp hold of and quantify. The feminine qualities of deep listening, receptivity and holding space belong to both men and women, they draw us into the depths within us and they are essential now for us to create a new future together.
Although the feminine is an important part of a man’s psyche, we as women carry that wisdom and power even more strongly and can reawaken that potential in a culture where it has been devalued and neglected. We know that great progress has been made in increasing the number of women at work and we also know that a lot more needs to be done, particularly at the senior levels.
One of the difficulties we face is that, in our pursuit of success we, as women, have often shut down and cut ourselves off from the feminine. In many ways this was necessary to succeed in a system dominated by the values of power, prestige and money. I’m not saying this is the case for all women but it was for me and I don’t think I’m alone.
In the early stages of my career I bought in hook line and sinker to the dominant values of efficiency, productivity, unending growth, the supremacy of market forces. Anything that got in the way of that was an annoyance, something to be worked around. Being able to play with the ‘big boys’ was in many ways thrilling for me, gave me an inflated sense of myself (albeit temporary) and helped me feel independent and powerful. Although, at times deep down I might have questioned the dominant ideology, that quiet voice was drowned out by the louder voices within me and the noise of the system within which I operated, which made it very clear, that the bottom line was supreme and who was I to suggest that it needed to be embedded it in something bigger.
However it came at a cost. For me it meant cutting off my emotions or at least dampening them down, quieting my intuition, or at least using it in the guise of something else and seeing my colleagues as resources to be used in the service of organizational goals rather than as human beings with innate value. I was unaware of most of this at the time. Somehow I knew that there was an unwritten rule in the world of work, in the world of the suited up professional executive that it was not OK to let down my guard and let my true feminine self shine. As I look back I realize there was a longing, a yearning to connect on a deeper more relational level rather than a utilitarian level with clients and colleagues, to give my intuition the same weight as my rationality and to be more than an ‘intellectual prostitute’, a term I will never forget, which was used by a participant in a workshop I was running.
I believe I am not alone in denying or dismissing the value and power inherent in my inner longings, my inner wisdom and my deep concern for others. In my efforts to fit in and be taken seriously I neglected my deep instinctual nature, unconsciously emphasizing my qualities of agency and control, which I have proved I have in abundance. I ignored the quiet voice within that questioned the way things were done. Changing this required and continues to require a deep turning of the heart, a shift in consciousness. It calls me to connect with the hidden forces inside that are stopping me from listening and asks me to reengage more deeply with my body, heart and spirit and with others. This is also true for many of my clients.
I continue to need to allow myself to listen and accept that still small voice within that knows what is really important to me, not what, paraphrasing Anne-Marie Slaughter, I was conditioned to want or not what I conditioned myself to want. I continue to look for a way to bring my inner knowing to the surface in a way that can be understood by rational, scientific minds.
The world and business now needs us to reclaim and value the fullness and unique aspects of who we are and integrate it with all the skills we have gained in the male dominated world. This means, I believe, we need to elevate the importance of depth to the importance of speed, the importance of relationship to the importance of results, the importance of compassion to the importance of discrimination and find a new model which transcends and includes them all.
Amber Chand in her article on bridging the masculine and feminine in business offers us a vision of a new way forward, born of her pain after the collapse of her multimillion dollar enterprise after 7 years. She says ’We need to reclaim the spirit of the feminine and allow her to emerge as a vital part of any new business paradigm. If we are to respond to the evolutionary drive to create responsible and sustainable enterprises of the 21st century we must acknowledge and celebrate the feminine whilst creating a skillful balance between the receptive feminine and active masculine principles. With this I believe we can confidently celebrate business as a powerful transformational agent for social change in our world.’
We are blessed to live in a time where some leaders, both men and women are daring to look at how we can combine profit with care, mindfulness with productivity. My intention is to encourage and support men and women to connect within, listen to their inner wise voices and help create organizational cultures that are an integration of the best of the masculine and feminine. By harvesting the results of this, I believe we can go beyond the deadening minefield of unconscious bias in the workplace, develop a more heartfelt appreciation of the value of difference and create enterprises that inspire and are worthy of passionate, wholehearted contribution.