A Puzzling Story of Women’s Leadership: Pieces of the Puzzle
I came across Elizabeth Debold’s blog post on The Puzzle of Women’s Leadership , which included an embedded video of Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s from TEDwoman, on the EvolveWomen website. As I sat down to write a comment to Elizabeth, this post was the result. Way more than a comment!
I am interested in women being called forward and supported as we reach to live into our potential. Where I think my voice differs and compliments both Elizabeth’s and Sheryl’s, is by virtue of the narrative, the story we are telling about women’s leadership positions. And it’s here, in our stories, where I think we have a lot of work to do in understanding ourselves as cultural beings and as women.
Really, though, it’s the come from place that motivates me to participate by writing to my point of view. Elizabeth’s post and Sheryl Sandberg’s TEDtalk have more to do with our relationship to each other, particularly as we continue to break free from past constructs that entrained a dependence for safety and survival on men, with a desire to know:
- what can we expect from,
- what can we ask of, and
- what can we offer to each other.
It’s our relationship to each other, as women, that is in need of much attention. It’s attention that I offer back to Elizabeth, Sheryl and others who are willing to invest in the intention to call and to be called forth in support women’s rights, responsibilities, roles and relationships in world that appears to be demanding more of exactly that: our attention and intention.
I am still digesting the points of view I am hearing from Elizabeth and Sheryl, with a general codification in noticing the essence of both narratives center on leadership that we don’t see happening around us. Both valid and both express very interesting insights.
To begin, for me, in order to let these ladies’ perspectives inform my own, to create from their experience, knowledge and purpose, I look through a lens that includes at a minimum three perspectives. In this case, my desire is also to offer a third point of view, triangulating the perspectives offered by Elizabeth, Sheryl and myself on the topic of women and leadership. I was inspired to write this post, because my own narrative, the story I am living into and want to promote, is one more centered in the leadership that IS happening. Leadership that doesn’t show up in the data, nor in the views of most the women currently regarded as leaders.
One of the leading indicators referenced here is the lack of women in institutional leadership positions; business, government, education, science, etc. And a general pronouncement that women’s leadership isn’t growing, expanding, or gaining in power, influence or authority. While this might be true when looking at top positions of leadership, if we relegate our measurements to only such indicators we will forever be disappointed or worse, partake a delusion. Primarily, because, at a basic level, there are so many more leadership positions than those at the top. Secondarily, simply putting a women in top positions and calling it women’s leadership, is going to bat with two strikes. I can’t tell you how many times in the last months I’ve heard women complaining about working for women and how they would much rather work for men. Why? I am guessing it’s because the measurements of success for women not in leadership positions in the current structures are easier to attain when there is strong masculine leadership. And because I assert, culturally, today, we actually want something different from women other than to experience each other leading like men.
My point of view allocates such an indicator as a partial representation of what is really happening within a much larger, whole system adaptation to a very complex environment that includes cycles in addition to linear progressions. To conclude that numbers are moving in the wrong direction, or that it will be 100 years before there is parity at the top -assumes the present trends will continue much like we’ve in the past. This is an error of dimensionality. There is a much bigger story here.
I will not attempt to speak to all the dimensions and dynamics of a bigger story in this post, only start by framing it with a three sided lens that initially (because over time it changes) locates an individual or grouping:
- in time,
- in psychological space, and
- through an identity
as a way to address dimensionality gaps in our thinking.
A location in time.
As humans we are moving through a life span that can be segmented into five different phases; childhood, young adult, mid life, elderhood and late elderhood. At each phase there are different social roles that have in the past, anyway, been a natural fit. I think there are leadership positions at each phase of life and for the entire life span of both an individual and the various collective groupings. Most of these leadership positions are not yet named, or have yet to be created.
Sheryl, Elizabeth and myself are all in our midlife years where we are naturally interested in leadership. We are looking around and asking where are all the women? Some women in the elder years, according to Elizabeth’s post are pointing to a contradiction, that makes Elizabeth nervous and makes sense to me only when I assume these elder women expect us, as we go through our midlife years, to be motivated to live and act like they did in through the same midlife stage.
We won’t because it is not part of the life rhythm for it to be so.
Women in their midlife years today have different mindsets. Today the problems we face as midlifers AND elders are also different. Midlife is not midlife is not midlife. Strauss and Howe in their seminal research discovered every 80 years, not every 20 years, peer groupings experience the various stages of life similarly. The next 15 years or so, as most of us already can see, will have a dramatically different feel and tone to them then the past 40-60 years. We have made a significant historical turn, into the winter of our cultural mood, a winter that will include the convergence of ongoing breakdowns and breakthroughs in political, financial, business, technological and educational forums, that make the future, while more, less predictable. understandable
Many of us sense, a ‘great shift’ taking place (institutions breaking down and new values implanting) that are changing every aspect of life as we know it. Very different leadership skills have been developed across a different lifespan of experience between current midlifers and current elders- culturally appropriate for these times. Leadership, across the board, requires a different mindset than was needed to lead the women’s liberation movement (or any other movement for that matter) of the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s.
Conditions related to time drive leadership. In Don Beck’s integral change equation, he keeps asking “How should Who lead whom, to what, when?” I think we should asking that question too.
Generically speaking, in terms of psychological space, I have to differentiate any understanding of leadership by naming three VERY distinct cultural landscapes arising across the planet where I want to look and see where leadership is occurring.
- in developmental territory– the various steps, stages and trajectories that define pre-modern, modern and post-modern conventions. Within these steps and stages are various configurations of psychological capacities and leadership directives. The tension of having babies and career certainly arise inside this territory as women seek a full development capacity and integration of the temptress, mother and queen roles that look, sound and feel different in at each stage. I suspect if and when we are able to see clearly, we will find most women are stuck (for a variety of reasons, several of which Elizabeth and Sheryl point out) somewhere in this territory.
- in emergence territory– including the spiritual surgery as Elizabeth called it; including the recovery, regeneration, renewal of the divine human coding and the appearance of new codes that support the conscious re-incarnation of the human mind/body/energetic system. The new human as Elizabeth referred to it. Here we find the chaotic-emergent-edges of a psychological space that are intense, uncomfortable and with few, if any, social structures that support the movement. Few, if any, models to follow. Few, if any, women talking about it. Although I hear echos of this territory in Elizabeth’s post and an urging for women to come together here- my struggles with this transition come from the crucible of a soul-based marriage, supported by a natural/mystical phenomenon of our DNA literally being locked on each other so I can’t get out of this territory, until I can. What I needed, and found came from the leadership of one woman, my best friend- not a group of women.
- in the next paradigm territory– a new earth, the rebirth, the resonance field, the next higher order of evolution, [whatever is it] for those who have successfully been recreated as “new humans.” As more people enter this territory in the next 15-20 years, I anticipate a shift in the entire planetary landscape and an entire redefinition of a conversation around leadership. I am with this [flag/blog] post, digging a (w)hole for one flag to fly in.
Again, different functional needs depending on what kind of leadership is needed in which territory, at what stage in life. There are so many different worlds, lots of cultural bubbles that are creating a reality most barely see, let alone can lead. The humans who find their way to next paradigm territory will be at a top never before inhabited. Leading and following within the natural tension and stability that arises with existence of all three psychological spaces. Those future/present leaders are out there now, invisible to most sets of eyes, most survey questions, and data streams – living and creating self-directed, self-authored and autonomous bubbles of culture.
Having spent considerable time myself wandering about the psychological space I’ve just named, I can tell you I “dropped” out of my corporate career path because I was not finding the leadership I needed coming from the top. I needed various hubs, programs and experiences in the expanse of this territory to fill in the development gaps which support any future leadership position I might reach out toward. The guiding principle here is who is leading whom to do what, where. It’s diffused power, to be sure, but power nevertheless. It happens more inside of the networks rather than the hierarchies of social systems and structures. A lot of which is beginning to appear on the surface with the technological innovation and cultural integration seen most recently in social media platforms.
Are these people envisioning how to guide the future of humanity and how to build a habitat that reflects the entire spectrum of human expression? Asking what is important during the major transition that occur over time? What will it take to lead the change that is wanting to happen from every corner of the human condition, and how will we communicate with the leaders from all those corners to ensure All Of Life is being led with wisdom, competency, and in full alignment with the universal creative principles? Well, the people talking about it are talking about it. The people walking about the territory are more interested in creating a world the way they desire to live in it.
Who has the leadership capacity to weave together the leadership needs of both the hierarchical structures and the network relationships? I am looking to the formation of a constellation, rather than a single position. And that takes me to the third side of this frame.
There are lots of possible identities to name here. The most potent, I believe, in terms of power and change dynamics are found with generational mindsets. Sourcing again the work of Strauss and Howe, there are 3 primary and 2 secondary generation cohorts forming, reforming, moving through time together and within a vertical and horizontal psychological landscapes.
Women from (according the research of Strauss and Howe):
- Silent generation born 1925-1945 - moving into late elderhood
- Boomer generation born 1946-1960 are moving into elderhood
- GenX generation born 1961-1981 are moving into midlife
- Millennial generation born 1982- 2002/3 are moving into young adulthood
- Homeland generation born after 2002 or 2003 are in childhood.
It’s the constellation of generations moving, changing and shaping our culture, our institutions, our behaviors as we respond to the mistakes and excesses and gaps of the others, while moving through life phases, stages of development and a significant process of emergence that is at play here. It’s a perfect orchestration of human endeavor that depends first, on natural cultural programming coded for an evolutionary process of life itself, and second, asks what do we chose? Whether we have leadership that sees it, understands it, aligns with it or not. It’s happening.
What are we choosing and why? Now there is an interesting study.
Marilyn Hamilton has enrolled an all female ensemble; one woman from the first four generations, to present at this year’s World Future Society conference in Vancouver at special event titled: Grok, Talk, Walk and Rock – the essence of the richness from each generation is respectively named.
I suspect the reason there is no parity at the top as we currently define it- has more to do with Boomer women, who won the fight for equality, know their job is done, yet they can’t seem to move onto what’s next. GenX women often over looked and even locked out of positions and career paths Boomer’s in general are entrenched in, now care about other cultural problems, and Millennial women, peer oriented, overwhelmed with mixed messages and polarizing debates are maturing at a slower pace. Women leading like men is a Boomer phenomenon. Thank goodness for them. Because they have been successful, we moved beyond that, not in just a post modern understanding but because the entire cultural mood has changed and GenX women moving into mid life, have an entirely different set of objectives as leaders. To my eyes even Sheryl is exhibiting more feminine attributes to a top position. She, like other GenXer’s is carving through a cultural niche as generational leader. The Millennial women, will have yet again, a different set of objectives when they collectively move into a mid life phase.
I also suspect, that if we looked, we would find generationally more parity between the number of GenX men and GenX women in top leadership positions. There are not a lot of GenXer’s in institutional leadership positions. Why? Because most GenX’s don’t have jobs. Most GenX’ers are doing the work that needs to be done, and then figuring out how to get paid for it. Now there is some real risk taking in leadership. They exist in every crack and crevice with in the entire landscape, working hard to open it up, moving things out of the way, building the new infrastructures both in technology and consciousness- and if I am any example, are continually frustrated but not deterred when people look around and clearly think they are moving “in the wrong direction.” (and much of it comes from inside our own generational cohort, by the way). Quite the contrary. Generational history suggests it’s our GenXer’s, many of them women, who will emerge from all domains of life as the “Generals” in this cultural turning, because they are in the trenches, and the corner offices. The GenX women are leading by leading themselves first, their partners, then their families and perhaps their friends, a few have larger “armies” today.The movement is not straight up, either. The deeper they go, the higher they gain access to. The higher they go, the deeper they will be called to.
When I look through my own frame, my attention and intention are drawn toward the come from place to answer the questions related to our relationship with each other.
Personally, I have pointed myself towards identifying break throughs in women’s leadership today by understanding what is happening and what working so woman’s authentic power to create, nurture and guide life comes forth.
How are we leading our own lives, first, from the inside out? What is it that works when we set out to take responsibility for our own development? From what and to what are we changing, and how do we know we have actually changed, to inform a wide-open understanding of evolution itself.
Sheryl is right-on to ask us as women to honor each others achievements whether our leadership path leads us: to reach for the corner offices; to admit ourselves to the spiritual surgery center for a complete overhaul; to become the CEO of our lives- particularly if the products we offer to society are our children.
Elizabeth is right-on to ask us to come together, in some form or fashion, aided in large part by a transcendent purpose to evolve. We can ask each other to sit at the table, because after all women learn from other women, what it means to be a woman.
What can we expect from each other? Whether we chose to play a small game or big game, it’s being in the game that counts.