Women at work: Women as the new decision makers in a changing world
By: Lewis Perkins, Founder of Women Are Saving The World Now and LuxEco Advocate
I did not grow up in a home where women were demeaned. There was no abuse. No misogyny. No violence. So when I entered school and the world at large, I was confused to see how boys and girls were treated differently. I remember being told that certain behaviors were appropriate for a boy and certain behaviors were appropriate for a girl. And I remember feeling that any crossing of those lines was not acceptable and in fact I was made to feel shame and guilt for being a creative, empathetic boy. So not only did it make more sense to embrace the masculine as I developed myself into a young man – it was a critical requirement for survival.
When I first attended business school at Emory University in 1998, I participated in a workshop with poet and author, David Whyte. He had just published his book The Heart Aroused: Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. In that workshop we described how we leave our souls behind when we go to work each day: 10% in bed, 15% in the car, 20% outside the building, 25% in the elevator, etc… so that by the time we arrive at our desk, we have left all of that which is our true spiritual core behind. Because if that core part of us saw the compromises we make in our jobs we would not be able to live with ourselves. It is true. In many of our corporations we are asking our employees – both men and women – to show up physically and mentally, yet to leave our emotional selves behind. We are learning much more today about emotional intelligence and how it relates to a larger capacity for self-awareness, group awareness, and the ability to manage one’s emotions and those of others.
When I worked inside a Fortune 500 company, I observed just what Whyte so accurately depicted. Yet I also heard people, usually during lunch breaks or at the water cooler, speak of their church picnics, yoga practices and other spiritual pursuits. So if they had a spiritual practice, was it simply meant to occur off hours and not at work? Why this disconnect? Why the line? Now imagine if a person was encouraged to bring not only their emotional self, but also their spiritual self into their daily decision making. Perhaps it would be harder to pollute rivers, or carry a high carbon footprint. Maybe land-fills would be less dense and products would be manufactured without toxic chemicals? I am not speaking about religion here, I am speaking about core human ethics.
I believe that this ability to bring soul and purpose into the workplace is a quality that we traditionally refer to as a feminine trait. I am reminded of another quote from David Whyte: “There is something about the way that the feminine psyche involves itself in the world in an incredibly vulnerable way, and so for that psyche to actually come the the table – where she can say in absolute and complete and utter confidence , I KNOW the truth (or rather WE know the truth). No need for anyone on this earth to struggle.”
I also observed something very interesting around the feminine in most of the “for-profit” corporations in which I worked. And that was that the women who succeeded adapted a certain set of principles that made me wonder if once they passed the glass ceiling, would they think it was worth it? Oftentimes, executive level women in corporations are not supportive of the other women in the organization. There is a high level of competition among them and they usually adopt a “one of the boys” mentality. Rarely have I seen a woman at work lead the “for-profit” world in all of her feminine strength and qualities. In the non-profits where I worked, however, women could show up with empathy, compassion, collaboration and intuition. Make no mistake, we do the same to men. We ask them to check that feminine part of themselves at the door too. A friend who is the president of a health insurance company based in Atlanta recently told me and a group of trusted friends that he felt men DO have all the same feelings and emotions as of women, we are just trained early to suppress them. I could not agree more.
Now remember that at 85% of Fortune 500 executives are men. According to a 2008 annual study on women in the work force from the White House Project, a national nonprofit organization, women hold nearly 40 percent of leadership positions in non-profits in the United States. The study also stated that women also hold two-thirds of all nonprofit staff. To me that says that, as a culture, we view profitability as a masculine pursuit while we view solving social and environmental issues as a feminine one. But women have truly been in the workforce in this country for the last 70 years and in the leadership roles over the past 40. Why have we not seen more equality and integration?
So, this fall, when his Holiness the Dalai Lama said “the world will be saved by Western women,” I immediately thought of the hundreds of women at work I have come across in my work who are effecting significant change on this planet. And it is not just western women, it is all of our women on this planet and the feminine perspective they bring to restoration. At a time when transformation is critical for our survival – a time when we are rapidly shedding the old model of “profit only” business and looking to our companies to assist in solving dire social and environmental issues of our times, these feminine skills are urgently most needed. And what I know is that the skills we need to tap into today – as we redesign, recreate and retool – all center around collaboration, partnership, and intuition and require a greater level of empathy and compassion for humanity and our ability to integrate into the planet with health and sustainability on the forefront.
So what if we began to train our leaders, both government and corporate, to embrace the feminine and think outside of the traditional capitalist profit-only mindset and into conscious capitalism which shifts us from a shareholder centric business model to a stakeholder model. In this model all of those who invested in the health of the organization will benefit: NGOs, non-profits, vendors, customers, employees, citizens and yes, even shareholders.
In creating Women Are Saving The World Now, my intent is not only to honor the manifold women who are creating significant chance for our human race on the planet, but also to lead a dialogue between men and woman on what the Dalai Lama’s quote means to us all. And what it means to be feminine. For this is not feminism, this is embracing that feminine (and masculine alive in all of us) in us all in order to evolve. Even Ted Turner has acknowledged the dire need for our women leaders. He has been quoted saying “Men should be barred from public office for 100 years in every part of the world. … It would be a much kinder, gentler, more intelligently run world. The men have had millions of years where we’ve been running things. We’ve screwed it up hopelessly. Let’s give it to the women.” And while I would not ban our men from leadership, I would simply call us to learn from our sisters and strengthen our feminine psyches. This is how we will solve the issues of our times. Our intuition tells us the truth, and we already know the answers. In this last month, since launching Women Are Saving the World Now and as I have truly embraced the feminine psyche in me, I have begun to fell more completely whole and full in my masculinity.