The topic of women’s advancement in leadership is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg courageously opening up the conversation and asking women to lean in, and Adrianna Huffington referring to this time as the coming of a second women’s movement, among others. More and more people are sending a clear message – there is a real need for women’s leadership and feminine values in our organizations and in the world.
I recently ran across a Tedx talk by John Gerzema who believes that “femininity will be the operating system of the 21st century.” Yes, you read that correctly. He is a man who thinks the feminine values are the way forward, and talks about the Athena Doctrine in his new book. He surveyed 32,000 people on masculine and feminine traits as it relates to happiness, leadership, morality and success.
What he found might be surprising for most. Through his research, he discovered the essence of a modern leader is feminine; a more expressive type of leader who shares their feelings and emotions more openly and honestly. Obviously, this is in direct contrast to what we find in traditional power systems. Those surveyed also preferred a leader who was capable of long-term planning for the future rather than thinking politically, aiming for short term gains. They valued leaders who were patient and reasonable, who could build consensus and get things done. Resilience and decisiveness were important, but so were being patient, passionate, loyal and selfless. He calls this Athena style leadership after the Greek mythological goddess.
Although slightly surprised that it took a man to come out of the closet on this, I’m glad he did. I strongly believe that if we are to tackle the big world problems of the 21st century, more women and men need to embody feminine values and principles. The hierarchical, top-down command and control approach just isn’t working anymore. Everywhere you look, systems are crumbling. Economies, financial systems, social systems are all breaking down. The world is aching for new, more balanced structures and values.
One of the most prominent thinkers and authors of our time, Charles Eisenstein, describes this as:
“The present convergence of crises––in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more––is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.”
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, all of us are collectively engaged in birthing a new story of the people. Most of humanity knows deep down that a more connected, interdependent and collaborative society is possible, and really the only way forward toward a more sustainable future. The first step is to admit that our current systems are broken and need to be replaced. The second step is to begin visioning a more beautiful world we all know is possible.
Let’s explore what the new world could look like if we redesigned new structures based on the feminine. We might see flatter organizations and less hierarchy, making it easier for collaboration and innovation to flourish. We might have more of a sense of community, going back to the concept of “ the village” where we trust our neighbors for childcare, as an example. Our collective value set would let us view success as how happy, healthy and creative we all are instead of the net worth of our 401K. And we wouldn’t be worried just about ourselves, but realize that we are all somehow connected and need to take care of each other, as human citizens of the world.
Obviously, we would live in a much different world if it were based on a feminine outlook.
It’s time that we have this broader conversation about the world and society we live in. It’s not just women who suffer, we all do. This impacts every single person living on this planet. The values that have helped us advance from the industrial age to the technological age are outdated. We need to begin seriously looking at our major institutions, challenging them to embody more balance. In order for this to occur, men have to begin thinking more like women, and women must re-learn how to express their natural, feminine qualities after decades of acting like “men stuck in a woman’s body,” trying to compete and succeed in a man’s world.
The values or qualities that can be characterized as more “feminine” – collaboration, connectedness, interdependence, sharing, inclusiveness – these are the values we need to build back into our leadership, our institutions and our society. Women mustn’t continue trying to conform and fit-in to the mold, instead they must be examples of this change by embodying their own intrinsic, natural capacities more boldly. Collectively, we must shift our values to include sharing of resources with each other, protecting the planet, and creating communities of sacred economies where our gifts have meaning and value. We must embody that change within ourselves and have the courage to go against the grain. Your future, our future, depends on it.