When power words are said we all have a fast reaction. There is an image that comes to mind depending upon what we learned in our families and cultures. So, take a moment and see in your mind’s eye a picture of the word “man”. Did you see a strong, muscular guy, perhaps wearing jeans and a fit to the skin tee shirt? Maybe it was a sophisticated type in a well tailored suit with the perfect stripped tie. Did the first snapshot that came to you resemble your dad or a favorite teacher?
Now, do the same with the word woman. What did you see? Was it an earth mother with long flowing hair and a kind smile or perhaps a model from one of the ubiquitous perfume ads in magazines? Remember the hip “You’ve come a long way baby” cigarette ads that showed strong, can do women standing on terra firma ready to make it happen?
Now, take a moment and think about the women you work with. How similar are they in dress and speech? Are there cookie cutter models of women where you work or a freedom of expression? And think about yourself and the image you present. How free are you to say and do what you want? Do you hold back or are you front and center in your assertiveness and the way you present your ideas?
We all fall into categories around gender role stereotypes that are important to discuss. No one is left out. We all, from our earliest learning, modeled and mimicked those around us to find our way. We did this to learn about what it means to be a man or a woman from those around us. We are all products of the family systems we grew up in and the culture of the times. We are also in bodies that dictate some of our behaviors and our hormones have already determined much about the impact and consequences of sexuality on our lives. So talking about gender stereotypes and leadership success is multifaceted and complex, way more than a lot of numbers and statistics.
I believe there is a way to redefine who we are and what makes us happy (and the issue of women’s happiness is popping up in article after article these days) by observing, understanding and transforming the patterns from the past that have dictated today’s behavior. We need a long lens to go back in our own personal histories to connect the dots of what it meant to be a woman through the generations. It is only then we can take what it good and healthy as we move forward and change what has been handed to us that no longer works in the present time.
Research and statistics have pointed to women leaders as more socially oriented and collaborative while men counterparts are seen as task oriented and dominating. When women act autocratically they are seen as “behaving like a man” and often get lower points for the quality of the way they lead. Yet, when they go for consensus there are frustrated comments that women can’t take a stand.
I believe this double bind lies at the heart of the struggle around women, leadership and happiness. If you take a stand in a no-nonsense way you lose and if you look for agreement you lose. Women have had to deal with the dilemma of the double bind for centuries. Just think about child bearing and child rearing. Think about the swirling emotions around abortion. There is always a tug and pull around working mothers vs. non-working ones.
Each of us needs to look at the messages handed to us from the women who came before us to find our own way OUT; to Observe, Understand and Transform the patterns of our personal and collective past, to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and find a new, effective way to lead from personal strength, no matter what!