I just want to take a moment to celebrate the inspirational women who I have had the privilege to meet in my recent ‘Women in Leadership‘ events and personal coaching sessions. Women are living very difficult questions – how can they be unashamedly themselves in what is still a male-dominated environment? How can they be great mothers to their children and yet still fulfil their dreams and ambitions? How can they role-model the kind of leadership behaviours that they would want younger women to be inspired by? How can they feel better about themselves even though they’ve made it to the peak of their professional lives and yet still feel they aren’t good enough?
There is no doubt that women and men in the corporate world are right in the middle of a transition and that change has thrown up in the air all of our ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. Women get confused when they start thinking about their cultural conditioned perceptions of what femininity means to them and in a way the call of the time is an opportunity to throw it all out and start from a place of ‘Who am I?’ What does being a human being in this body mean to me? If I’m dismantling patriarchal models of thinking inside myself……how do I now choose to relate and treat others?
I was in a hierarchical organisation recently going through a grand scale transformation process and speaking to leaders what became apparent was that whilst the hierarchical culture was in the throws of radical change – the hierarchy still existed in peoples minds and they were still living it in the meeting room.
I think the same applies to patriarchy or the idea of male dominance. Most of us women have grown up with patriarchal culture and values and therefore just as we have internalised our parents in our psyches so we have internalised patriarchy and this is going to take time for us to work through. In addition to that many women at the top when you talk to them up close and personal have a story of childhood wounding and perhaps that became the drive behind their ambitions. These women are truly remarkable and yet they also want to feel better about themselves on the inside. Perfectionism is a key theme in our conversations. Can you live up to the Instagram image and have that perfect family lifestyle at weekends? The pressures are enormous and what people project online is simply not the truth.
So in my events and coaching sessions, I love to support women to get real, to talk about things as they are and to hear each others’ stories. What I witness happening in the room is that women actually stop competing and start really supporting each other in their uniqueness and vulnerability. As a facilitator/coach/psychotherapist I see an opportunity now for women to heal their self-worth and my leadership workshops whilst exploring the nuts and bolts of great leadership also go into deeper conversations about how women think, acknowledge their feelings and work introspectively instead of doing the patriarchal thing of judging and oppressing parts of themselves. Part of the change is an inside job.
Women are incredibly resilient but are often isolated at the top of their game with very few role models or mentors around them. Often they find it challenging to trust and open up to other women and ask for support and have to go outside the organisation to find it. If there’s one thing I believe about the feminine – it is that women are about building community. I see it now as the duty of organisations to support women to succeed both inside and outside the workplace, especially if they choose to have families. I also believe women need safe places to discuss their challenges openly with each other and sometimes that needs to be in a women-only environment but not always. The women I meet are not interested in seeking revenge on men for the patriarchy and openly acknowledge that there are some brilliant men out there who are actively doing the work to dismantle patriarchal attitudes and behaviours. But there is a way to go.
What I encourage women to do is take an hour a week for themselves and to do some inner work. I create self-esteem workshops and coach women to heal their relational wounds so that they can show up as better versions of themselves at work and at home. It takes time but the investment is for life. In the past women had to act like the men to compete with the men and now women are refusing to do that, they want to show up as who they are.
On International Woman’s Day – ask yourself this question…..Who am I……..really?
By Rowena Khanna, Experienced Global Facilitator, ACC Accredited Coach, Training Designer and Psychotherapist from the United Kingdom!