How you can make feminine leadership more sustainable for women.

Just because women are in positions of leadership does not equate to the return of sustainable feminine leadership or respect for feminine qualities. True feminine leadership happens when we rebalance the inequitability of feminine & masculine in our actions, efforts, and energetics, and ensure the sustainability of systems, including the women themselves. 

Last spring, as the new leaves were returning to the trees and the ferns were unfurling, I visited a year-one school startup to consult with the two women who were running it. 

The ideas for the school were all about innovation, keeping children close to nature, and preserving the ideals of curiosity, self sovereignty, and relationship. The school was beautifully visioned and the positive response from the community had made for fast growth. And these women leaders were exhausted. 

They were working incredibly long hours and the school had not yet met financial goals, which meant that it was running at a deficit. In response, to take care of the children and the vision, they worked harder. Of course they did. It’s what women visionaries do. 

They were trying to get it to go, powering through, even despite not getting paid because they were paying the teachers first. And I was there as a school consultant, yes, but also a systems analyst, a women’s leadership guide, and as someone who connects land/vision/people together when there is a mission at work. In other words, I’m looking at systems, including the energetic flow in the system as a whole. Where is it leaking energy? Where is there an area that is out of integrity with the flow of the entire system of the mission? 

And so I asked them, “Are you okay running this school if it requires that the school be run on feminine depletion? You are looking at creating a holistic school model, but what of your model is requiring the feminine to continue to run on depleted resources and energy?” 

I heard back from them recently, a full half a year later, and the administrator told me, “There is not a day that goes by that I do not ask myself that question. It was the greatest guiding question I’ve received.” 

You see, our systems have historically run on feminine depletion. 

What do I mean by that? In short, I mean that in a patriarchal way of building and operating, we over-rely on masculine energetics: build, push, create, exert, make happen. And when we stay in that energetic for too long, we create an imbalance, which forces the feminine energetic to go into submission (getting what it can where it can, like 6 hours of sleep, a little exposure, or a little congratulatory high five now and again) or it’s just forgotten about altogether (which we’ve seen in our modern workplaces in the quest for more profit, more wins.) 

When the feminine is depleted, we get women who over-give, women with hormonal disorders and weird health symptoms, the pushing down of things like intuition and taking time for an idea to gestate, and the unrealistic expectation that we are able to stay continually in go-mode. 

But this of course doesn’t only affect women. It affects men in that they resist vulnerability or not having an answer, always wanting to maintain the image that everything is under control. And it has affected our ideas of leadership across the globe. 

You can also begin to deduce from my simple examples here that it is not a gendered issue, and we’d be well served to move beyond the typical conversations of gender in the workplace and include instead these considerations of what healthy and unhealthy feminine and masculine leadership look like, and how they are expressed.

Historically, we’ve made “women’s leadership” and “feminine leadership” synonymous, and I want to state explicitly that they are not. Just because a woman is in a position of leadership does not mean that she is enacting feminine principles in the least. Even to write that, I can imagine that some readers may bristle at the word “feminine” being inserted into a conversation about leadership because the stigma is still that the feminine can’t lead for it’s “softness.” 

But I will tell you that when we look at some of the most innovative research and actions taking place in the field of leadership, what is happening is the re-incorporation of the feminine archetype and feminine leadership behaviors. To name a few: shared decision making, collaboration, flexible scheduling, and allowing teams extended periods of time to create. All of these are aspects of feminine leadership whether we call it that or not. 

Then why name it? Why name it as feminine or masculine? I strongly believe that in doing so, we can save a lot of time with a conceptual framework that also reduces many of the unspoken and tricky issues that are chalked up to gender in the workplace. It’s not differences in gender that are most important. What is most important is whether or not leaders value and know how to lead, incorporating both feminine and masculine leadership qualities, and whether they extend that to their cultures and teams. 

Going back to the two women that I was coaching, as I asked them this question, “Are you okay with this place running on feminine depletion?,” they had already had an understanding of feminine and masculine, and so when I asked it, the real and deeper issue became more clear. 

In trying to do the right thing, they were exhausting themselves and also running on exhausted financial resources. We can see that such a situation is unsustainable. And it is in the reconstructing of both the finances and the activities of the school into an equitable feminine / masculine collaboration that both of these issues can be corrected. 

A world that didn’t value the feminine was also the world that created a very serious deficit in environmental sustainability. The two go hand in hand and this topic could be elaborated on quite extensively. And so for today, I’ll conclude that feminine leadership, which I would encourage all leaders to embrace regardless of gender, would not allow for the depletion of the feminine energetic, the earth, the resources, or the people. Often in our quest for power and profit, these are the very things that are depleted and overlooked. Women and men, and leaders of all kinds, it’s time for true thriving to include the wellness and sustainability of the feminine and masculine in harmony. 

Just because women are in positions of leadership does not equate to the return of sustainable feminine leadership or respect for feminine qualities. True feminine leadership happens when we rebalance the inequitability of feminine & masculine in our actions, efforts, and energetics, and ensure the sustainability of systems, including the women themselves. 

Sarah Poet is available for consultations with leaders of any gender and maintains an eye to the energetic efficiency of systems as we create a more sustainable and equitable world. To schedule, visit www.sarahpoet.com/book.

THREE ORGANIZATIONAL VALUES THAT HELP MITIGATE GENDER BIAS

Gender Equity does not have to be a scary topic. It does not have to be a finger-pointing topic. We all have bias and we all have something to gain when we get curious and vulnerable about one another’s experiences.

Post originally published in Equity Over Everything Magazine Oct 2021

Have you ever been in that awkward work situation at work where you thought, “This has more to do with gender than anyone here is willing to admit!?” You may be unsure how to bring up the issues you see, exactly what to say, or what will happen if you do speak up.

If so, you’re not alone.

We are in a post-#metoo era, with trans and non-binary identities on the rise, and issue of gender is only sure to get more interesting in the coming years. Organizations will need to innovate their value and skill sets in order to meet what is coming.

Whether or not women earn equal pay is no longer the extent of gender equity conversation. In my opinion, we need to talk about the complex pressures and stereotypes put on men just as much as we need to talk about women’s rights.

All people need safe spaces to voice concerns and have innovative conversations without the fear of losing their job for speaking out. HR is often the place where gender equity concerns get funneled, and often attempts to mitigate risk and avoid sexual harassment claims end badly.

I actually had this happen, personally. I took a legitimate concern to HR and it was handled very poorly.

As the only female member of a leadership team, women in the organization were coming to me to express their sense that there was gender bias against women. I had also experienced strange events such as when I was publicly shamed and made to apologize to a male employee. While the company handbook never would have condoned outright bias, women, myself included, were noticing some evidence of bias.

I decided to address the issues so that we could improve the organization. When I formally brought these concerns forward, there was never a direct conversation. I was funneled quickly to HR, offered a severance package, and asked not to speak to anyone.

It was scary for me, and years later, I see now that it was very scary for the organization as well. Well-intended people were afraid, and they chose to get me out the door instead of having an authentic and vulnerable conversation. As Brené Brown says in Dare To Lead, they didn’t know how to “rumble with vulnerability.”

Unfortunately, I don’t believe my situation is unique. I heard of another example just last week. I share here in order to highlight the need for a different way, beyond the standard, non-relational HR attempts at mitigating employee concern as liability. Such concerns are actually an invitation for an organization to evolve and meet the changing and diverse needs of these times.

I am passionate about innovative leadership. In a changing world, the most innovative leaders will not exhibit a need to have it all figured out. Rather, they will bring vulnerability, right action, and curiosity to their organizations, leading by example.

VULNERABILITY: In a post #metoo era, the need for vulnerability is greater than ever. If we maintain that everyone must already know all of the answers, there is simply no way to improve. We must be able to admit what we do not know, what we do not understand, where our mistrust gets triggered, and where we do not feel able to speak up. We must create cultures that model the ethic of healthy vulnerability from top levels of leadership.

RIGHT ACTION: The most innovative leaders will hear from the people in their organizations, and take action based on what is good for the whole. I am in no way advocating that workplaces decrease productivity by focusing on emotional processes. But leaders who are willing to get real with their employees will ask for real feedback to affect needed change through effective right action, improving employee relations and organizational health.

CURIOSITY: I worked at a charter school that championed character development, and one of the primary teachings was of “curiosity and courage.” These two go hand in hand. Let’s be willing to get curious about others’ experiences – men, women, & non-binary – so that we can lead with the courage to be compassionate and relatable.

Gender Equity does not have to be a scary topic. It does not have to be a finger-pointing topic. We all have bias and we all have something to gain when we get curious and vulnerable about one another’s experiences. I believe that we can safely learn about the experiences of others and to create safe and optimal workplace environments for all.

Sarah Poet, M.Ed is a thought leader in gender equity, feminine & masculine leadership, and authentic relationships. She offers mediation and leadership training services to organizations looking to innovate gender equity practices. You can learn more and contact her at www.sarahpoet.com/reconciliation.