Why 'Women's Leadership' is a Conversation We Need to Move Past
When the ideas that turned into Feminine Foresight first started churning in my mind, one of the clearest thoughts I had was, "We need to move past the "Women's Leadership" conversation." By that, I mean that I so wish female leadership wasn't an issue that needs addressing. To move past the women's leadership conversation would represent that it is no longer worth discussing because women are valued and respected as worthy, capable leaders. But we're not there yet.
So instead of writing generally about leadership, and hoping that women read it and see themselves in it, and hoping that men read it and see the content equally applicable for men and women, I'm purposefully highlighting the issues women leaders face.
Feminine Foresight is a space for both women and men to learn more about the barriers that keep women from realizing their potential and what to do about it. Please don't ever mistake this project, or myself, as anti-men. Because it's not, and I'm not.
Look deeper, beyond the stereotypes that may be informing your ideas of what it means to be a feminist.
Together, let's work to make this conversation history.
I'm tapping your shoulder, lady.
With my eyes locked on yours, I'm telling you: This leadership thing? It's for you. You were born for this.
I'm nodding at you, man.
You are exactly the person who can influence positive change. You have what you need to lead others by speaking up for the women in your life.
When we talk about leadership here, we always start from this truth: Women are capable leaders.
Leadership is about influencing others for good. A leader inspires their followers to act on their potential. Whether your followers are your team at work, your kids, an online audience, students or members of a community organization, your leadership is a gift you should offer them.
Steward that gift well by believing in yourself and leading with passion.
I know this is so much easier said than done. I'm well attune to the doubts and self-consciousness that come along with leading others. Even in small settings, or with groups of people you know and love, embracing a leadership role can be scary. We wonder what they will think, or if they're laughing at us behind our backs.
But in spite of the insecurities we may feel, to inspire others, we first need to believe in our own leadership abilities. Our self-esteem and confidence in that role will be passed along to whoever it is we have the honor of leading. If our goal is to inspire trust, commitment and motivation in our followers, we must first demonstrate it ourselves.
Do you see yourself as a leader?
We develop leadership skills, and a leadership identity, by practicing leadership. Whether you aren't sure you see yourself as a leader, or you know you have room to grow (we all do!) - this is good news! Leadership is something we can learn.
Let's look at some of the intricacies here:
For the Women:
It's harder for women to see themselves as leaders. But hold up! Don't you even start entertaining the idea that it is because we inherently lack something as leaders. It's difficult for women to recognize their leadership potential because we live in a culture that is so conflicted about whether, when and how women should exercise authority. These confusions and limitations run deep and span thousands of years.
By identifying them and exposing them as discriminatory, and choosing not to be defined by them, we are freed up to embrace our leadership prowess.
For the Men:
Men are often expected to be leaders, and more easily feel compelled to lead. But leading in the context of empowering women can probably feel overwhelming. A place to start is by learning more about second-generation gender bias, which can be so subtle yet create significant barriers for the women around you.
Second-generation gender bias comes from cultural assumptions (i.e. women aren't as interested in leadership roles as men), organizational structures (i.e. recruiting or promoting people that look like, or have the same background as you), and social interactions (i.e. joking or conversational topics that exclude or objectify women) that inadvertently benefit men and disadvantage women (HBR).
How may this type of unintended bias be influencing you and the professional or social circles you're a part of?
What do you want to inspire in others?
Leadership starts with vision. People become leaders when they have a sense of purpose and believe they can make a difference.
I love how Herminia Ibarra, a leadership researcher, describes the journey of developing a leadership identity:
"Effective leaders develop a sense of purpose by pursuing goals that align with their personal values and advances the collective good. This allows them to look beyond the status quo to what is possible and gives them a compelling reason to take action despite personal fears and insecurities." (HBR)
For myself, I believe that everyone has intrinsic value and unique characteristics and giftings. And when everyone is encouraged and empowered to live fully into their potential, the world is better for all of us (this is obviously a bigger issue than just gender alone. Everyone means everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religion).
I want to light a fire in women's hearts to believe they are worth more than what culture tells them they are. I want to inspire them to address the barriers that hold them back head on, and to do so with grace, dignity and grit. I desire to empower men to participate in the movement to make equality, opportunity and justice for everyone a reality. It is an adventure, one that requires bravery, hope and perseverance.
It's an adventure all are welcomed to join.
What leadership topics are you most interested in? I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to respond directly to this email with your thoughts or questions!
Thanks for being part of the journey with me.
Warmly, Jennifer Spoelma