Lids are for Lifting
There’s been an interesting side effect to society’s changing perspective regarding women and leadership; many women are finding the need to reevaluate their perspectives on their own leadership call. Some are being forced to ask themselves the question:
Who am I when the Lid is lifted?
Like you, I’m fortunate to know a very large number of gifted and talented women. They’re strong, courageous, encouraging, visionary, and they’re all out for female empowerment. Some were brought up in the previous generation and the curtailing of women’s right to lead heavily impacted their lives.
The manifold wrongs of this have been played out in many a long and heartfelt conversation over coffee and lunch, or a glass of wine after dinner, where irritation and/or grief is expressed regarding the frustrating restrictions put in place to prevent women leading, merely on the basis of religious dogma. Such conversations trigger mourning and anger over the loss of what-might-have-been.
It’s true that ‘the Lid’ operated as a force to be reckoned with, and many women experienced up close and personal the rigid refusal of the establishment to allow them to operate to their full potential. However, in the last decade particularly, this barrier has shifted. Women are stepping up to the platform and the boardroom in increasing numbers and the growing validation of gender equality empowers not only new generations of women with a gift of leadership, but in many cases, the older generations also. Turns out, they may not have missed the boat after all.
However, as is often the case, newfound freedoms have forced a re-examination of old dreams and a re-evaluation of what-might-have-beens. Truth be told, some who are now free to reach for those stars after all have realised that the Lid was not their only limiting factor. On being released to go for it, some now feel that success will cost more than they’re willing to pay. Others have concluded that the effort required to live the dream is beyond them, either because the energy expenditure is not worth it, or time has shown they really weren’t as gifted for leadership as it appeared when the ‘no girls allowed’ policies operated as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ reason for not leading. The vast majority however, have found that when it comes down to the wire, their limitations are far more entrenched within themselves than they realised.
In some cases it was all talk, because it is safe to gripe about the unfairness of the system when it appears impenetrable. It’s quite convenient to blame all your woes on an unfair regime. Everything changes, however, when the restrictions are off and you have to put up or shut up.
It’s possible that many women, while championing female empowerment in the larger and more generic sense, were able to complain with impunity, not having to back up their desire to lead with real action in the here and now. When you believe that the leadership roles you imagine for yourself can never materialise, you’re also safe in the knowledge you’ll never be called upon to live in the courageous, time-consuming, energy-draining, problem-solving reality of what living the dream of leading in your chosen field might actually look like.
If that’s the case for you, or for women you know, where do you go from here?
Eleanor Roosevelt said: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
The problem is that we do consent.
In many cases it appears we bought more into the lie that women need protection and peace and a comfortable lifestyle than we previously thought. We cheer at the accomplishments of other women, rejoicing when they defy the odds and breakthrough the glass ceilings, but when it comes ourselves stepping up to the challenge of senior leadership, many women revert to self-effacing, apologetic behaviour, losing confidence in the abilities they worked so hard to gain.
I once had a conversation with an international leader whom I respect very highly. While working with a world-renowned children’s charity it dawned on her that all the board members were men. The response to her querying this state of affairs was shocking. It appears that every woman who had been approached to take a place on that board had refused on the grounds they were not qualified.
Around the same time I attended a meeting in London hosted by Women in Public Policy. The point of the evening was to highlight the dearth of women on boards and to encourage them to apply for seats on whatever boards they were suitable for.
They stated, as my friend had told me previously, that no matter how educated and experienced, most women tend toward disqualifying themselves from senior posts due to lack of confidence in their own abilities. In fact, they went further to quote statistics which purport that when viewing a job for which they are only 50 to 60% qualified, most men will apply anyway, whereas women tend to feel they must be able to meet 95-100% of the job’s criteria before they will even consider applying for those same roles.
Kudos to my friend who immediately applied for a position on that board and maintained that role for some years. But at the meeting I attended, the question time was full of professionals such as solicitors, engineers and business leaders who espoused exactly those concerns. In fact, more than half of the women in the room personally spoke of avoiding, not applying for, or refusing roles on boards because of fear, a sense of inadequacy, and lack of confidence.
My sistren, this ought not be so.
Fear is a crippler, and unfortunately, fear has been built in to the psyche of our society, especially the female half. I’m constantly amazed at the number of strong, effective, innovative women who are clearly leaders, yet who balk at opportunities offered to them because they feel unable, unworthy, or just like an imposter who will be found out if she ventures up the ladder any further.
How can we deal with a default that is so common for so many of us? What sort of questions do we need to be asking ourselves in order to allow for not only those women around us to take their rightful places in senior roles, but for ourselves to step up to the plate and do so.
If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.