Traditional patriarchal structures must give way to more diverse approaches that blend masculine and feminine values if we want to solve the new generation of economic, social and environmental crises in the world.
What our recession-weary, environmentally-challenged and stressful world really needs is more women at the top not only in businesses but at the helm of countries as well.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, 2011, “Countries and companies will thrive if women are educated and engaged as fundamental pillars of the economy, and diverse leadership is most likely to find innovative solutions to tackle the current economic challenges and to build equitable and sustainable growth.”
In South Africa as in indeed in the rest of the world women are still largely absent from positions of real power in business. The 2012 South African Women in Leadership Census, Business Women’s Association found continued disparity of women in leadership positions with 79% of executive managers and 83% directors of JSE companies and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) being men.
The latest Harvard Business Review (January/February 2013) list of Top Performing CEOs Globally has only two women in the top 100. But predictions for the future are encouraging. US based Frontier Communications Corp anticipates that female CEOs at Fortune 1000 companies will double by 2017 and that the UK will have more female millionaires than male ones by 2020, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
Currently, both men and women in business still venerate the hero leader. The same Harvard Business Review list celebrates increased market capitalisation and shareholder returns as the successes of a single person at the top of the pyramid: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Yun Jong-Yong, Roger Agnelli and so on. Our own Jacko Maree, who recently retired as CEO of Standard Bank Group, is attributed in the press with increasing the share price from R21 to R118 and market capitalisation from R30bn to R190bn and he has been the recipient of a host of awards and accolades since 2004. Pyramidal structures, personal branding these are all modern incarnations of masculine values. We live and work with them and mostly we all subscribe to them.
But research indicates that the techno economic infrastructure of modern society requires a blending of masculine and feminine values. It’s not just-a-nice-to-have or a condescension to pressures from women. Patriarchy cannot take us where we need to go next to solve the economic, social and environmental crises that we face.
The task ahead is two-fold: firstly, to bring more women into leadership positions and secondly, to change organisational forms to reflect the integration of the masculine and the feminine.
Because workplaces are traditionally structured around the needs of men and are slow to change, many women are opting out of the leadership role in the formal workplace to start their own businesses. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report carried out by the UCT Graduate School of Business on women’s entrepreneurial activity, found that relative to 34 countries around the world, almost as many women as men are starting businesses in South Africa.
The demands placed on women by society and their own natures are different from those placed on men and further transformation of corporate cultures is required to accommodate these often conflicting but legitimate demands. A recent survey conducted with 2 443 professional women in America suggested that companies need to allow for the parallel needs of establishing a successful career and starting a family, create high profile reduced hour jobs or increased flexibility of working hours in the day, increase flexibility in the ‘arc of a career’ to leave and re-enter and provide outlets for altruism – all without attaching stigma or prejudicing promotion and career opportunities.
In South Africa, just like in the US, many women need to work. The costs of big ticket items – homes, tertiary education and medical costs are escalating and are not provided by the state as they are in many European countries. The findings of this survey probably have a great deal of validity here.
A third and vital – part of loosening the stranglehold of patriarchy is for both men and women to build wiser and healthier personal leadership for a sustainable world. Wiser and healthier by definition develops and integrates mature masculine and mature feminine values and embraces diversity.
How to get there looks the same in 2013 as it did in 1990. American scientist Peter Senge has written that one of the key disciplines required for wise leadership is personal mastery. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas but paradoxically they are deeply self-confident.
“They are deeply inquisitive, committed to seeing reality more and more accurately. They feel connected to others and to life itself. Yet they sacrifice none of their uniqueness.” Added to this they are able to experience the full range of their emotions, are passionate, believe in their ability to influence events in their lives and therefore take responsibility. They are not always scapegoating and blaming others when things go wrong. Their lives are in balance, they are creative and inventive and they are talented at self-observation and self-reflection.
But our problem is that there is no shortage of excellent leadership models, frameworks, theories, courses, programmes, workshops, seminars, conferences, books, e-learning to develop personal mastery. The problem is that it is just so much hard work.
“It is enormously difficult for a human being to develop to full potential. The struggle with the infantile within us exerts a tremendous ‘gravitational’ pull against achieving the full adult potential,” write Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their book: “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine“.
So most of us give up. We are comforted that we fit in with those around us. We become weary of challenging the status quo and the effort of working on ourselves. We focus on winning, beating the competition, being number one or two in the game, creating competitive advantage because it’s a lot simpler than doing all of this and still considering the bigger issues of global sustainability and impact of our business and our leadership in a wider context.
Of all the resources available to assist this endeavour, coaching is probably one of the most valuable because its core methodology is creating the opportunity for self-observation and self-reflection. Coaching also acknowledges an adult development model. No matter how bright or how well-educated an executive may be; development is lifelong through a series of predictable stages. However, growth through the stages and maximising potential at each adult milestone can be accelerated by sustained intervention. Coaching can help executives to develop practices and to keep at them.
Through these kinds of interventions it is possible to diversify business and government and bring about the shift in culture that our world clearly needs.
Pam Moore is an HR specialist and executive coach who helps companies achieve competitive edge through people strategies.