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Reflection on the past in order to create conscious leadership for a more equal future

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no on single feminist or any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” 

Gloria Stienman 

As March is Women’s History Month, it is a good time to have a little surf through the history behind International Women’s Day in particular. I have been thinking about this topic my whole life, if I really think about it. From a young age, even if I could not clearly put a voice to it, I wondered at the injustice of my younger brother being able to do things I was not. I was raised in a household that had an Australian Mum, who was somewhat forward thinking, and a Greek Father, who for want of a better description was mired in a past where women should be seen and not heard and their primary function was to keep house and to bear and raise the children. Much to my Dad’s frustration, I would stubbornly refuse to do something if he uttered the magical words “that’s women’s work” anywhere near the activity in question.  

Reflecting on this, it helped me to become the stereotype defying, actually lets say busting, out there woman I am today. It helped me step up and lead and it helped me to clearly see what I wanted to do with my life, eventually. Earlier in it all, it helped me to do things which would often have my poor Dad drop from excitement one minute to despair for his daughter and her waywardness the next. One such moment was the excitement that I had changed my mind, after working full time for a year, and go to University, the next was the head shaking and muttering but that’s a man’s job when he discovered I was doing mechanical engineering. 

I want to step away from the story for a little and look a little more closely at some of the history and statistics about International Women’s Day and why in 2019 we have a theme of Balance for Better. 

International Women’s Day – born from suferagage and more. 

In 1911, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland decided to hold a series of events for the first international women’s day. This practice has continued and now is an international movement with events held around the world on the 8th March. Many of our readers would have attended, run or read about an International Women’s Day Event near them. It is global after all. The aim behind it then, and still today, is to: 

Celebrate social, economic, cultural and pollical achievements of women 

It is also a call to action for accelerating gender parity in societies, organisations, cultures, political body’s around the world. 

When we look at some of the statistics, we can really see why this is the case, and why it is so important. They include: 

  • 1/3 for women around the world are exposed to some form of violence at any given time, many of them experiencing rape or sexual violence 
  • 4.8% of the fortune 500 company CEO’s are women 
  • 150 countries around the world have at least one law which treats women differently (not in a positive way) than men. From the prominence of countries like Saudi Arabia only recently having allowed women the right to drive to not having rights over their own children. 
  • 23% for parliaments around the world had one or more women in it, with only two to date, having more than 50% at any given time (Rwanda and Bolivia). To put this in perspective Iraq has a mandated 25% quota for women in politics putting it 2% ahead of the USA as of their latest elections. This is with the nation having the majority of its women hold the belief that politics is a male domain (a cultural overlay which is better discussed at another time). 

So, as we can see, even just skimming the surface, we are a long way from balance. We are a long way from equality. 

Enough with history and stats though, lets look at what we can do to create balance, regardless of gender. This is a battle for all, if it is to succeed. 

Looking forward – conscious leadership 

I remember watching the movie Suffergette for the first time. I cried at the end. I guess it was actually sad with the things that the main character had to sacrifice in order to have a voice, which wasn’t really being listened to, amongst other things. This wasn’t the main reason I cried though. It was 2017, yes, I was a little slow to watch it not being much of a television/Netflix/ movie watcher, and in my mind very little had changed. In the country I live in, as in the US, we had the vote and women now have rights over their children, where they didn’t in the early 1900’s, but we still get harassed at work, sexually assaulted and even raped and are expected to keep our mouths shut – it was a little before #metoo exploded talking about this a little more. We didn’t have equal pay for equal work, and we didn’t have equal opportunity to education and promotion. 

What have we been doing without time? 

Fighting. 

For the right to education 

For the right to equal pay for equal work 

For the right to be able to work unmolested, harassed or assaulted 

…and so much more! 

Movements like #HeforShe, promoted by Emma Watson at the United Nations, and #MeToo we are starting to step into our conscious leadership shoes. This is what we will need to move forward into the future. 

What is conscious leadership? 

It is pretty much what is says on the tin. First and foremost, it is being conscious of your actions and their impact on others and the environment around you. There are key five attributes to a conscious leader 

Values Based 

You need to bring your personal values to the table. For a long time, we have been exposed to organisations determining company values based on a list that is drawn up by those at the top that sounds nice. This is not how it works. Often because the list is just some things that sound nice, the organisational collective has no connection to it. 

The corporate culture is determined as the collective values of those that make it up. This is why balance is important. If we have an organisation which is dominated by not just one gender but also a societal sector, for example white, privileged males, in their late 50’s plus, we will have not just a lack of balance, but an organisation culture which reflects their collective values. 

A conscious leader knows this, ensures that they can really see the values of those in the business they are working, and that this matches their own values. You cannot be a strong leader if you are compromising your own values, on a daily basis, to make something happen. This also will end up with cracks in your leadership. By bringing your own values to the fore and ensuring they are aligned with the business, those you are leading will be able to see it too. 

As an individual we often are not sure what our values are to say them out loud, although our bodies will know instinctively what they are. You will often feel uncomfortable, or even sick to stomach (literally) when doing something out of line with your values. 

If you want to work out what your values are, here is a little exercise to help. 

Remember this is just a start and it often helps to sit with a coach or mentor who knows what they are doing to try to work these out. 

Start by imaging something you have done in your life that really makes you feel proud. Don’t over think it. What pops into your head first? 

Take this experience and answer these questions: 

What was happening at the time? 

How did you feel? 

What was it about the experience that made you happiest? That made it something you remember as something to be proud of? 

Additionally, or alternatively if you are struggling with the first method, think of a time when you were doing something that made you sick to your stomach. 

Answer the first two questions the same but the third question is@ 

What was it that made you angry, frustrated and/or sick? 

When you have the key things that triggered your emotions you will be able to start to pinpoint values, such as family, achievement, power, etc. Remember there are hundreds of different values, you just want to try to pinpoint some of your top ones, maybe 5, which will form your core values. 

Your reason for being. 

Making a Difference 

Many ‘leaders’ have become complacent. They are taking their teams through the motions. We have technology changing at a fast pace and more and more people interested the impact on what they are doing not just on the physical environment but on the people in the communities around them. You need to engage you team and allow them to contribute to making this better.  

It is really important to remember that being able to be inclusive is a big part of making a difference. Diversity is one thing but the real key to creating change, and hence creating a balance is inclusion. 

One of the reasons that so little has changed in a hundred odd years, that also left me crying at the end of a fictional movie, is because we have undertaken the motions of creating diversity, but haven’t created a culture of inclusion, which helps to make a difference. 

A little something for you to think about as a leader. 

What difference do you want to make? 

Write it down. Make it big and bold and beautiful so you can really imagine it if you aren’t looking at it. Now, what is one thing you can do to move toward creating the ability for that difference to happen. 

When I think of this, it makes me think of another movie, Hidden Figures, which is loosely based on the lives of some pretty amazing woman. It reminds me of Katherine Johnson running halfway across the worksite to go to the toilet because there wasn’t a coloured women’s toilet in the building, she was working it. The complaint that she kept disappearing. The key to this image was the action taken by the leader of the team to finally make an effort to include her, rather than just have her there, by removing the colour designation on the toilet to make a difference. This is what I mean by inclusion rather than just diversity.  

Yes, I know we still have a long way to go. I did connect to this scene as I had something similar but not the same (the only time I have had discrimination against me because of colour is when I was living in Tanzania but I will never claim to or even say I now remotely what it is like to have this added to the pile!), was when I was working at BHP Steel in Australia and the women's changing rooms was in another building a 20-minute walk from where I was based. I chose not to walk across site to change but rather change at my locker with the men around me. This was my small disruption. This is not always so simple. 

Leaving a Legacy 

This is not just something you are doing for when you are gone from this Earth, you want to leave a living legacy. Ensuring that you leave behind not just someone who can follow you but that you leave behind positive change. All too often we make the mistake of believing that as long as we do our job and succession planning in place that is enough. In an environment that still lacks diversity in many places as conscious leaders we must also ensure positive change and that we leave a legacy of company values that embrace this. 

Once again, often easier said than done. We are not looking for boxes to be ticked here but to create a true culture change. One that embraces having diversity of personalities, gender, culture, race, etc in the organisation but is also opened to including their ideas, viewpoints and ways to doing things in order to create a better and more sustainable space going forward. 

When we hire in our image, we do not create change. When I say in our image, I don’t just mean looking like me. Although I guess hiring more women would be a positive. I mean in my personality image. It is often noted that CEOs and senior Directors tend to be of a certain personality type. This is not because this is the best personality to have in senior management but because those of the past have tended to hire in their likeness, thus creating a paradigm of similar personalities for similar roles. Part of a true living legacy is having the willingness to hire those who think different and be willing to allow them real inclusion to the ‘party’. 

Purposeful Vision 

Steven Covey famously wrote as one of his original 7 habits of highly effective people “Start with the end in mind”. We use this in our businesses often when are setting tasks to achieve goals. Part of conscious leadership is not just looking at the business goals but looking at the wider impact of the technology or progress they are implementing and how it affects the environment around them. Here we are looking at the advancements and ensuring that we understand what the impact is on not only our business but on the environment around us. Our communities and the sustainability of the business and the impact it has on those around us. 

When we look at the purpose of ensuring equal access to education. The long-term goal of this is that it provides equal opportunities to gain knowledge and learning. This in turn means that girls, who then become women who make decisions which may affect their community, have the opportunity to impact from an empowered position and they in turn will empower their villages. Projects such as The Hunger Project does this, when they educate women in business and leadership, grant them micro loans to create a business and then watch them raise their community out of poverty by passing that knowledge along. 

Collaborative Mindset 

Gone are the days of competition as king. Collaboration has been found to deliver far better, more imaginative and more sustainable results. This is because we have many brains looking at the problem from different perspectives, which allows for better initiatives and sustainability. This is why diversity and inclusion are so important as well. A collaboration of a group that are of one mind on everything Will not progress as one with differing views and an openness to ideas. 

If we want true balance, we need to be open to an abundance mindset, which is what comes with collaboration. Collaboration is also the feminine energy to competitions masculine energy. The idea that there is enough pie to go around so everyone can have a share, rather than the competitive concept that I want the who pie. 

What are you doing to foster an environment of collaboration? 

How can you change this, so you include more collaboration? 

If we look at successes like Sharon Lechter, co-author of Rich Dad Poor Dad books and games (and author of Think and Grow Rich for Women), we see the very thing that helped her raise to the top of her game, being involved in organisations which were collaborative. It also goes to the heart of Napoleon Hills teachings in Think and Grow Rich. She still gives back to the collaborative mindset network she was a part of, CEO Space International, until this day and it is why she does so well in her business and has helped so many others to success to this date. 

As you can see it is important that we lead with our eyes wide open and our brains fully engaged. Consciousness of the actions we take, and their wider impact is where the future of leadership is. A conscious leader will have a strong team which will contribute to the sustainability of the business around it. 

As a final note, what is the one thing you are going to do this year in order to create more balance in your business, workplace or life. After all, progress is made up of many first steps. 

Maggie Georgopoulos

Maggie Georgopoulos

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