Oprah recently gave a stunning 5-minute speech about the burning need for breakthrough women’s equality and an opportunity now! It was inspiring, rousing for sure… but what’s next?
As an advocate for promoting more women into senior leadership, I am quite concerned that the movement has stalled for a reason that is simply invisible to most people. According to McKinsey and Company’s annual Women at Work survey there are no higher percentages of women in senior management today then there were 10 years ago. In my own consulting work, I see that an increasing number of talented women are completely exasperated at lack of progress. But perhaps progress is stalled because the urge to erase male bias and the push for equality of power is inadequate to create significant change. Something more, something new is needed now.
It is nothing less than the mass partnership with men.
The philosopher, Ken Wilber, recently reminded me that people are not born with the mindset of human equality. The 5000 years of written human history is fundamentally the story of tribal wars. It’s the nature of tribes to have a cultural mindset of superiority that legitimizes violence in the pursuit of domination. Every tribe thinks it’s better than every other tribe.
The idea that all white men are created equal is only 300 years old. And this concept is not fully embraced today in the world. According to social surveys reported by Wilbur,60% of Americans don’t actually believe that all men are equal or entitled to equal rights.
Slavery has been normal until 150 years ago. Virtually every world culture and religion had a code that justified slavery of people judged to be inferior. Our Civil Rights laws are 50 years old, and yet racism persists. The idea that women are truly equal to men is also just 50 years old, and women certainly do not have equal opportunities to men. Under the social mask, sexism rages.
What I am pointing out in the graphic above, is that we have had thousands of years of brain programming in which our social wiring has reinforced that inequality is normal. So, changing that viewpoint will not be easy. The reason why it’s not easy is because equality is an emotionally frightening concept. The idea that we should feel love and compassion toward all, and seek to create conditions so that every human being has significant rights is a new idea for our fear-sensitive brains to adopt. That we are mutually obligated to provide conditions so every person can have a decent life or even better, have a fair and equal opportunity, is frankly radical in the context of human history. And personally, it makes a lot of people feel unsafe and uneasy.
The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow tells us, we are all born selfish. We don’t care about another person’s rights or opportunities, we only care about our own. Our primal safety and security drive are with us until we die. No amount of education or money erases those drives if they are threatened.
The primary way we gain safety and security is by being protected by our family. We grow to trust our family not just because we have shared DNA, but also shared beliefs, values and interests. Our circle of safety grows beyond our immediate family to our clan and finally to our tribes. Our clan are people that we actually know who share our beliefs. Our tribes are people who look like us and express our same beliefs.
Today we are many tribes: racial, educational, religious, professional, political, economic, age and gender. Once we are in a tribe it is difficult to distinguish your own beliefs from those of our tribe(s). Put simply, it is quite hard to think for oneself. This is especially true if new thinking threatens the stability of the values and beliefs of the tribe.
Once our belonging needs are met, Maslow asserts that we seek self-esteem. This is where it gets interesting. Most men seek self-esteem through winning. Most men are driven to be competitive and establish dominance. Psychologist Carol Gilligan’s research reveals that women seek self-esteem differently. A woman’s self-esteem does not come from dominance but from helping. While males seem to be preoccupied with pursuing their self-interest, women are maturing by seeking self-worth. They tend to derive feelings of self-worth through social acceptance and contributing to the betterment of their social group.
Maslow and Gilligan agree that about 10% of men continue to grow to reach a level of self-actualization, which is an inner feeling that I have become my “best self.” Males tend to feel self-actualized when their talent or expertise is recognized by others. This is “outer validation.”
Women tend to feel self-actualized when they come to a personal understanding of their unique self-worth and feel fearless in expressing their aspirations and developing their personal talents to achieve them. This is “inner-validation.”
The final level of human development called Self Transcendence can be reached when individuals feel they have made their highest and best contribution to others. Men tend to seek this through external recognition by receiving awards or having their names on buildings. Women most often report feelings of self-transcendence by perceiving they are making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Let me tell you why these differences are important.
It would be all too easy to look at male-dominated human history and the typical path of male maturity and write it off as one giant ego orgy. Likewise, it would be easy to look at the systematic oppression of women as outrageously unfair and their benign path to personal fulfillment and judge it to be inherently virtuous. I won’t try to argue that. Our world does need less ego and more creative collaboration. But what I am interested in is effecting fast positive change. And I fear what’s going on now is woefully inadequate.
Shaming, blaming and guilt is not effective. I can report with great clarity that when men are privately talking to men a backlash is growing. Many men are feeling misjudged and misunderstood. The rules of correct behavior around women and toward women seem vague except at the extremes. I just talked to a sincere male leader today who said he would never take another female colleague to lunch again because of the “risk of being misunderstood.”
The drive to elevate women into leadership by using quotas also seems unfair and arbitrary to many male professionals. My focus group research confirms that most men believe they’re not biased against women and the organizations they work for treat men and women equally. Thus, when women are elevated in ways that seem arbitrary it sets them up for failure. It’s not that women don’t deserve promotions, they do. Rather, it’s all about the story context of how they got the promotion that becomes critical to their success.
People most commonly change their minds in stages of experiences. Look at this chart.
So, the answer is enabling men with power to begin their mind-shift by sponsoring one woman they view as a candidate for leadership responsibility. It could begin with the team or within a department. The important thing is that every man with organizational power feels the obligation and opportunity to empower at least one woman to lead. This is not an unrealistic dream. Jeanine Primes’ research confirms that when men become conscious of the unfair impacts of gender bias, their minds shift to believing that opportunity equality for women is an important issue. (My personal experience with my evolution from holding Neanderthal opinions about women’s equality to making fixing the problem my full-time job is a perfect example of how mind shifts happen.)
What if men envision themselves as a driving force to build a whole generation of capable women leaders who work with men as equals and partners to get better results. Imagine what would happen if a million male leaders took on this universal challenge to sponsor the growth and opportunity for a million women leaders. If we stimulated the competitive juices of men so that “winning” was sponsoring women, how would the world change in the next 12 months?
This is what Oprah should ask every man to do. But we don’t have to wait. We know what works. When men do these five things women flourish as leaders.
What we’ve just created is a unifying vision–story about how everyone will be better off when the leadership synergy of men and women is fully expressed. I examine research virtually every day from my research partners that confirm that when the competitive strengths of most men, and the social intelligence and thinking versatility of most women are combined, breakthroughs in both performance and value creation occur.
Women should not need to elbow their way to get a voice at the leadership table. They shouldn’t have to fight for recognition once they get there. They should be recruited and sought after and welcomed to strategic conversations and decisions of every organization.
When they are, products are better, customers are happier and growth accelerates. We know that. We have too many proof points to doubt it.
At the same time, the male drives for action and competitive achievement can be channeled toward goals that are good for employees and customers as well as investors. When we see men genuinely collaborating with women in shared leadership we need to amplify their success stories. We need to continue to tell the stories of women who move beyond their traditional roles of support and loyalty to create leadership agendas that reflect their vision and their values.
We need to promote a vision of leadership synergy as the next leap toward a future of sustainable abundance. That’s exactly what we need and that’s exactly what a team of talented women and I are going to do. It’s called The Institute for Leadership Synergy at National University which and you should join us.