33 of the 500 companies on the Fortune 500 are run by women. That’s 6%. 17% of US governors are female and of 21 out of 195 countries are led by women (10%).
We have a problem. At first glance it’s obvious that the problem is gender inequality. But there’s more to it than that. The deeper problem is that while we’re aware of this insane gap we aren’t doing enough to remedy it. Progress is slow -- for some of us, unacceptably so. And while we should celebrate the gains we’ve made; we still exist within systems that reward inequality and work against empowering women. And I want to be clear: There is no simple or quick fix. The minutia of the system is our problem, the invisible, innocuous characteristics and mandates we all buy into. These behaviors and belief systems are so a part of our DNA, that even those of us that want faster progress contribute to the existence of this inequality.
How so? The blatant truth is that we feed these inequities because on some level we don’t believe in our own inherent power or value. We believe that empowerment is an external gift bestowed on us by someone else. Someone in power, most likely male, has a moment of enlightenment and hands us the power, validation, or permission to be ourselves as female leaders and still succeed. But if you look at any of the female trailblazers and icons we look up to (RBG for instance) you will see something quite different. What these women understood is that empowerment is a state of being. It is the way you think and perceive the world and yourself. Therefore, it’s not something that anyone can give to you – it’s a process of enlightenment within yourself that cannot be undone or unseen. It is the realization that we already possess all we need. If we believe in our convictions and work toward outcomes we know to be valuable, we have already made a difference – we don’t need anyone to give us permission or kudos for that to be true.
Does this mean that after this realization others won’t try to disempower you? Of course not. They can even succeed at bringing you down a notch – but only to an extent. They only truly win when we doubt ourselves. When we begin to believe that we are disempowered, when we believe that we must fit into a certain model of leadership to be valued, when we believe that our natural instincts are wrong. “If you believe it, then it’s true,” as my high school history teacher used to say.
That is why, as with everything, this shift to gender equality and a more balanced system of leadership starts within each of us. We must reframe our belief systems, begin to see the invisible constraints that make us mute ourselves. We must learn to trust that our instincts are giving us all the information we need to lead. We have to see validation for what it is; an empty surge of serotonin that fades and constantly needs to be replaced. I say this without judgment because I’ve been there. I still go back there from time to time; and it’s a pretty disempowering place to be.
To be honest, once this truth hit me, I couldn’t ignore it. I thought back to all the brilliant female leaders that I’ve worked with and how often they’d say to me, “Well, if I was completely myself that would never work.” WHAT?! That can’t be good. We have brilliant women who have unique perspectives and gifts to offer, who can change their businesses, the world, their community – and they’re holding back because being themselves is too much for other people?!
This has to stop. So, I am doing something about it. Earlier this month, my team and I launched The Executive Women’s Forum: Reclaiming Your Instinctual Leadership and I could not be more excited. The forum is designed to do three things:
I have been overwhelmed by the feedback and number of applications for this forum. It reminds me that I’m not the only one who sees its time to change things in this powerful and irrevocable way.
The other wonderful surprise: all our amazing male colleagues, friends and allies that have shared this forum with leaders they love and respect. It feels so good to see this kind of unconditional support and to know that these men want what we want and are willing to work for it too.
I can’t wait to share updates about our forum with all of you, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, we launch in January and still have a few spots open! I hope any of you leaders out there that have nodded along with this post will make the decision to join us or pass the forum along and help us create this world-shifting change.