I have a vision to bring women in politics and women in business, in high-conflict regions, together to develop leadership skills while addressing important challenges. Taking my place in this vision and why I, who have never lived in a war zone, dare believe I have something to contribute, requires daring boldly with humility. My participation in an unusual “writer’s workshop” allowed me to coalesce my vision and take my place within it. Man or woman, taking our place in a big vision is no small thing.
My palms are starting to sweat as I stand in the center of a spacious room; people are seated in a wide circle around me. Adrenaline combines with the two strong cups of Starbucks® French Roast coffee I made with my bright red Bodum French press early this morning; the combination feels like rocket fuel. But, my body is on terra firma and the only release is through an explosion of thoughts.
I am about to “set up” an important project using an approach that takes a systems view and reveals hidden dynamics. I use the business and organizational version of this approach with our Leadership Hand clients. It offers an extraordinary perspective and useful insights so helpful for managing change, deciding on strategy, or aligning stakeholders.
Today is different because instead of acting as facilitator of an organizational issue with a leadership team or group of stakeholders, I am the client. I am the client and in, of all things, my first ever writing workshop. Our facilitator is also gifted writer. She is guiding each workshop participant through this already innovative approach in an even more innovative way: our writing projects.
My “Writing Project” Comes from My Belief in Women as Our Best Hope
My “writing project” isn’t really a writing project. It is a concept born of my belief:
Women and the men who stand with them, are our best hope for greater peace and prosperity for future generations.
It’s not just wishful, inspired thinking. The business case is fact-based when there are more women at the table.
In February, at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, D.C., I was listening to hot-off-the-press research results on Ukrainian women in politics. I suddenly, and with some alarm, wondered, “With my focus on women business leaders, have I got it all wrong? Should I shift my business’s focus to women in politics?”
Media, colleagues, and potential clients all were present, but I just didn’t care if I questioned my business focus in an open forum. I had to ask the question. Melanne Verveer, the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues and now, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, assured me, “You didn’t get it wrong.. It’s not an either or—either women in business or in politics. It’s both.” Without asking for it, without intending to broaden my focus, in a snap, my world changed.
“You didn’t get it wrong. It’s not an either or—either women in business or in politics. It’s both.” – Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
And thus, my “writing project” is to bring women in business and politics, in high-conflict regions, together. Not just for connection for opportunities, mentoring and support, which are all critical for women’s parity, but with the intent of developing their leadership skills while they address important challenges.
“Why is This Important to You?”
My mind on rocket fuel returns to earth when the facilitator asks gently, but directly, “Why? Why is this important to you?” For a heartbeat I pause, but I know my truth. I speak fast with conviction, heart pounding.
“I’ve never lived in a war zone, but I know conflict. I know the suffering that comes with it. I don’t want others to suffer and I want to make it easier for those who come later.”
In my quest to resolve conflict within my own life, I’ve developed my ability to facilitate learning conversations that help people who come together in a group trust each other, think together and create new futures.
In my quest to resolve conflict within my own life, I’ve developed my ability to help people who come together in a group trust each other, think together and create new futures.
I love this work…
“Find Your Place”
The facilitator has asked me to choose people from among the participants to represent aspects of my project. I choose individuals to represent each of the following:
- Women in business,
- Women in politics,
- Prosperity, and
- Men who stand with women.
I place them in relationship to each other, guided by what feels right. After several minutes of dialogue with and movement among the representatives, the facilitator tells me, “Find your place.”
Place here is not determined by intellect. Place is determined by a stance of humility in relationship to others, and contribution to life.
Dare I stand where I know to stand?
I take my place in the half circle, between Women in Politics and Women in Business looking at Peace and Prosperity who stand before us. I wonder if I’m making myself too important. Women in Business reaches for my hand, then Women in Politics does the same. I cry—I did not expect this. Women in Business turns to me to say, “We can’t do it without you. You are the link.”
It’s No Small Thing, Taking Your Place
It’s no small thing, taking your place. Taking your place if you’re a woman could mean taking a seat at the table as Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook, advised. It could mean asking for a raise, applying for the top position, or acknowledging accolades given to you for a job well done. If you’re a man it could mean all these, or bucking tradition’s dictates for “what it means to be a man.”
Taking it means leaving behind old notions that no longer serve you, like questioning whether you really can contribute to a greater whole (you can and do) or doubting the value of what you contribute.
Taking it does not mean grabbing it out of arrogance or bravado as I’ve done and seen others do. When we do this we wonder why we didn’t make the sale, or why our team, division or business is fraught with underlying discord.
It means following the movement within you where you stand for something, daring boldly with humility, where you stand among others neither subordinated nor elevated. When this is your internal stance and image, the external circumstances fall into place with surprising ease. It’s normal, hard work—not impossibly or improbably hard. Here’s to finding and taking your place …
I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you as it unfolds.
When Gender Bias Hides Men Too…
With all the emphasis on women, I worry that gender bias can hide men too. Here’s a Huffington Post article I wrote on just that. Definitely worth the beautiful short film by Pakistani filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan’s documentary on men who risk their lives on behalf of women.
Speaking with Women Entrepreneurs Globally
What a pleasure to partner with WEConnect International to present to women entrepreneurs from around the world. WEConnect helps women businesses globally enter into multi-national value chains—the chain of value from raw materials to the finished product. Participants learned how to apply the SHINE guidelines (from the book Hidden by Gender) to themselves and their teams to achieve strategic results. Enjoyed featuring CEO Elizabeth Vazquez for “S” See Your Compelling Vision on the Horizon!