Why we need more female templates in the business world

There are so many things you can do to move forward with courage and creativity, as your fullest and most authentic self, says Diana Theodores. You have everything you need to act with courageous authenticity and dare to do something that makes a positive difference

Being and bringing more of ourselves through the door is a challenge, a quest and a joy for both men and women. However, let’s face it, there’s a bigger history of male templates around leading and influencing, and women could do with a bit of template-crafting of their own. For women, ‘me time’ is at such a premium, because they can sometimes be hard of hearing when it comes to messages of self-permission.

Contradictions, politics and ever-changing perspectives on gender equality and the advancing of female talent abound, from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to Michelle Obama’s ‘It’s a lie, you can’t have it all’.

Nevertheless, there are some consistent realities for women: the aspiration for fulfilment in work, the ambition for personal and professional growth, and the economic necessity of single-working-woman and single-working-mother households as well as two-earner households.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, I hope we can agree that organisations and their cultures can be healthier, happier and more sustainable if the people in them feel supported, valued and purposeful. It would help to have a lot more women as players in this enlightened leadership field. We need their voices and visibility to manifest this story. But that on its own is not enough. Women could also use some space to build a bit more muscle. Here’s what I mean.

When I was thirteen, I decided I wanted to be a ballerina. At that age, I was already late to the party for becoming a professional dancer, as there was a lot of technique to acquire. I remember seeing boys who were considerably older get promoted in performances much sooner. They caught up faster. Why? Because they had a muscular head start. They didn’t have to build muscle strength so much as refine that strength into expressive technique.

My thirteen-year-old fury went something like this: ‘They waltz in here and get all the attention just because they can lift us up!’ In the ballet world, boys had more muscle so they did the lifting, and in those days they also did most of the choreographing.

Like dancers, women need to build some muscle so they can focus on how they want to express themselves authentically in the roles they play. They need a ‘rehearsal space’ where that can happen.

Summon your inner revolutionary

It’s inspiring to visualise your personal procession of revolutionary women through time. I see Isadora Duncan, liberator of the female dancer from tutus, pointe shoes and idealised ephemerality to earthy, barefoot, tunic-flowing dance maker. I see the suffragists, Emeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett who tirelessly fought for the right for women to vote. I see Georgia O’Keefe.

We all have heroines who inspire awe, gratitude and humility in us. After all, their legacies changed mindsets and cultural norms. They awakened their audiences and the world with ‘the shock of the new’. They forever changed the status quo. Our revolutionaries had big visions and irrepressible spirits. They didn’t retreat from the phrase ‘This can’t be done’, didn’t collapse in the face of ‘No’. They persevered. They often suffered and failed. They attracted advocates, fans and admirers. They started riots. They carried on their paths. They believed in their visions.

We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giantesses, and they are transformative role models of the possible. That said, you don’t need to be epic and iconic to be a revolutionary. Within you is your own revolutionary, poised for acts of courage, risk-taking, standing up and being counted, speaking up, initiating, and stretching – whatever these acts may be for you. Perhaps:

  • Speaking first in the meeting where you’ve always held back
  • Making that presentation to more senior, knowledgeable colleagues and believing in your value
  • Taking a visible stand on an issue that’s important to you
  • Calling something out when you see it, such as an unconscious bias in operation

Within you is your own revolutionary who wants to change the story of ‘living in an epidemic of obedience’, as Nancy Kline put it, and who will dare to do something differently for herself and others. Dress outside the unspoken company conventions; own your ethnicity, your differences, your otherness in a more visible way; help initiate better conversations about diversity; create something you’d love to see in your workplace – start a choir or book club, or take the lead on getting a company crèche set up.

Take a moment to reflect on a risk or action you’d like to take, or a stretch you’d like to make. Envision the step your inner revolutionary wants to take. Then ask yourself what the consequence is of not doing this?

There are so many things you can do to move forward with courage and creativity, as your fullest and most authentic self. Drop the corporate mask; allow yourself to express emotion rather than damping it down; share your vulnerability rather than blockading it; speak language that conveys your meaning effectively rather than speaking in the shorthand company jargon; harness your animated, passionate, energised self and don’t let it atrophy under conformity and conventions that may be long out of date. You have everything you need to act with courageous authenticity and dare to do something that makes a positive difference.

Dr Diana Theodores is Director of Theatre 4 Business and an international women’s leadership expert. Her new book Performing As You: How to have authentic impact in every role you play is out now, priced £12.99. To find out more go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781333823

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