Have you counted how many google results come up when you search “leadership men vs women”? 37,700,000 at time of writing. The fact that the default search variable that pops up includes “vs” gets us immediately to the nub of the issue. If you change the “vs” to “and” it leaps to 49,000,000 results. But scrolling through the first 20 pages or so (I couldn’t take it any longer after that), the bulk of articles still pit one gender against another.
Why would you want to read yet another discussion of this
exhausted clearly well covered topic? Because we haven’t nailed it yet readers. We have not even come close.
I claim myself a feminist, but do not have the academic grounding to discuss complex feminist theory. It’s more of an experiential thing. Because I spent several years home full time with my children and now do business from my home, there are many who would insist I cannot and should not claim that label. I view men and women as powerfully and equally yoked. With many, many shared traits and a few that are different. This is overwhelmingly to our collective benefit.
My theory on the elephant in the male and female leadership room is motherhood. Yup. The M-word. It’s not a unique theory. In the paid work force it is the single delineating factor pushing salaries and responsibility downwards for women with children. It has nothing to do with just anyone having children. Only women. I am a huge supporter of mothers having a season of their lives to be home full time with their children if circumstances and desire permit. I regard it as a profound opportunity, even on the days when I don’t. I do not judge those who do not or cannot make this decision. But I’m as mad as hell that my perceived value socially and economically takes such an enormous hit simply because I took the path I did.
Until we can embrace the totality of leadership qualities inherent in good mothering, irrespective of whether that mother works for pay or not, the arena of leadership as a whole is cut off at the knees, flawed and incomplete.
In response to a question on what I thought about the idea of mother leadership, I wrote recently over at Mothers Acting Up;*
“Mother leadership has always existed. From the great biblical matriarchs in all their gorgeous flaws, women have always had opinions and have always led. We just haven’t always known it. Contemporary society shows substantive shifts in mother leadership. There is a hunger for authenticity. An over used word, but one that reflects the deep desire of mother leaders to be whole. To be who they are in the workplace, to be who they are in their families, to be who they are in their communities and in service.
“I was talking to a friend the other day about how we’ve hidden in closets to complete a conference call with children pounding and screaming on the door because we just couldn’t take the risk of the voices on the other end of the line putting us into the “mommy” category, with all of its negative implications. And then there are the endless times I’ve heard incredibly accomplished women when called upon to introduce themselves say, “I am just a mother”. Jane Clayson wrote a book about this, I am a Mother, that profoundly altered my vocabulary about my mothering.
“You are NEVER ‘just’ a mother… Is any mother just a mother? Mother leadership begins with each and every one of us acknowledging that our voices are critically important and not just when they are raised to capture selectively deaf children’s attention! There is something about this time and season of mothering, particularly when children are young, that makes you question if you will ever be heard again. But you will. And you are.
“When we focus on the people who need our voices to be heard—our children, your children, my children, the world’s children—and we unify our voices as a powerful collective, then we are heard… When we honor our mothering and we honor our capacity as co-leaders in our homes, we can step up in small and simple ways to help mothers everywhere. But we have to stop blithely ‘writing off’ what it is we do. Language is key. It’s not the language of arrogance or confrontation. It’s the language of sure knowledge and honesty. Say it out loud: “I am a mother. I am a mother leader.” “
In language, responsibility and advocacy, mothers must claim their unique capacity for leadership that can be so powerfully and equally yoked with men and other women to create a new model of contemporary leadership stretching far beyond the confines of the world of work.
This post will be part of the October 14th NOW Leadership Blog Carnival which advocates for a model of leadership that integrates what Men and Women bring to the table. The premier edition was in September – read here.
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*Edited slightly from original for language flow.