By Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas
“The future is female,” Hillary Clinton recently proclaimed.
Her message, revived from the 1960s, was shared via Skype at the Makers Conference in February and then blasted across social media. The responses ran the gamut which is not the least bit surprising, especially in these days of divisiveness. There were the cheerers who shouted, “bring it on!” with gusto and glee. There were the naysayers who rejected this vision of a gender exclusive future with an emphatic, “no thanks.” There were the skeptics who shrugged, not willing to buy a future they could not see.
As longtime business partners who research and write about women leading together we say, “You’re right” as we cheer with the cheerers, say no thanks with the naysayers and shrug with the skeptics.
We cheer because we see a female future as one where women join forces to realize results. We know from our research and our own experience that when women make the intentional decision to lead together, big benefits are achieved – from the freedom to define success to the flexibility to achieve it and the support that fuels the drive. Sure, women make things happen on our own. But why go it alone, when we get energy, access to a wider array of skills and perspectives along with the ease that comes from leading side by side, on the same slanted ground with someone who gets it?
We say no thanks with the naysayers because we agree that excluding men from this future doesn’t make sense. We want the future to be one that equitably includes all genders. The difference is that we don’t see an exclusion of men in Clinton’s prediction. A female future is one in which there’s parity for all genders in terms of the opportunities that are available to them, the compensation they receive, the motivation that inspires them and the societal perceptions that influence how they are treated. The bitter truth is that we are a long, long way from such a future. But when women lead together – as men already do – when we stand together on the same ground and achieve our goals, when we champion, celebrate and advocate for each other, when we truly see and hear each other, then it will be a whole lot harder not to see and hear all of us. With this equality comes the confidence it takes to be a formidable, female future force that leads together, ensuring true equity exists in how we are compensated, motivated and perceived.
And we shrug along with the skeptics. After all, that vision of women leading together, advocating and celebrating each other might seem like an obvious way of being (as in: aren’t we already there?), the reality is we’ve got a long, long way to go.
For example, let’s take the January 21st Women’s Marches. When Clinton called the future female, she spotlighted these marches as compelling models of women coming together for a better way. We were both at the March in Washington and fervently agree. And yet, we were also struck by the level of criticism — largely from women – that started rolling in as soon as the idea of a woman’s march was announced. Tracking the news stories, we saw long articles written that denounced the marches as not diverse, too diverse, too disorganized, too strident, too exclusive, too unfocused and, ultimately, too doomed to meaninglessness and outright failure.
The good news is that the marches didn’t fail. Instead, they gloriously succeeded in vibrant, living colors. But the fact remains that rather than celebrating these historic gatherings, the first responses were to criticize and disempower the mere idea of them.
Our concern is that the immediate onslaught of criticism that too typically comes in response to women’s leadership impedes women from leading together. Rather than celebrating opportunities for women to move forward together in ways that move us all ahead, the tendency is to cut off the opportunity before it gets started. Instead of focusing on the substance and actual outcomes of intended actions, we humans – women and men – get caught up in trying to tear down the very fact that women are the ones who are leading them.
The reaction to early criticism of the Women’s March leadership thankfully didn’t prevent implementation. In fact, the leaders were skilled and open to feedback which proved to make the marches stronger. March organizers were able to lead in a value-based way, hearing concerns about the lack of leadership diversity at the beginning and making significant shifts from an all-white crew to a multi-cultural team that resulted in inclusive leadership.
In a future that’s female, there’s plenty of discourse, wrestling and opinion sharing. The contrast between the future and this present is that in the future the discourse is based on a shared trust in women’s ability to join forces. It’s about instilling the confidence in each other that makes it possible to build something up and give it a chance before we tear it down. A future that’s female is one where women are encouraged to lead together in ways that move all of us forward.
So, what do we do? Let’s start with 4 steps that any skeptic or naysayer or cheerleader can start taking now so we can get to that future all the sooner.
1.Hold the critique
Ask yourself – what are your initial reactions to women leading? What would change in your thinking if your first response was to celebrate women leaders and appreciate what they are bringing? Commit to resisting the urge to criticize the small stuff and focus on the outcomes that can get accomplished instead.
Be on the listen for women’s voices and make sure they get heard. When you hear a woman’s idea, make sure everyone else does, too — and make sure to clearly credit her. That’s how we raise our voices, that’s how we get heard!
3.Seek out opportunities to join forces
There’s always a way to partner up. The problem is that women leading together isn’t a model we see often enough. We hope we’ve made the case clear that when women lead together, we make things happen. Go lead together in visible ways that motivate other women to do the same.
In the female future, visible examples of women leading together will be encouraged and supported instead of critiqued before they’ve even had a chance to grow. Celebrate that!
Let’s make our future one where we all – women and men – succeed by allowing and encouraging opportunities for women to lead together. In this future, women are leading, working and encouraging each other in ways that bring greater equity, equality, confidence and results for all men and women. This is the future we want; we bet you do too.