15/05/2013 - 15:32

Two Halves make the whole on gender equality

15/05/2013 - 15:32


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Two Halves make the whole on gender equality

DESPITE great strides forward towards gender equality in the 1960s, 1970s, and through to the 1990s, women remain under-represented at board level in top Australian companies.

A recent study in the CEDA ‘women in leadership’ series’ found that while more women graduate from university than men and continue to perform better academically, at December 2012 women held just 15.4 per cent of board positions at ASX200 companies, and 52 of the ASX200 companies did not have any women on their boards.

If men are still dominating the upper echelons of the workspace, is it possible that both women and men may be unconsciously colluding in maintaining the generational chain of traditional male-female models?

In 2011, what was to become the fastest selling paperback of all time was launched into the English market.

50 Shades of Grey, an erotic novel about sexual politics, touching on the complex dynamic of female submissiveness, has currently sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. Written by E.L James, a woman, the book exposes the internal unconscious dynamic that causes a woman to buy-in to male domination.

The book ends in a painful breakup of the two main characters due to the unsustainable pressures and tensions caused by the male character’s desire for domination.

In his research into what he called the ‘ego’s shadow’ – all those unacceptable aspects of self (both good and bad) that are denied and repressed –Carl Jung suggested that as long as the dominant party represses qualities like their kindness and empathy and the submissive party denies their strength and ability to be dominant, then neither will be whole or effective in realising their true potential, individually or together. Behavioural extremes will prevail.

Hence, females unconsciously take on a more submissive role in the workforce and males default to wanting dominance. The unfortunate outcome is that both genders fail to progress professionally in terms of realising their full potential.

What are the consequences of this unconscious internal gender dynamic for leadership in our organisations?

There is ongoing imbalance in our organisations, with leaders wasting a lot of their creative energy playing political chess.

As long as we unconsciously deny ‘unacceptable’ parts of ourselves, the internal war of repressed aspects of self will rage on and be externalised onto the theatre of the world at large.

In other words, people ‘act out’ rather than mindfully engaging with people-situations effectively. If a woman denies her more compassionate qualities, for example, she may tend to behave to others in the manner she has been treated – the abused becomes the abuser.

If she denies her toughness, she may tend to collude as the victim. Either way she forfeits her true potential, rendering her incapable of striking the fine balance between objectivity and empathy, central to effective decision-making.

Importantly, leading at the top of the organisation requires creativity, strategic thinking and the ability to stand alone – capabilities that cannot function unless we are whole.

So what do leaders, both women and men, do to break free of their entrenched and unconscious tendencies towards gender bias?

  • To alter the outer world, take responsibility, become aware of your inner drivers; find a trusted mentor who will give you honest feedback.
  • Be and appreciate the totality of your humanity – do not deny either the good or the bad, accept the gifts of all your qualities and the lessons they teach you.
  • Be on the alert for the things in the other person that trigger a reaction, some resistance in you –what you point a finger at is often an aspect within yourself that you have unconsciously denied.
  • Make peace with the parts of yourself you have hidden away and deemed ‘wrong’.

This is the path to transform yourself into the leader you really are with an eternal flame burning bright within you that will not be denied – whether you are a woman, or a man.

Sarah Newton-Palmer is director of Perth leadership firm Intus Consultancy. She facilitates leadership workshops nationally and is currently providing executive coaching and mentoring to senior managers. www.intusconsultancy.com.au




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