Getting out of our seats and off the boat

The man who opened the Women of Influence Awards last night spoke about how our earliest Wahine sat through their journeys to New Zealand. Only males were allowed to row.

He looked out at an audience full of trail blazers, misfits, disruptors and survivors and said “look at you now, you are the navigators of our country”.

Of course, because it’s 2018, New Zealand and an event celebrating women, another man finished the night by telling a top female executive that ‘the problem with women is they lack the ability to lead’.

In these crazy times, it really shouldn’t be surprising that with these two, unintentionally profound statements, it was men who got to the heart of the issue of women and leadership. Michelle Duff puts it this way:

“The ultimate end-game of feminism was not and has never been to simply slot women into all the positions of power currently held by men. The idea is not to uphold the structures that already exist.

It is to tear them down.”

It’s been 125 years since Kate Sheppard secured the signatures of a quarter of all women in New Zealand and made us the first country in the world to give women the vote. I suppose the hidden detail in this story is that it happened in a time when courier pigeons were considered an efficient mode of communication, when there were literally no women in parliament to get on the team. Damn right, it was a powerful display of leadership. But when Kate threw out the playbook, she gave us a much more powerful lesson in what happens when women lack the ability to lead like men do.

Of course some people struggle to see women as leaders, our approach is virtually unrecognisable. And it has been unrecognised, even by us, for far too long. Thank god we can finally say goodbye to the days women felt they had to ‘act like men’ to get to the top and embrace everything that happens when women lead like women.

A revolution is happening and when you know where to look, you’ll see it everywhere.

You’ll see our Governor General acknowledging the failures of her generation to fully grasp the gender battle they were fighting. “We thought things would change – it was just a matter of time. We now know that we were wrong – or at least too optimistic”. Female leaders don’t see failure as a sign of weakness, they get strength from talking openly about the lessons they learned along the way.

You’ll see an award winner walking onto the stage arm in arm with two friends. Her name is on the trophy but the success is shared. I can’t think of a better showcase of how women lead through lifting each other in the good times up and holding each other up in the bad.

You’ll mistake vulnerability for a lack of confidence. You’ll judge a woman for being too emotional, then watch her change the entire atmosphere of a board room using those same emotions.

Yes there is a problem with women and leadership, but the problem isn’t with women, it’s with leadership. That narrow definition we’ve all subscribed to for far too long is being forcibly expanded and traditional leadership structures are finally starting to collapse under the weight of women doing things their own way.

The problem with women and leadership is this: We don’t want to take over the navigation of this boat. We want to build a new one.

3 thoughts on “Getting out of our seats and off the boat”

  1. Great article! Such a concise but profound post… I shared with my friends.

    The closing line really struck me:
    “traditional leadership structures are finally starting to collapse under the weight of women doing things their own way. ”

    It seems that traditional leadership structures are also collapsing from their own ineptitude and rapidly changing world. Climate change, inequality, and social division are all crises that traditional leadership structures seem unable to address.

    Here’s a prayer that new leadership styles will have the opportunity and ability to deliver meaningful progress on such issues. If so, I imagine that social resistance to these under-represented styles will melt away for generations to come.

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