Gender Diversity through My Own Story as a Female Entrepreneur
Only when we become authentic human beings, we can value and cherish diversity.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on October 19, 2015.
Years ago, when I started my management career, I was convinced that the subject of gender is irrelevant to being a professional and being a manager. Today, I still believe that professionalism and excellence are recognizable no matter the shapes and forms they take. However, I know also that depending on where we are in our own evolution, we go through different stages with regard to our approach to gender and other diversity in the workplace.
Denial or Discrimination
As we grow as professionals, our focus is on learning, we strive towards excellence in our work and life, and we hope to be recognized for our efforts and contribution. We don’t always have full confidence in ourselves and we are not fully aware of us and the world. We often seek the “one right way” and mimic successful role models.
When I was growing up as a professional and as a manager, all candidates for role models were from the opposite gender. I always considered that to be by coincidence. Later down the road, back in 2001, I was the first female country director in a leading global corporation with offices spanning the world. The only other women at my first international appearance on a conference in the USA were in administration and marketing. Nevertheless, I was still oblivious to the facts. I call that the “stage of denial.”
My first wake-up call was when I found myself in formal board meetings surrounded by males only. Being fairly insecure and critical of myself, I attributed my difficulties during these meetings to my own deficiencies. Later, as a Regional Operations Director of nine offices in six countries, I saw how women were shy to request higher remuneration especially if they were promoted into management organically, while men — especially if attracted from the outside — were asking for several times higher wages. I can continue with examples from that time. Nevertheless, I was still in denial of the challenges women face or even create.
Others recognize gender discrepancies early on in life and start discriminating against the opposite sex. Whether in denial or discrimination, in both cases we act of lower level of awareness and unconscious bias, as well as a lack of knowledge about the differences that exist between women and men.
I am thankful for having had these experiences because as people we tend to be very loud and “black and white” when we discuss what’s right and wrong. Going through such experiences has shown me how difficult it is sometimes to know and do what’s right. It is exactly these moments of difficulties that trigger us to open up to a later, more complex stage of consciousness. According to Richard Barrett of the Barrett Values Centre, these triggers are always major life challenges that cannot be resolved from the current worldview.
After many years in senior management, something started changing in me. All previous attempts of my own (male) manager to motivate me to organize somehow the women in management into a mentoring network did not reach my ears. Until one day I decided to give it a try. The meeting was squeezed in between a long day of strategy meetings and the time for relaxation before dinner. However, everybody stayed. One after the other women talked about their challenges and needs, and a new world opened for me.
When I was leaving the company a couple of years later, I was shaken by the heartwarming emails I received from women in management from my region. They were elaborate testimonials of what it meant for them to have a female role model in senior management, how I paved the way for them and how much they’ve learnt from me. Today, there are a few female country directors in the same leading global corporation and they are all from the same region.
What followed for me was a period of long self-reflection and increased awareness. I started truly tuning into who I really am. That meant also learning to recognize and admit the specific differences that define us as men and women, as nationalities, as cultures, as generations.
Making a Difference
That renewed state of awareness soon provoked in me the desire to assist other women, and I organized an event called Women’s Leadership Lab. My motivation was twofold- first reaching out to women who do not have the chance to have positive female role models in their lives. Second, I wanted to create an environment in which we all learn from each other about the challenges we face and the differences that exist because only then could we move forward in working through these differences. The event turned successful and this year — when organizing once again the Women’s Leadership Lab — it was somewhat easier explaining why we need such events.
Values, Consciousness And Diversity
According to Richard Barrett, every human being on the planet evolves and grows in consciousness in seven well‐defined stages: Survival, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Transformation, Internal Cohesion, Making a Difference and in Service. Reflecting on that model, my own journey and the many conversations and experiences I’ve had through my recent work on issues of gender and multicultural diversity, I see that where we are on that road impacts how we deal with gender and other types of diversity as well.
I know now that no one can function well and be happy within a highly diverse environment if they act out of a lower level of consciousness and out of fear. In order for (gender) diversity to be a source of true strength and inspiration, people must evolve beyond the first three levels — Survival, Relationship and Self-esteem. Only when we become authentic, internally cohesive human beings opened towards others, we can become the people that value and cherish diversity.
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