Women at Work: Employing the Powerful Feminine

hanks largely to the domination of men in our society, the masculine traits have prevailed in economics as well as many other institutions we’ve created. Like any system that gets lopsided, the masculine has had no significant offset or feedback until very recently. As women began entering the workforce as executives, engineers, politicians, scientists, and other positions of greater influence, most of them employ the tried and true traits of the masculine style. They act tough, suppress their feelings, found a ruthlessness within themselves and climb as far as they can. For some, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher characterized this image in the 1980s. For me, the powerful feminine is best demonstrated by Lynne Twist, a woman of enormous power and accomplishment who doesn’t sacrifice on iota of her femininity.


Margaret Thatcher (L) Lynne Twist (R)

But the economic/business/organizational system is still lopsided and really needs balancing. The traits of the feminine are sorely needed now more than ever to bring us back to some semblance of wholeness and sustainability.  This isn’t just a nice idea or a politically correct one or even about justice. Balancing the economic system is essential to sustaining human life on this planet!

While there are men who embody the feminine, certainly more now than there were thirty years ago, they are still a small minority. The men who find it impossible to embrace their feminine side need women to help them soften. The men who are in touch with that other side of themselves want women to take their stands and champion “whole system values.”

Women who unabashedly embrace their femininity along with their business skills and knowledge are not only needed, they are wanted by some men who see the lopsided nature of the “masculine way” versus what anthropologist Riane Eisler calls the “partnership way.” The men who want this are generally adults, as opposed to the many immature men whose adolescence show up mightily in organizational life.

A couple of years ago, organizational performance consultant Larry Liberty wrote a book entitled  The Maturity Factor; in it, Liberty reported 80% of corporate executives were not fully mature, even if they were what he calls “High-Functioning Adolescents.” Whenever he tells this to women in the firms with whom he consulted, they invariably nod their heads and smile as if to say, “Yes, yes, we know all about that.” The book was published in 2002, long before the financial markets started showing signs of collapse.

Here’s part of what I wrote in the foreword of Liberty’s book:

Organizations, particularly business organizations, have unparalleled influence on our society today. The business sector, and the economic system which fuels it, is the de facto leader of the industrialized world. This dramatic shift in global power away from traditional institutions like government has important implications. Never in human history has there been such a universal need for organizational leadership that acts responsibly for the good of all people. The hierarchical, top-down rule that dominated the Cold War era and the benevolent dictator models of some of today’s republics are equally unacceptable. A new, more mature leadership is needed — no, absolutely necessary — to assure that our children and grandchildren live in a time of greater civility, less apprehension about the survivability of the human race and greater compassion for all people on Earth.

Social scientist Duane Elgin talks to audiences all over the world, from Japan to Latin America, from Eastern Europe to Australia. Frequently he asks people where they see humankind in terms of human lifecycle – toddler, teenager, young adult or wise elder. They all agree that humankind is still in adolescence, maybe even “early adolescence.” (see Duane’s video for sample polling). I have had the same results when I have asked this question of my audiences, wherever I am in the world.

To achieve maturity as a species we need to have both the masculine and the feminine equally influencing us. Since men are the chief embodiments of the masculine and women are the primary embodiments of the feminine, we need both men and women, together, bringing the best of both aspects of being human to their organizations, their communities and our world. The complete human has equal access to both traits, not just one or the other.

Many men and women want and need women to take their equal role in organization life. An evolving humankind requires the mature feminine if it is ever going to grow up. Humanity is still bumping along in its adolescence, like pesky teenagers squabbling with one another, endlessly shopping, eating junk food and “acting out” all the other typical peculiarities of that awkward time between childhood and adulthood.  Unfettered masculine assures us this will continue.

One of the lies that we tell ourselves, men and women, is we don’t have the power to change things we don’t like. My late friend Willis Harman once wrote, “Society gives legitimacy and society can take it away.” We give legitimacy through being indifferent, disengaged and silent in the face of injustice or dysfunction. We thus allow injustice and dysfunction to continue. We empower it. We give legitimacy to it all. And we can take it away.

We all have the power to change the world. So we certainly have the power to change our organizations, our industries and economic system.