As Woman’s Month draws to a close I am in a reflective headspace. It feels different this year because I wasn’t rushing around the country starting ‘Women In Leadership Programmes and speaking at inspiring events in recognition of women. Instead I was asked to contribute to a book called ‘Forgotten Women’ about my experiences of being a successful woman in a man’s world. I developed an online personal mastery programme from my spare bedroom; and most exciting of all I finally officially launch a presentation that has been mulching in my head for two years. I have learned so much from the research I did putting it together and now experiencing people’s reactions to it this month has been such a pleasure.
Even though the presentation starts by asking if you’ve ever been in a woman’s bathroom after midnight in a restaurant or nightclub… it’s not actually about women or for women only. The ‘Bathroom’ is a metaphor for what all leaders could learn about the rules for creating emotionally safe workplaces so that people can thrive.The kind of workplace where three big things happen:
1. People feel worthy
2. People feel like what they are doing is significant
3. People feel like they belong to a team/ organisation
So, what’s up with the bathroom and how on earth does it relate to the boardroom?
Having been in a number of nightclub bathrooms around the world after midnight in my life, these bathrooms can best be described as a place where ‘women code’ happens. Women code is the natural intuition that women have that says, ‘I know what I am good at; and this super power can dictate the role I play right now for this particular situation’, without having to play games or manipulate or back stab. You know what I mean? After midnight in a bathroom there’s usually a liquor infused drama involving a man; and on a good night two girls fighting in the bathroom over a man. When this happens, immediately each woman in the bathroom knows her place. Both men and women self-organize when we are given autonomy – which is actually self-motivating. Being given responsibility often results in people being more productive provided they understand what they have to do. As more and more people refuse to ever go back to the office corporates decision-makers will need shift their mind sets from managing people to teaching them about personal integrity.
Women code is a woman’s natural intuition. Our extraordinary ability to pick up on the subtle human dynamics around us, which can bypass men. Even on a boring night when it’s just a bunch of girls fixing their make-up, there is a kindness, a gentleness, a care for one another that appears not to exist anywhere else but this public bathroom.
It’s kind of sacred.
People listen, express compassion, don’t judge, support, tell the truth, expose their story, essentially, it’s a place where everybody can be vulnerable. But the most important part about woman code in the bathroom is that everyone knows that what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom, no matter what. This interestingly is the formula for building trust.
So why don’t we own these qualities in the boardroom? Why is the boardroom more like the dance floor? A cesspit of competition where all bets of vulnerability and trust are off. It’s each girl for herself out on the dance floor, and sometimes the back stabbing isn’t even behind your back, the woman consoling your broken heart a moment ago in the bathroom is now snogging the boy you’ve just grieved over, right in your face. Sometimes corporates management styles really are this crass, because often decision-makers who should know better haven’t got the skills to retrench people kindly.
Corporate cultures are riddled with fear and the smell of competition. The mother ship is also always more powerful than the foot soldiers and it’s hard not to compromise oneself ever if one wants to ‘get ahead’.
It is so hard but when we can all own what they really good at and rebuild that which has been hurt by through life, we don’t have to play games. Owning our super power gives us confidence and self-belief which we can birth into self-esteem. This does not mean fake it until you make it. This means practice authentic and Kind Leadership®.
In fact all humans have this natural capacity to trust one another and work together towards solving a problem. If we didn’t, our ancestors would not have survived because life was really physically demanding before we had machines. So why are so many of us subjected to the revolting behaviours that exist in every system (school, family, corporate, religious, government etc.) in every country in the world? This chronic treatment of ourselves and others has left most people disengaged and numb to their life at best and sometimes more dangerously depressed and anxious. The effects of ‘sick days’ due to things like depression, anxiety, addiction, domestic abuse and other conditions related to overwhelm costs South Africa about 1% of our GDP per annum. That’s a big number if you are a numbers person. More importantly I think it’s a humanitarian crisis.
We are in a social crisis and something has to change.
One of the reasons; and it’s not the only reason, I think we are in social crisis is because often we are ‘too busy’ to take care of our emotional hygiene. It is curious to me that we take care of our personal hygiene knowing that it contributes to our mortality, but we are not aware that our emotional hygiene does too.
Change has to start with everyone behaving like we do in a woman’s bathroom. Creating environments where people can feel emotionally safe, where all team members know what positive contribution they can make and they are given the space to make it; and where, what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom, so team-members can feel safe to have a voice.
This takes practicing Kind-Leadership®.
Please see my website for more information on Kind Leadership®.