Women Rising …

As I prepare for this weekend’s WISE (Women in International Schools Empowerment) conference at the British School Manila, in the pleasant February temperatures of the Philippines, and as I reflect on the amazing work already being done in the WISE community in mentoring women leaders in education, I have been re-reading ‘How Women Rise’ by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.

‘How Women Rise’; Background is Metro Manila

If you haven’t read this book yet, do – whether you are man or woman – because it describes 12 habits which often hold women back in their leadership careers, and these are worth noting. The habits do not apply to everyone, and are by no means exclusive to women; I can testify from my coaching of women leaders over the years, however, that a large majority of women leaders battle with a significant number of these habits, and as such, it is worth us all paying attention to the articulation of these habits in this book.

The 12 habits range from a reluctance to claim your own achievements (Habit 1) to ‘the disease to please’ (Habit 8) and letting your radar distract you – a reflection on the importance of bringing authenticity and vulnerability to the table (Habit 12). The book explores what each of these mean, and gives some insights into how to address them; it makes for an interesting read.

One of the dangers, of course, in establishing a list of habits like this, is that it can appear like another stick with which women can beat themselves … it can become yet another list of things that women are not doing right. This would not be – indeed, is not – at all helpful to the cause of freeing women to be authentic, confident leaders and contributors, able to lead in their own individual ways, and able to bring their immense worth to the world of work and beyond.

To counter this, as I was reading the text, I instead found an image growing in my head of a large pile of heavy leaves, resting and pressing down on the shoulders of women, and in some cases submerging them completely in a sea of foliage. Each leaf, I imagined, was an expectation of the woman – an expectation born of centuries (millennia, even) of expectations of women; expectations about behaviours, about goals in life, about purpose, about family responsibilities, about relationships with others … even about who takes the bins out, and who doesn’t.

These expectations – these conscious, subconscious or unconscious biases – can be enormously weighty; indeed, they can be extremely hard to shift, especially if we do not even recognise that they are there … we can feel the weight, but we cannot always explain what it is. At times, the leaves contradict one another, and demand that we present ourselves in mutually incompatible ways … and as we are reminded in Gloria’s powerful ‘It is literally impossible to be a woman’ monologue from Greta Garwig’s Barbie movie, this makes life so much harder than actually it should be.

Woman Rising

But the thing about a pile of leaves, as you will remember from your childhood, if ever you played in a flurry of fallen leaves in the northern or southern hemisphere autumns, is that when you stand up decisively, the leaves fall away, and you can brush from your clothing any other leaves that remain. Stand up, let them fall away, and brush away those that try to stick … when I muse on this, it strikes me as a rather powerful metaphor for women rising.

So – something to ponder, and on how developing new habits, reframing our old ones, can help us to do so.

Rise at WISE, perhaps … for my part, I am really looking forward to it!

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