International Women’s Day – Could Gender Physics be the Answer?

On March 8, International Women’s Day once again focused our attention on the progress (and seeming lack thereof) that women are making in the world. Statistics indicate that things have indeed improved over the last twenty years and that women have made strides in reaching equality, but recently our rate of advancement has leveled off. Women now constitute nearly half the workforce, yet they still earn only 80 cents for each dollar that a man makes. For all our advances, gender stereotyping and discrimination are still a factor for women in the workforce.

In the 1960s most Ivy League universities didn’t even admit women, and even when they began opening their doors, those females who managed to excel ended up slamming into a concrete wall like Wiley Coyote. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, graduated Columbia Law School tied for the number one spot in her class, but was initially denied the prestigious judicial positions she would have automatically been afforded had she been a man. No one even questioned this inequity, because it was then unthinkable for a woman to occupy such a powerful position. Ginsburg, however, ultimately conquered the concrete wall and was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even as female acceptances into prestigious universities and companies increased, women now hit a new obstacle. By 1986, we had discovered the glass ceiling, a phrase coined by two Wall Street Journal reporters who found that women with professional credentials (law degrees, medical licenses, and MBAs) were invited into the big offices, but not really allowed to participate. These women looked up and saw their potential, but couldn’t break through the ceiling holding them back from the higher rungs of the corporate ladder.

Betty-Ann Heggie

Even today, as women make strides in breaking through the glass ceiling and entering into management roles, we now see women’s role in the workplace as a labyrinth. When walking the maze of the workplace, it’s not a simple, direct path; you enter in one direction and then backtrack, struggling to progress. Though a few maneuver it successfully, many cannot. Like the labyrinth, visible barriers that impede female progress are obscured from public view. In many cases, these barriers have their roots in traditional views of gender roles. Women are seen as either too hard or too soft, never just right. If they are competent, they aren’t likable, and if they are likable, they certainly can’t be competent. Women have little margin for error and face criticism from all directions.

To obtain the keys to the executive bathroom, women must network, seek out mentors, and play up their individual strengths. They can’t just deny their natural attributes and copy the men, or they run the risk of just becoming generic cola; instead, we need to become the “Uncola” and take advantage of what we already have. That means using the best of feminine energy.

The women at Best Buy are a good example: they convinced their company to measure the quality of their work, rather than the quantity. Feminine energy favors taking one’s time to produce quality work, in contrast with the masculine energy mindset that stresses efficiency and numbers. By insisting on the wisdom of the feminine energy approach, they were able to use their natural skills to get ahead in the workplace. The Best Buy women followed up on their success by forming a Woman’s Leadership Forum (WOLF) built upon three pillars: commitment to the business and to each other, networking with a diverse group of employees, and giving time to support girls in the community by building leadership skills.

These women demonstrated good Gender Physics when they recognized the natural conflict between maintaining quality and increasing production. Initially, masculine energy criteria measured these women’s actions and found them lacking. The women, however, eventually won recognition for their strength in producing a quality product. When forming WOLF, they were sure to use masculine energy by placing their commitment to the business at the top of the list. After all, the company’s success is the ultimate goal and reason for being. But they then used their cooperative feminine energy by empowering women through networking, mentorship, and service.

Learning from the example of the women at Best Buy, we see that good Gender Physics is the key for women’s progress in the workplace. I have first-hand experience with women who exhibit good Gender Physics. They are proactive in creating opportunities for themselves by taking on challenges and seeking greater responsibilities, and they have the courage to dive in and take on difficult portfolios and contentious issues. Successful females aren’t restrained by the fact that they lack the single-minded resolve of masculine energy; rather, they harness feminine energy to assist female colleagues by sharing their wisdom, experience, and contacts. Such women refer business to other women, recommend them for board positions, and support their causes. They’ve found a way to succeed that doesn’t involve completely surrendering to the masculine energy approach.

Letting these energies flow back and forth brings strength, confidence and success. It’s a model for us all, and I hope that more women embrace Gender Physics as they navigate the business world.