I recently spoke on a panel for a women’s networking group. The subject was “Bridging the Gender Gap at Work” and the first question was about whether or not men and women are wired differently. I believe that most of the behavioral differences we see from all people are much more a matter of conditioning than biology. This discussion stirred a lot of new ideas in me since my social justice focus tends to be more on race than gender.
From a utilitarian perspective, human eggs are the most valuable asset of our species. Therefore we evolved to protect the people who carry those eggs, sex-assigned females. Unfortunately this “protection” translated to treating those eggs and the people who carried them as property in an effort to control and dominate them out of fear-based motivation for the survival of our species.
At this point in the evolution of our young species, we continue to focus relentlessly on what we can see and touch, often ignoring the invisible wonders of ourselves and the world. This is not limited to a gender or sex or other identities. It’s a limitation of our global consciousness. Those among us who have the capacity to incubate life were visibly given more power from nature, which renders the rest of us in a perpetual state of reverence, inadequacy and fear.
Note: for clarity of language and accessibility of this piece, I’ll refer to “women” as those who were assigned female sex at birth and carrying eggs or people who resemble the common physical traits of those who do.
Surviving Before Thriving
The patriarchal world we live in is a result of what generally well-meaning people believed needed to be done at the time to preserve their tribe—an over-correction to the factors outlined above. And it’s time to evolve yet again.
This effort of dominance and control has proven to be counterproductive as we still do not succeed in protecting women from abuse, violence and assault. The imbalance of not having more women in leadership positions has led to catastrophic consequences for our world, which hangs in considerable jeopardy as we exchange global sustainability for the illusion of individual safety and control.
Women’s liberation is a relatively new phenomenon in our society, only emerging in the last half of the 20th century. Several indigenous cultures were matriarchal and thrived in sophisticated societies rooted in generational sustainability for centuries. People still actively fight against women’s liberation, which means that many women are emerging through this arduous evolution of our species without much support.
I’m particularly grateful for the first waves of women entering the patriarchal workforce, since they were often still expected to do the traditionally-assigned work of women at home after spending all day adapting to a world of broken masculinity. This usually manifested as women raising masculine energy and identity traits in order to survive these male-occupied workplaces, let alone thrive.
That world of masculinity is broken because we bully and beat emotions such as sadness and fear out of boys, and don’t hold men accountability for their actions as much as women. When we reduce the emotional spectrum, we exaggerate the other emotions. This is why men are “allowed” to express anger in the workplace and other areas of the world. It’s a way to gain control. Women are conditioned to seek control through more subtle expressions in language or crying, because girls are typically subdued in their emotional and visionary spectrum when we tell and show them girls they should be subservient “ladies” (i.e., not show anger) and that they are not as capable as boys.
When this comes to the workplace, we find ourselves in a quandary where very few people are actually invited to show up as their full authentic selves.
The 21st Century Leadership Needs Shakti Leadership
It’s possible that women are more connected (by virtue of nature or conditioning) to Shakti leadership qualities like compassion, collaboration, patience and empathy. It’s also possible that men are more naturally connected to Shiva qualities such as decisiveness and clarity. I believe we all carry aspects of all these energies in different proportions.
Shakti (or Yin) Leadership is the key to building systems that sustain dignity and agency for every person while transitioning our outdated extractive capitalism into truly conscious capitalism. It balances energetic polarities around common characteristics of feminine and masculine expressions in order to create “power with” win-win-win outcomes in favor of “power over” zero sum structures that drive most of the world currently. Balancing these polarities is the great work of our time, for anything less is simply switching out the players in a system with limited potential.
I personally know that I exhibit high Shakti energy in my leadership. In many ways this has naturally conditioned me to be compassionate and collaborative, which are hailed as next generation conscious leadership principles. However, when I owned a business I realized that an excess of these qualities actually created significant problems since I was not always decisive and direct, which are equally important qualities of a 21st century leader.
Dignity and Agency for Every Person
My vision is a world where everybody is invited to be a full authentic expression of themselves. This will not happen so long as we are forced to adapt ourselves to fit into environments where we are not truly welcome—in jobs and groups that demand that we pick from a limited number of boxes in order to belong. It’s up to each of us to understand our natural authentic qualities and bring them to our communities in healthy ways.
Businesses must undergo revolutionary cultural shifts in order to welcome these full expressions. Until then, women are still subjected to limiting circumstances that translate quantifiably to gaps in opportunities and salaries, as well as being held to higher expectations of performance. Women are also asked to spend far more energy navigating impossibly contradictory expectations of behavior.
We mustn’t forget the men who exhibit these Shakti energetic qualities. They may be soft-spoken or energetically sensitive. I promise you that they do not all feel completely comfortable in the traditional patriarchy either, having to adapt themselves to environments of dominance and control when they would rather be collaborative. One of the most frustrating and counterproductive elements of feminine emergence is the expectation that men are supposed to be “strong” and devoid of emotional reaction, which simply reinforces the emotional suppression that many men have faced since they were boys.
Nor can we leave out the deeply marginalized LGBTQIA+ groups who do not fall neatly into the common binaries of gender or sexual orientation. These are the true pioneers of authentically expressed emergent humanity, especially those who represent intersections with other oppressed identities like race. They need more than our support. They have earned our awe and respect.
When discussing the salary gender gap, one of my fellow panelists, a black woman, pointed out how as a society we demand that boys attach themselves to the pursuit of wealth as a sign of their worth. Boys and men are generally expected to pay for dates and save up for wedding rings. I was incredibly grateful to hear this perspective from her since it could sound like evasion or whining from me. The truth is that I still see this expectation arise in my own dating, which is not something many women I know seem to consider or express in light of the greater oppression they face.
How do we all reinforce the binary expectations that hold us down?
It’s not enough just to cherry pick the presumed benefits that have not been offered to your particular identity group. Humanity’s evolution requires that we all accept full responsibility for the rewards of authentic freedom.
The Space Between Poles
We must be able to hold in balance two realities that seem impossibly distant and incompatible. On the one hand, it’s important to hold a vision for humanity that is more just than our current reality—one that is abundant and motivated by love rather than fear. I describe this as the ultimate diversity: 7.7 billion sovereign souls each with dignity and agency.
Yet we mustn’t let such a lofty vision for humanity shield us from the current realities of pain and suffering that so many endure, particularly when it is the direct measurable and verifiable result of systems of oppression, whether created by design or accident.
Why do women and people of color only receive 3% of startup funding compared with white male counterparts? Why are their more CEOs named John in the Fortune 500 than women? Why do men apply for jobs when they are 60% confident in being qualified and women only when they feel 100% qualified? Why do we continue to sustain a world where black voices are stifled or extinguished every single day to the point of numbing us to the pain of truth?
One woman in the audience asked a question that got to the heart of this: when is it helpful to use identity labels such as gender, race, age, etc. to address the current reality? And when will those labels actually hold back progress by reinforcing the identity constructs that oppress people?
I knew exactly what she meant because I ask myself these questions nearly every day. I consider it a place of privilege to do so. Not because I just stick to this as academic conceptualization, but because people who have endured systematized wounding and trauma will often be more easily triggered by someone ignoring the present-day realities that affect them directly. I’m more distant from the direct impact, so it’s easy for me to hold the current reality and ultimate vision in clear balance.
Let me be clear: we must first face our current realities, which most people do not. Whether they are privileged people who live in ignorance of these forces as I did for most of my life or people who continue to suffer such significant trauma that there is no need for them to face it academically, perhaps both parties have lost hope for seeing a world where such separations don’t exist.
The deadly danger of fixating just on the vision for humanity is that we can use it to bypass and avoid our own discomfort (feelings) when facing our participation in the current systems of oppression. This is neither helpful nor compassionate for our fellow humans who are suffering right now, and further asks them to “be patient” dying while we tinker slowly in isolation with a world that doesn’t support everybody.
I meet a lot of people who have quarantined themselves from the painful truth of this world. Many label this as “spiritual bypass,” which is using consciousness training or higher guidance as a way to avoid discomfort with the unwelcome emotions that accompany a deep investigation of truth. This, in many ways, is actually worse than being born into the pure ignorance that’s demanded by our systems of oppression to perpetuate themselves. Why? Because it means that someone has taken direct action to avoid truth, which has the effect of further cementing the avoidance strategies and scaling to reinforce the systems themselves.
I know I don’t expect to see my vision for the ultimate diversity in my lifetime, so I hold it as aspirational while continuing to learn about and face the present-day realities of systemic oppression. In other words, the best we can do as agents of change is to accelerate the natural progression of humanity to return to a state of love, which is the natural frequency of the universe.
This is how purpose works, to find equilibrium with a vision that’s impossible for the mind to calculate—something that only the heart can feel—and a deep understanding of our own stories that prevent us from absorbing the truth and pain of the oppressed. This avoidance results in perpetuating the systems of injustice by contributing to the polarities that created them in the first place.
So where do we go from here?
We must each invest in our own internal work. Go deep. Find a coach or therapist or affinity group. There are numerous opportunities, with more emerging each day. It gives me hope to observe the incredible migration of people from corporate careers into the healing arts.
Most importantly, all people with privilege and power must invest their surplus energy into changing and dismantling the systems that hold us down as a species.
The more privileges somebody has, the more surplus energy they have to move through the day. For instance, as a tall white man, I don’t worry much about walking around at night in Chicago. That means I’m not spending much energy putting my defenses up and activating my sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or freeze), which means I’m relaxed versus putting my body in a heightened state of consumptive energy.
Admitting one has privilege is a form of gratitude practice. However it’s often overcome by a power dance that assumes admitting privilege means giving up power and privilege. This is the zero sum binary mindset that holds back our evolution as a species. From a place of gratitude and humility, all people with privilege can translate this surplus energy to power that moves the world to be more just and equitable.
One of us is not free until all of us are free.