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BK Blog Post
Posted by M. Nora Klaver, Executive Coach, Bouchard Executive Coaching Ltd..
Nora is an accomplished executive coach with 25 years of experience developing corporate leaders. She is the author of Mayday! Asking For Help In Times of Need.
Lately, I’ve been inviting a number of female CIOs and IT Directors to be guest speakers at a local “women in technology” group. The thought is, if we can get a big name or two to headline an evening event, we’ll be able to attract more members to our growing group.
The funny thing, well, not funny at all really, is that many of these women leaders are openly resistant to participating. Their common response goes like this, “I don’t really like to identify along gender lines. In fact, throughout my career, I’ve tried to just focus on my work, regardless of the fact that I’m a woman. I’d rather just speak at gender-neutral events.”
This attitude is understandable, but disturbing. From clients, I hear again and again how lonely and isolating it is to be a woman in IT. Women desperately need to see other women in leadership roles. If the few women leaders (in the tech industry, it is estimated that only 15% of CIOs are female) aren’t willing to talk to us, to show us the way, to reassure us that reaching the top is possible, then we leave our sisters in tech hanging.
I can understand the hesitancy to align with female-centric events. I admit that I have held that same mindset in my early career. As a management consultant in a global consulting firm, I was often the only woman in the room. I downplayed my femininity and my “other-ness” as much as I could, in order to be accepted – and ultimately heard, by my clients. And I encouraged other women who reported to me to do the same. But even as I told them to tamp down their authentic selves, I felt wrong and guilty. Who was I to tell them not to be real?
It’s a great and powerful thing to be a woman. How did we forget that?
In 1990, Maureen Murdock, PhD, wrote an insightful book entitled, “The Heroine’s Journey.” It was written in direct response to Joseph Campbell’s work on the Hero’s Journey. In “The Power of Myth” Campbell used on Luke Skywalker as a contemporary example of the trials and successes experienced by the hero archetype. Already hugely popular in popular culture, Luke became a symbol of the very best of masculine behaviors and values. Both men and women responded and related to Luke and his Hero’s Journey.
Murdock wondered if there was a parallel journey for the heroine. A student of Campbell’s, Murdock confronted him with this question. Campbell responded by insisting that women didn’t need such an archetype. As if.
Fortunately, Murdock didn’t buy it. She understood that women undergo their own trials, battle their own dragons, celebrate their own successes and want lives of fulfillment and balance.
As Murdock examined the lives of women, she noticed patterns in behavior that lend themselves to the archetype of the Heroine. The model goes something like this:
When girls are small, they notice how masculine qualities like being active, competitive, strong, ambitious and tough are valued. Simultaneously, girls get very clear messages that the feminine is to be de-valued. Values and behaviors like patience, thoughtfulness, collaboration, and empathy are all easily dismissed, even disrespected. They see this us/them split in their families, on TV, and on the playground. The influence of these messages is subtle but clear: reject the feminine in favor of the masculine.
So, little girls become “Daddy’s Little Girl.” The goal is to be just like daddy, to impress him and make him proud. As girls grow into women, they often hold onto this desire. They strive to be accepted by new father-figures – their bosses at work.
Just like Luke and other heroes, at work and in society, women face their own dragons and earn their own accolades. Many women will tone down the natural gifts they bring, and push themselves to create competitive, tough personas. They work twice and three-times as hard as their male counterparts, just to be considered equal. The really successful women become adept at fitting into the boy’s club.
Until they don’t.
The reality is that every woman is different from her male counterparts. Biology, socialization, and personal perspective make men and women different. And as much as a woman tries to be like the guys in the office, there will come a point of realization – an awakening.
Each woman comes to her own realization in her own way. Some because they learn they are paid less than their male colleagues. (McKinsey) Others because they feel the life they’ve created could be more fulfilling. (ICEDR) Still others recognize the doors they thought were open to them are actually closed. (McKinsey) Some feel betrayed that they mentored, guided, took on special projects without tangible reward (HBR). And others just want to work in a place where they feel welcome and accepted.
This awakening causes women to go within and think carefully about what they truly desire. They know they can be tough, competitive, and demanding, but they also want to be authentic, connected, collaborative and supportive. Women suspect that all of these qualities – both masculine and feminine — can lead to shared success.
The final steps of the Heroine’s Journey heal the rift between the feminine and the masculine.
Both archetypes bring balance and restore order to the Universe. Don’t you think it’s time this lopsided Universe – our places of work – finds balance again.
When women CIOs refuse to stand up and speak to and for other women, I see the Heroine’s Journey in action. What I hope for these women is that they experience an awakening of their own.
The Heroine’s Journey is a rich topic and incredibly relevant to what women are dealing with on a daily basis in high tech. This post is the first in a series where we’ll explore:
If you’d like to learn more about your own journey, or the journeys of those around you, reach out. We are happy to help! www.mnorabouchard.com
Nora Bouchard, MA, PCC is a seasoned and deeply experienced executive coach. Over the last 20 years, Nora has guided men and women leaders in the tech industry. She appreciates the analytical mindset and is profoundly familiar with its light and dark sides. Nora is author of the ground-breaking book, Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need. With over 10,000 hours of coaching under her belt, and hundreds of hours facilitating learning events, Nora can help you find the success you crave. www.mnorabouchard.com