How women leaders move beyond #metoo

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s with Madonna, Melissa Etheridge and Salt-n-Pepa singing ‘Let’s talk about sex’. Movies like ‘Working Girl’, ‘Erin Brockovich and ‘Thelma & Louise’ showed me strong women who regained personal power and stood up for injustice. I had parents who loved me and believed in me, a big brother who protected and guided me, a mother and grandmother who raised me with a sense of self-love and appreciation for being a woman. I felt honored for who I was, I felt respected and I felt inspired to do great things.

In my early twenties, something slowly changed inside of me. It felt like ’something’ had gotten under my skin, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what that was at the time. Instead of gaining self-confidence as I grew older and started my career, that ‘something’ was slowly yet forcefully eating away at my self-esteem. To make up for that undeniable sense of lacking some sort of ‘worth’, I studied harder, worked harder and fought harder.

Misogyny is basically a deeply rooted lack of respect for women

The last couple of weeks we have found a common phrase which captures the ‘something’ that grows under a woman’s skin and eats away at her sense of self-esteem, self-worth and the ability to feel safe in her own body. We have come to learn to call it #metoo.

In these last weeks many women – and men – stood up to denounce sexual assault and harassment, invited by actress Alyssa Milano to do so. She encouraged women to write #metoo on Twitter to demonstrate the widespread nature of misogynistic behavior. Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny (ref Wikipedia) in our society is manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism (being centered on males or masculine values), patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification.

The publication of millions of people that came forward and stood up is both confronting and heartwarming. Heartwarming because the public sharing opens the door to support, empathy and the joint processing of deeply buried grief. Confronting because the widespread and repetitious misbehavior of certain individuals questions why they were allowed to get by for so long. It makes almost everyone in our modern society a bystander.

75% of women in management have been sexually harassed

For me and I believe almost all other women, the extent of this behavior is no surprise. The data* I share in The Women’s Leadership Program show that in Europe 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 (data based on an EU-wide survey done on request of the Council of Europe). 75% of women in qualified professions or top management jobs have been sexually harassed. 32% of all victims in the EU said the perpetrator was a boss, colleague or customer. After every woman’s circle that I have been in so far, we could have filled a few Twitter pages with real life experiences of misogynistic behavior.

Do you know what it does to a woman’s self-esteem, her radiance and her charisma when she has experienced sexism, assault and/or general disrespect for who she is? 

A loss of self-confidence, a growing insecurity and feelings of vulnerability, anxiety and depression are the psychological consequences women living in patriarchal societies and patriarchal business cultures have to deal with. Cultures that subtly yet consistently signal to women that both their minds as well as their bodies are worth less than that of a man. It takes consciousness to look beyond the signals. It takes courage to stand up and voice your own truth. And it takes self-worth to inspire the people around you to transform. In other words, it takes leadership to change a dominant culture.

4 Practices that support women leaders in moving beyond #metoo

In the rest of this blog I would like to share with you a few of my experiences about how we, both women and men, could move beyond #metoo and lead our businesses towards a culture of mutual respect and inclusion.

1. Invest in women’s leadership development

Global Human Capital Trends 2016 by Deloitte states that of all respondents, nearly 50% report that little to no investments are being made in specifically developing women leaders. Even though personal leadership is developed differently in women than it is in men. First of all because a woman’s and a man’s psyche operates differently. They have different inner forces driving their behavior. In a patriarchal society and business culture it’s the male psyche that is dominant. Women need to learn about their own inner forces if they want to understand themselves and effectively use these forces. Secondly, as we’re all starting to see, the forces in our society act out differently on women than on men. A woman needs to become conscious about the external pressure that is put on her, so she can consciously make decisions. Thirdly, charisma is developed differently. Charisma is like an energy source that we carry with us in our bodies. It’s connected to our life-force. Developed through a grounded sense of self-love, self-esteem and finding joy and safety in one’s own body. Without a healthy, loving relationship with our bodies we experience difficulties connecting to our life-force, intuition and charisma.

2. Establishing women’s circles

Women only open-up, and share experiences with misogyny in the warmth and support of other women. It is no surprise that Alyssa Milano called on other women to come forward, and when a few brave women followed suit, millions of others dared to follow. Centuries of misogynist behavior, also deeply rooted in our business culture, have taught women to hide and bury these experiences in order to fit in. It takes a lot of security, warmth and support for women to open up. It takes what I call ‘Sisterhood’: women standing up for other women. If the statistics are right, there are hundreds of millions of women who still haven’t spoken up! In order for all of them to feel seen and heard, I believe women need to stand together and start sharing in small groups that I call women’s circles. There are great books about the importance of women’s circles for more inspiration like The Millionth Circle by Jean Shined Bolen. When a critical number of people, referred to as the millionth circle, change how they think and behave, a new Era will begin. Part of Carla Clarissa’s Women’s Leadership Program is that the participants form an intimate women’s circle both during the program and afterwards in the wider alumni community.

3. Creating diamonds

Some of the individual experiences that women have encountered need the support of professional therapists. However, in many cases women can find the strength in themselves to overcome emotional distress and anxieties despite the fact that these experiences have for many years deeply impacted the behavior, development and self-esteem of women. In my program I teach women how to create ‘diamonds’ out of their experiences so they connect to their inner strength and wisdom. Sharing personal experiences in the intimacy of the women’s circle, letting go of the fear, pain, anger and frustration. Choosing not to be a victim but instead understanding how specific experiences turn you into a wiser woman and grow your personal leadership, is what makes me deeply grateful to do this work. Every time I am taken by the power and positive energy for our society that women possess and demonstrate when they put their mind to something and dare to stand up for it.

4. Show you feminine side

Misogyny is basically a deeply rooted lack of respect for women. A universal wisdom is that you should treat others in the way that you would like to be treated yourself. In our predominantly patriarchal societies, men and women are not always treated equally, with the same respect. Mothers who have experienced disrespectful behavior teach their daughters how to survive. Boys learn disrespectful behavior from their role models. Awareness that this is what’s happening and that we, men and women, are both proponents and witnesses of misogyny in our society can be the start to taking another look at behavior, examples and incidents. I believe that deep within us all we know when we are not treating others with respect or when we see that happening around us.

If we don’t dismiss these signals, and we allow the feminine side in ourselves to develop and speak up, we all become more balanced, inside and outside.

This would lead to a gradual disappearance of misogyny from this planet, which is what should happen. At Carla Clarissa I teach women business leaders how to develop and value their feminine side, so they become more balanced and powerful as leaders. I look forward to working with both women and men to do so as well.

* Data I share on misogynistic behavior:

Women still make 79 cents on the dollar that men make. Or actually I have to say ‘white women’. Because black women only make 67 cents to every dollar made by a white man. Independent of education, occupation or working hours. (source: Economic Policy Institute)

Out of 109 heads of state in the world, only 9 are women. Most of the world’s nations have never had a female leader. (source: Pew Research Center)

Only 7% of the top-grossing Hollywood movies were directed by women. (source: Center for Study of Women in TV and Film)

1 out of 3 women worldwide have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused. (source: Council of Europe)

Every year, 15 million girl brides are married before the age of 18. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million girls – were married before the age of 15. As we speak 700 million women living on this planet were married as children. Child marriage means stopping education, vocation and usually the right to make own life choices. (source: UNICEF)

4.5 million women and girls are being sexually exploited and are forced to work as sex workers. (source: International Labour Organization)

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to genital mutilation, in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. (source: World Health Organization)

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